The 2021 MLB Draft is unique in a number of aspects: beginning the last day before the All-Star Break after previously held in early June, high school and college baseball seasons are all completed, and the Pittsburgh Pirates hold the number one overall pick for the first time since 2011.
The last time the Pirates were first on the clock, Gerrit Cole joined Bryan Bullington (2002) and Kris Benson (1996), as the third pitcher taken first overall by the organization and a perfect four-for-four (Jeff King - 1986) from the college ranks.
Before the 2020 MLB season concluded, the consensus in fans’ minds was clear, the trend was going to continue, and Vanderbuilt hurler Kumar Rocker was going to become the ace of the Bucs’ next World Series contender... and then the college baseball season happened.
After capping off an impressive 2019 freshman season with a 19 strikeout no-hitter against Duke on June 8 in the 2019 NCAA Super Regional, Rocker had originally looked like the light at the end of the tunnel for a struggling Pirates franchise that finished last in the game with a 19-41 final mark.
As the 2021 season began, all eyes shifted to Nashville, Tennessee to witness Rocker continue his emerging dominance. But as the narrow lens on Rocker began to fog up after some midseason struggles, teammate and fellow right hander Jake Leiter garnered significant buzz and began to outshine Rocker.
Then came the likes of Louisville catcher Henry Davis and high school shortstops Jordan Lawler and Marcelo Mayer, with Mayer gaining the most traction to be picked 1-1.
The lack of a undisputed “best player available” like Spencer Torkelson in 2020 and Adley Rutschman in 2019 makes the decision an even trickier one.
MLB Prospects currently ranks Mayer number one on their top 250 draft prospects list, with Leiter a close second.
In an interview Thursday night with Andrew Fillipponi on 93.7 The Fan, General Manager Ben Cherington spoke on how the Pirates will use their $14,394,000 bonus pool, the most allocated to any team, to select multiple talented players throughout the entirety of the draft, opening up the likelihood of selecting a player who will take less money and allow the Bucs to go over slot at picks 37, 64 and beyond.
The hot button pick with less than a week till draft night is Mayer, a left-handed bat USC commit from Eastlake High School, who draws Corey Seager comparisons if he fills out his offensive potential. MLB Pipeline graded Mayer as a 60 hit, 55 power, 50 run, 60 arm and field, as well as 60 overall on a 20-80 scale. He could blossom into a plus defender and hit 20+ home runs a year in the middle of a contender’s lineup.
Regardless of the strategy, the Pirates must get the pick right for the future of the ballclub moving forward and select the best player on their draft board. As Cherington has stated on numerous occasions leading up to the draft, the team must continue to optimize as much talent as possible from the 2021 draft, and it all begins with No. 1.
Despite no easy choice, passing up on a potential ace like Leiter due to signability concerns related to slot money could create a setback in the rebuild.
However, Mayer does have potential to be a significant player in the organization despite an influx of shortstops, including Oneil Cruz and Liover Peguero, and if the Pirates truly believe he is the best player and difference maker to lead the club back to the promised land, his position on the field can be figured out later.
Don’t rule out Davis either due to his offensive upside and lack of catching depth in the minors.
So when Neil Walker announces the Pirates first number one pick since his teammate Gerrit Cole, trust in Cherington to make the right pick, especially after a successful 2020 draft to date. Besides, it’s only the most important decision in the 2021 season. No pressure, right?
You’re drafting this weekend. Pick one.
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