Biggest Winners and Losers of the MLB Draft Day 1

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    Spoiler: The Yankees might have reached.David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The first day of the first Major League Baseball draft ever held outside the month of June is complete, as teams made the initial 36 picks of the 2021 draft from the Bellco Theatre in Denver on Sunday.

    So, let’s look at who did and didn’t make out well.

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    For this, we pinpointed four winners and three losers from the first round and Competitive Balance Round A. These cover players whose wishes absolutely were or very much weren’t granted, as well as teams that cleaned up or left people shaking their heads.

    We’ll start with Day 1’s biggest individual winner and loser and go from there.

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    Ben McKeown/Associated Press

    Though there wasn’t any certainty as to who would go No. 1 overall on Sunday, there was a general consensus in mock drafts—e.g., B/R, MLB.com and FanGraphs—that the Pittsburgh Pirates would go for prep shortstop Marcelo Mayer.

    Instead, they shocked pretty much everyone by tabbing Louisville star Henry Davis.

    Mind you, this is not to suggest that Davis was ill-suited to join Adley Rutschman as the second catcher in the last three years to go No. 1 overall. His offensive upside is underscored by the .370 average he just put up in his junior season for the Cardinals. He also has more than enough arm to stick behind the plate.

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    Perhaps the only question with Davis is if he can improve his receiving, but that would be a moot point if MLB introduces an automated strike zone in the near future. If not, his bat would play at first base if the Pirates ever deem it necessary to move him out of the crouch.

    In the meantime, Davis is looking at the No. 1 slot’s recommended bonus of $8.4 million. A small number, that is not.

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    In addition to being the first MLB draft ever held in July, the 2021 draft was also the first to be held in front of a live audience. For the most part, that did liven up what has previously tended to be a dull affair.

    For MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, however, the experience wasn’t one to enjoy.

    Now in his seventh year on the job after taking over for Bud Selig in 2014, Manfred was greeted with a wall of boos when he walked to the podium to begin the proceedings. And so it went every time he appeared thereafter, so it’s little wonder that he was rushing through his announcements by the end of the evening.

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    Of course, Manfred is hardly the first commissioner to be booed while trying to emcee his league’s draft. He certainly won’t get any sympathy from Roger Goodell, who’s been getting booed at the NFL draft on an annual basis for years.

    Even still, the boos for Manfred weren’t unearned. Between his awkward pace-of-play initiatives, his cynicism ahead of last year’s pandemic-shortened season and his knee-jerk reactions to problems such as sticky stuff, he’s developed a knack for controversial decisions that have, in turn, made him a controversial figure.

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Going into the draft, there was buzz about Vanderbilt ace Jack Leiter wanting to land with the Boston Red Sox at No. 4. And also, that the team itself would love to have him at that spot.

    Well, those hopes were dashed when the Texas Rangers nabbed Leiter at No. 2. But in the person of Marcelo Mayer, the Red Sox got one heck of a consolation prize with their highest pick since 1967.

    According to MLB.com, FanGraphs and The Athletic, the 18-year-old out of Eastlake High School was rated as the No. 1 talent in the draft. He might just have the best hit tool of any player in this year’s draft, and he’s likewise seen as a sure thing to stick at shortstop.

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    Granted, the Red Sox already have a pretty good shortstop in Xander Bogaerts. But it’s never a bad idea for a team to draft the best player available regardless of need, and now the Red Sox have long-term insurance in case Bogaerts opts out of his contract after 2022.

    Though Mayer could hypothetically forgo signing with Boston to follow up on his commitment to USC, turning down the No. 4 slot’s recommended bonus of $6.7 million wouldn’t be so simple.

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    As for which team had the best draft, there’s an argument for the Vanderbilt Commodores. In Leiter (No. 2) and fellow right-hander Kumar Rocker (No. 10), they had two players go in the top 10 picks for the second time in seven years.

    Even still, this is where we have to tip our caps to the Detroit Tigers.

    As one of six teams with multiple picks on Day 1, the Tigers used their first selection at No. 3 overall on arguably the draft’s best high school pitcher, Jackson Jobe. He has a good fastball and an even better slider, with the potential for a plus curveball and an above-average changeup.

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    Though Jobe alone would have been a big enough score for the day, the Tigers also had Texas righty Ty Madden fall into their laps at No. 32 in the Competitive Balance Round. He had rated as one of the draft’s 10 best talents at some places, with MLB.com putting him at No. 9 on account of his “front-line” potential.

    In any case, that’s two more top-shelf arms for an organization that already has Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal in the majors and Matt Manning in its farm system.

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    When the MLB draft rolls around, it’s inevitable that a team will leave people scratching their heads after using a high pick on a relatively low-rated player.

    To this end, the New York Yankees committed perhaps the draft’s biggest reach when they selected Trey Sweeney with the No. 20 pick.

    This wouldn’t seem to jibe with the 21-year-old’s statistical history with Eastern Illinois. He was a .328 hitter overall in three seasons, and his junior year saw him hit .382 with a .522 on-base percentage and 14 home runs in just 48 games.

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    There are, however, substantial question marks attached to Sweeney. As JJ Cooper of Baseball America noted, he’s largely untested against high-velocity fastballs. And with many moving parts in his swing, he may need to make some changes if he expects to pass that test in the pros.

    Factoring in that Sweeney is also a subpar runner and fielder, there are explanations aplenty for why he only checked in as the draft’s No. 55 talent for MLB.com and Baseball America and as far down as No. 89 at The Athletic. The Yankees had better know what they’re doing with this one.

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Throughout the nearly four hours that it took for the draft to cycle through its first 36 picks, anyone who was there in person or watching from home surely got used to hearing the word “shortstop.”

    With Mayer in the lead at No. 4 to Boston, a whopping 10 shortstops went just in the first 28 picks. That’s about as unusual as it sounds, as the number of shortstops typically doesn’t escape single digits in the first round. As recently as 2016, only four were taken in the first round.

    The obvious catch here is that not all of these players will actually stay at shortstop in the long run.

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    For example, the Chicago White Sox’s No. 22 pick, Colson Montgomery, is a good bet to end up at third base. So might the Washington Nationals’ No. 11 pick, Brady House, though he might have the instincts and actions to stick at short in spite of his big power and already ample 6’4″, 215-pound frame.

    Nevertheless, they’re all shortstops for now. And that group of 10 even grew to 11 by the end of Day 1, as Wisconsin high schooler Noah Miller also got tabbed as a shortstop by the Minnesota Twins with the No. 36 pick.

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    As shortstops were busy having a good day on Sunday, it was a decidedly different story for prospects who call first base, second base and third base home.

    To wit, not a single player was drafted as either a first baseman or a third baseman. And while two second basemen eventually came off the board, it wasn’t until Tyler Black (No. 33 to the Milwaukee Brewers) and Cooper Kinney (No. 34 to the Tampa Bay Rays) went in the competitive balance round.

    Years from now, this will be a mere trivia item. It’s not just the shortstops who figure to change positions as they go about their development. Whether it’s Henry Davis or perhaps Matheu Nelson, one of the four catchers who went on Day 1 also figures to end up elsewhere.

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    It’s nonetheless odd that not a single non-shortstop infielder got called in the first round on Sunday. This is, after all, just one year after Spencer Torkelson went No. 1 overall to Detroit as a third baseman. And two years after first baseman Andrew Vaughn only lasted to the White Sox at No. 3. And so on.

    Oh well. Notables such as Alex Binelas, Kyle Manzardo and Izaac Pacheco should have better luck on Day 2.

         

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    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.

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