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2021 Draft Preview No. 2: Early Favourites, Position Edition

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St Louis Cardinals v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

I definitely feel, as I really start digging into the 2021 draft class, that the strength of this year’s group is on the pitching side. The 2020 draft had a similar feel as well, but I actually think the split this year may be even more dramatic. That does not necessarily mean there are no good offensive talents available in this draft, but I do feel like for any given draft slot in the first, say, fifty picks the path of least resistance to finding a quality player is going to be to take a pitcher.

That said, here are some position players I really like three months out from the draft, just to prove I’m not prejudiced against the hitters of 2021. (Even though I sort of am. Don’t tell anybody.)

Henry Davis, C, Louisville

6’2”, 200 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 21st September 1999

So, what’s so great about this guy?

I have a confession to make: sometimes, when I write up a ‘favourites’ of the draft post, it’s not actually a list of my real favourites. Usually it is when it comes to pitchers, but if we’re talking about position players, sometimes it’s not, exactly. Sometimes it’s more a list of ‘here are some guys that I do really like, but also it’s a list of guys who are each pretty substantially different’. What I mean is that if it just so happens that my three favourite hitters in a given draft are all high school outfielders, I won’t put those three guys together in a post, but instead will pick one, and then go with the college shortstop I like best, and then one corner infield guy with a great bat but questionable defense or something. In other words, yes, I’m giving you players I really like, but I’m also trying to give a little bit of variety in these posts, at least the early ones.

I tell you that because the reason this post contains four players, rather than the usual three, is because there are a whole bunch of position players I like in this draft, but I basically like about ten dudes roughly the same amount, for one reason or another. And in the process of trying to narrow things down and create an interesting triad of players, I ended up unable to make a final decision between a couple guys. Four was the absolute most I could prune, and thus we have this bonus-length favourites post to begin.

All that being said, I am putting Henry Davis in the pole position here because Henry Davis is, to my eye, the single most interesting player in the 2021 draft class. So let’s talk about Henry Davis.

There are actually two college catchers with very un-catcherish bats near the top of the draft this year: Davis, from Louisville, and Adrian Del Castillo, from Miami. Del Castillo hits from the left side and boasts the kind of sweet, naturally lofted swing that it’s easy to fall in love with. Davis, on the other hand, looks a little funny crouched down in the batter’s box, and his hand load doesn’t look nearly as natural, or as classic. If you’re asking me which player I actually want hitting for my team, though, it’s not even close.

Davis is one of the most advanced hitters in this year’s draft; he walked more than he struck out his freshman year at Louisville, and has actually walked twice as often as he has whiffed each year since. Admittedly, we’re only talking about 52 plate appearances in 2020 and 140 so far this spring, but sample sizes be damned, I’m telling you Henry Davis might have the best plate approach of any hitter available this July.

Power has not been a huge part of Davis’s game so far, as his swing path is on the flat side, and more geared toward loud line drive contact rather than towering fly balls, but he has knocked eight dingers already this spring, so he seems to be tapping into his natural strength a little more as time goes on. Long term I think he’s still more of a gap to gap extra base guy, but I don’t mind that at all, considering how good his on-base skills are. We’re talking an early-career Matt Carpenter kind of offensive profile if things come together for Davis.

On the defensive side, it’s less clear what kind of player Davis will be, and even if he were to be available when the Cardinals go on the clock in July I wonder if they would select him. He has an absolute cannon for an arm, allowing him to do some damage to opponents’ running games, but the rest of his game behind the plate needs work. I’m terrible at evaluating catcher defense, but even to me it’s pretty obvious he’s not great back there. Still, he’s got natural spring to his legs and a big arm, so there is definitely some raw material with which to work.

Even with some questions about his defensive abilities, I could not pass up a player with this kind of offensive upside behind the plate. I think the framing and blocking could be taught, and you aren’t going to find many catcher prospects with the kind of offensive ability Davis possesses. I don’t know how early he’s going to go come July, but if he dropped to eighteen I would be over the moon to hear his name called.

via Perfect Game Baseball:

Sal Frelick, OF/2B, Boston College

5’9”, 175 lbs

Bats/Throws: Left/Right

DOB: 19th April, 2000

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Sal Frelick and Henry Davis go together in this post, as both are college guys with big offensive ceilings but slightly unusual profiles in some way or another. For Davis, it’s an on-base heavy offensive profile and a slightly shaky grasp of the catching position. For Frelick, it’s a body that just doesn’t scream out upside. Until, that is, you watch him hit.

Frelick brings some of the best pure bat-to-ball ability in the draft this year to the table, He doesn’t strike out much and has a walk to strikeout ratio of better than 1.00 in each of his college seasons. He’s stronger than you would think looking at him, but even so, it’s a little tough to ever really project a whole lot of power from a guy who is not built all that differently from Tommy Edman. Still, the point is that Sal Frelick can really hit. And I do mean really hit.

