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Brendan Tuma’s 2021 MLB Draft Top 10 Prospects (Fantasy Baseball)

by Brendan Tuma | @toomuchtuma | Featured Writer
Jun 23, 2021

In an effort to keep things fresh we’re once again going to deviate from the norm this week. Specifically, I’ll be breaking down some player profiles on the top prospects in the upcoming MLB Draft (July 11-13). The top-10 list featured below focuses on fantasy value for dynasty leagues, and it shouldn’t be considered a “real life” rankings list or a mock draft or anything like that.

I need to note that things can change between now and the draft. In addition to learning more about these players through the pre-draft scouting process, landing spot is ultimately going to play a major role in our long-term evaluation. So for now consider this your big picture primer on the players most likely to be selected early in the first round

Reminder to reach out with questions on Twitter anytime – @toomuchtuma.

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Tier 1 – The Prep Shortstops

Marcelo Mayer (SS – Eastlake, California HS)
If there’s a defining feature for this year’s draft class, it’s the number of high-end prep shortstops who could become franchise altering cornerstones. While none of the four players in Tier 1 would rank above Bobby Witt Jr. or C.J. Abrams from the ’19 class, it would be historic for this entire quartet to be taken inside the top-10.

We don’t have a consensus No. 1 pick like we did with Spencer Torkelson last summer, but Mayer currently has the most steam among this group. His calling card — a strong hit tool and an advanced approach — is a great indicator of future fantasy success. Mayer isn’t considered a burner on the bases but he’s athletic enough that most scouts believe he’ll stick at the position long-term.

Mayer reaching his ceiling in the power department requires some projection with his lean frame, but the bat-to-ball skills are so elite that it’s alright to be confident in him continuing to develop as a hitter. Possessing a smooth left-handed swing, Mayer’s best big league comp is Corey Seager.

Kahlil Watson (SS – Wake Forest, North Carolina HS)
Watson is considered the rocket ship in this tier, as the 18-year-old has soared up draft boards due to an electrifying spring performance. Slapped with a bit of an Abrams comp by yours truly, Watson has plus speed that’ll profile well at any position. His standout trait as a hitter is the bat speed, which he uses to take aggressive swings best described as a power-over-hit approach. When taken to the extreme this translates into what we see from Jazz Chisholm. Watson makes enough contact where this isn’t a major concern, but he might need to tone things down against more advanced pitching.

Brady House (SS – Winder-Barrow, Georgia HS)
The prepster in Tier 1 with the most physicality is House, who checks in at at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds. This is big for a shortstop (think Carlos Correa), so many scouts envision him shifting to third base as he works his way through the minors, though there aren’t any major deficiencies with his defense yet. Regardless, we care about his bat for fantasy purposes, and House can rake. At this time last year he was the consensus No. 1 prep player, but he struggled mightily last summer.

In my opinion, the industry has unfairly moved on from him ever since. House fell in love with his power stroke and had to learn what happens when you become far too aggressive selling out for homers. My favorite thing about him is that he made the adjustment, shortened his swing, and got back to the basics. His simplified, right-handed swing reminds me of Scott Rolen and Jason Bay.

Jordan Lawlar (SS – Jesuit Prep, Texas HS)
There’s a pretty good chance that Lawlar goes before both Watson and House in the actual draft (as a local kid he’s being heavily linked to the Rangers, who pick No. 2). This is mostly due to his well-rounded profile. Lawlar is the best combination of physicality and athleticism in this group. He clocks above average run times and is viewed as a lock to remain at shortstop.

He turns 19 before the draft, which isn’t ideal for age models, but it also raises his floor to produce in-game power (since less projection is needed for his frame). Lawlar is known for being able to hit the ball to all fields, but he struggled to make contact at times this spring. The reason I have him lowest in this tier is because the three players above him have more standout traits as hitters, which is what we look for in fantasy leagues.

Tier 2 – The Vanderbilt Arms

Kumar Rocker (SP – Vanderbilt)
The burly, 6’5″ right-hander has elite prospect pedigree dating back to high school. He further burst onto the national media scene by tossing a 19-strikeout no-hitter in the NCAA Super Regionals as a freshman back in ’19. Oh, and then he won Most Outstanding Player at the College World Series.

The son of an NFL defensive lineman, Rocker’s physicality can be described as stunning every time he toes the rubber. When he’s on top of his game the 21-year-old simply overpowers opposing batters with a fastball that sits 93-96 mph, an elite slider that generates tremendous depth, and a slower curveball featuring more vertical break.

Since he’s been in the limelight for so long, scouts have grown nitpicky with Rocker’s offerings (though that doesn’t mean their concerns aren’t valid). For as breathtaking as he can be when at his best, Rocker has proven to be inconsistent at reaching his ceiling on a start-to-start basis. Spotty command and a “flat” fastball don’t help, and it’s also concerning that Rocker might not have much to fall back on if his plus breaking balls are struggling in a given outing. Still, the Vandy superstar checks every other box we’d want to see from a first-round pitcher.

Jack Leiter (SP – Vanderbilt)
Vanderbilt’s “other” top pitching prospect, Leiter differs from Rocker in a number of ways. The most noticeable contrast is in the size of each youngster — Leiter is just over six feet tall — but we’ve seen starting pitchers buck this trend more often lately. Leiter was viewed as a first-round prep arm heading into the ’19 draft and his stock has only risen since then due to continued growth with his fastball velocity.

In the era of technology and big data, Leiter benefits from scouts being able to track his fastball’s exciting metrics, which includes riding life and generates swing-and-miss inside the zone. The son of former big leaguer Al Leiter, Jack’s feel for spin gives him both a curveball and a slider to work with. The final hurdle for him to clear as a prospect is differentiating his two breaking balls more clearly (like what Shane Bieber did in 2020).

Tier 3 – The Others

Jackson Jobe (SP – Heritage Hall, Oklahoma HS)
Right-handed prep arms are typically viewed as one of the least desirable draft archetypes. This is because they lack  both the uniqueness of being a southpaw and the track record of a college arm. It takes a special prospect for a prep righty to be draft high, such as Dylan Bundy back in 2011 or Mick Abel last summer. In fact, Abel’s immediate success as a pro is likely helping the case for Jobe to be drafted high.

The Oklahoma product is known as the “spin rate king” and possesses the best slider in this year’s prep class. Both his fastball and his changeup (which developed immensely this year) feature plenty of spin as well. A legit, three-pitch repertoire combined with an effortless delivery give Jobe a chance to be an outlier when it comes to high school right-handers.

Henry Davis (C – Louisville)
The 21-year-old is going to rank higher on “real life” prospect lists, because, well, catchers always do. At this stage in his development Davis is considered superior prospect to the last Louisville backstop who went in the first round — Will Smith of the Dodgers. Unlike most college bats this season, Davis has actually produced, but traditional scouts are a bit worried about his swing, which can’t be described as “pretty.” His best tool, which doesn’t help us in fantasy, is his throwing arm. Davis’ defensive upside combined with his above average hitting abilities for a catcher gives him an outside shot at being the Pirates’ selection at 1.01 next month. Just don’t mistake him for an Adley Rutschman type prospect.

Colton Cowser (OF – Sam Houston)
As mentioned with Davis, there just aren’t many productive college hitters in this year’s draft. Enter Cowser, who possesses unique bat-to-ball skills thank to a sweet, lefty stroke that makes barreling up balls look easy. Concerns about Cowser include the quality of competition he faced at Sam Houston as well as his ultimate power upside.

Matt McLain (SS – UCLA)
The UCLA product was actually taken by the Diamondbacks 25th overall back in 2018, but McLain opted to give college a go with hopes that increased physicality could help him improve his draft stock three years later. Fast forward to present day and that appears to be how it played out. Listed at just 5’10”, McLain relies on bat-to-ball skills to carry his offensive value, but he also has surprising in-game power given his size. The 21-year-old generates good “lift” on his swing, which is obviously critical for today’s era. McLain’s pedigree and “safe” hit tool give him a good chance of (at worst) making it to the big leagues.

Honorable Mentions

Sal Frelick (OF – Boston College)

Ty Madden (SP – Texas)

Harry Ford (C – North Cobb, Georgia HS)

Benny Montgomery (OF – Red Lake, Pennsylvania HS)

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Brendan Tuma is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Brendan, check out his archive and follow him @toomuchtuma.

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