Frelick is also a plus runner, with enough speed to play center field at a solid level and steal a couple dozen bases over the course of a full season, if not more. His first step is quick and his timing is good, leading me to believe he could be a solid contributor on the bases, giving him a chance to add value in a variety of ways.

Maybe the most intriguing thing about Frelick is that in addition to that center field ability, he’s also played a fair amount of second base in college, and doesn’t look at all bad there. His arm is strong enough he could probably handle third, as well, and might even be able to fake it at shortstop for a day or two here and there. In other words, it’s not a guarantee, but there’s a reasonable chance Frelick could end up a five- or even six-position utility player if a team wished to deploy him in that way, cut from the Chone Figgins mold, maybe with a little higher offensive ceiling even due to better power potential.

Frelick hits from a wide stance and has good balance in his swing, though I do tend to think he may need to get a little more from his lower body going forward, seeing as how he’ll be hitting with wood in the pros. He has great hands and wrists, though, and his bat control really stands out. I could see a team drafting and developing him as a second baseman or center fielder only, hoping to come away with a plus defender at one position rather than a jack of all trades, but for my money I think he’s most exciting as a high-level contact hitter who can player nearly anywhere on the field.

via Keanan Lamb:

Cameron Cauley, SS, Barbers Hill HS (TX)

5’10”, 170 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 6th February 2003

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Another slightly undersized player, but also another one with tremendous natural offensive ability, Cameron Cauley is one of the most naturally gifted hitters amongst the high school ranks this year in my ever so humble opinion. The fact he’s also a pretty good bet to stick at shortstop long term is icing on the cake.

Despite being neither especially tall nor especially hulking, Cameron Cauley has some real thunder in his bat, the result of remarkable hand speed and an extremely efficient swing. He swings wood the way most high school kids swing metal, and he consistently peppers line drives from foul pole to foul pole. I admit to having very little feel for his actual approach at the plate outside of seeing showcase footage, but I think on both the contact and extra base power fronts Cauley has significant upside long term. If he goes to college, I’m betting he’s getting Alex Bregman comps by the time his junior season rolls around. That’s the kind of offensive upside I think Cauley possesses.

Defensively, Cauley is rangy and quick, with enough arm he should be able to stay at short in the future. It’s not a cannon of an arm, but he gets rid of the ball quickly and throws on the run pretty well. He has plus or even a tick better speed as well, meaning he should be an asset on the bases.

The downside for Cauley would be if he ends up with below-average power and has to move off short, probably to second base. He might still end up making enough contact and getting on base at a good enough clip to be a productive player, but it’s not so hard to see where he might fall short of becoming an impact player. Still, he looks like a third or fourth round player right now, but I’ll bet that’s a second or third round grade by July, and a top half of the first round grade come 2024 if he makes it to Texas Tech.

via Donald Boyles:

Braylon Bishop, OF, Texarkana (AR)

6’1”, 195 lbs

Bats/Throws: Left/Left

DOB: 23rd April 2003

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Braylon Bishop is one of the better pure athletes in the draft this year, and up to this point has been a multi-sport guy, playing quarterback for his high school and also competing in several track and field events. Long term, though, he’s a baseball player, and there’s a chance he’s a really, really good one.

Bishop is a plus or even plus-plus runner, allowing him to cover lots of ground in center field, where he should be able to stick long term. He’s got the big arm of a right fielder, if a team wanted to move him over, and the overall package of tools could make him a high-lever defender at any of the outfield spots. He’s also one of the more patient hitters you’re ever going to see coming out of high school, refusing to chase anything down and out of the zone and more than willing to simply let pitchers put him on if they won’t give him something to hit. It’s a surprisingly mature plate approach not only for a high school kid, but especially for a multi-sport guy whose attention has always been split before now. Add to the mix well above-average raw power, and you have some serious ingredients to work with.

There is, however, one issue with Bishop, and that is his swing. It just...needs work. He always looks as if he’s trying too hard to lift the ball, and he has an odd hand hitch that tends to make him late when facing plus velocity. Against high school pitchers, Bishop absolutely dominates. Against showcase competition, facing the best seventeen year old pitchers in the country, Bishop struggled. I don’t think he has any fatal flaws in his swing, by any means, but his hand load is awkward and he starts it a little bit later than I would like to see, putting him behind the eight ball when the guy on the mound can really bring it.

Bishop is definitely a risky pick, even if you could nab him in the second round, simply because there is a chance he struggles to make contact against good pitching and the tools aren’t enough to make up for it. On the other hand, the payoff could be huge; this is a Cody Bellinger-level athlete, with a similar swing path and questions to boot. Bishop is a guy you take a chance on because he could be something special if it clicks, and if you believe in your development team’s ability to mold a high-level athlete into a star-level baseball player. I don’t think I could risk him in the first round, but at 54, when the Cardinals make their second pick? He would be a very, very tempting bet to place.

via 2080 Baseball: