Ben Palmer’s Early 2021 Mock Draft Review

Ben Palmer breaks down his picks from his early 2021 mock draft.

Early mock drafts are tough, and doing an early mock draft after a shortened season where it’s difficult to determine what was legit and what wasn’t can be even tougher.

Generally, when I draft, I’m following my rankings fairly closely (which, of course, I didn’t have for this draft because we did it in October), though I tend to have one draft strategy that I almost always employ: I virtually never draft a pitcher in the first round, but I also try my best to get one or two anchor aces for my pitching staff and then wait a bit on pitching til later in the draft (of course, this only applies if a good pitcher doesn’t fall below value at some point earlier on).

So here, I’m going to take a look back at the picks I made in this draft and explain my thought process behind each one. However, it’s worth noting that this likely won’t necessarily be indicative of where I’ll draft some players once we get to March (which was the point of all that preface).

Anyways, you and I both know you’re going to skip the intro anyway, so on to the picks!

Note: This mock draft was done for a standard 5×5 head-to-head categories league. If you’d like to see the final draft board, it’s right here.


1.4 Juan Soto (OF, Washington Nationals)


When you’re talking about your first-round pick, you kind of have to be nitpicky when comparing players. I was debating between Soto and Ronald Acuña Jr. at this spot, and honestly, between the two of them, I don’t think there’s necessarily a “wrong” choice. But if I want to be nitpicky, Acuña’s drop in average this past year to .250 with a .254 xBA was the deciding factor for me to go Soto, because as far as I’m concerned, power and speed balance out between Soto and Acuña. But last year, we saw Soto hit .351 with a .332 xBA and a Statcast profile that is just other-worldly. Like I said, I think you could easily go Acuña here and be completely right, I just decided to go Soto instead.


2.21 Xander Bogaerts (SS, Boston Red Sox)


Xander Bogaerts is just so consistent. You know you’re going to get a great batting average, you’ll get a good amount of power, and a bit of speed. This past year, we saw the average we expected, we saw the power, but we saw more speed than we’ve seen in a long time. Bogaerts stole eight bases in 56 games last year. Pace that out to a full season and that’s more than 20 steals, which would be the most he’s ever stolen in his career (his previous high was 15 in 2017). I’m not going to assume the increased steals will carry over into 2021, but if it does, that makes him that much more valuable.


3.28 Luis Castillo (SP, Cincinnati Reds)


Like I said in the preface, I always try to snag at least one ace as an anchor to my pitching staff, and grabbing Castillo was me doing exactly that. Castillo was great this past year, posting a 3.21 ERA with a 2.65 FIP and 3.35 SIERA with a career-best 30.5% strikeout rate. Castillo’s changeup looked awesome as always and was a money pitch last year, with a 46.2% chase rate, 43.6% zone rate, and 22.8% SwStr rate. He saw an improved fastball with top-notch velocity and induced plenty of weak contact with a .212 xBA and .260 xwOBA against. In short, he was awesome, and I have faith that he’ll continue to be awesome next year.


4.45 José Abreu (1B, Chicago White Sox)


I’ve been in love with José Abreu for a while now. One of the big things I was preaching last year was drafting Abreu instead of Anthony Rizzo, as they put up really similar numbers and Abreu was going two rounds later. Well, Abreu is bound to go earlier now, as he put up the best year of his career, slashing .317/.370/.617 with 19 home runs (which paces out to more than 45 home runs over a full season, to give you an idea of how ridiculous his power was) on his way to the AL MVP award and his third Silver Slugger. You name a hitting stat, Abreu killed in it. Barrel rate? 14.3%, 24th-best in the league. Hard-hit rate? 53.3%, 11th-best in the league. And his expected stats? A .300 xBA and a .585 xSLG. In short, Abreu was ridiculous last year and I think he can do it again next year. Maybe not an MVP-caliber season, but a high-quality season without a doubt.


5.52 Brandon Woodruff (SP, Milwaukee Brewers)


Decided to grab another pitcher to anchor my squad here and I do really feel like Woodruff could be called an ace now. The guy was phenomenal last year, posting a 3.05 ERA with a 3.20 FIP and 3.30 SIERA alongside a 31.1% strikeout rate. I honestly see nothing in his peripherals that suggest this was all luck or something. The guy has a great fastball/sinker combo and two great swing-and-miss pitches in his changeup and slider. Also worth noting, Woodruff added around 200 RPMs of spin to both his four-seamer and his sinker, which is awesome and just adds to my belief that he’ll still be a top-tier pitcher next year.


6.69 Trent Grisham (OF, San Diego Padres)


Trent Grisham’s first 51 games of his MLB career with the Brewers was fairly underwhelming. But his first 59 games with the Padres? Very interesting. Sure, he hit .251, which I think is about what you should expect from him average-wise, but he also hit 10 home runs and stole 10 bases, which roughly paces out to a 25/25 season. Do I think Grisham could be a 25/25 guy with a .250s average? Sure, I think that possibility is definitely there, and I think his average could even improve. He’s got really good plate discipline, with an excellent 12.3% walk rate and a 20.4% chase rate last year. But I think you can at least expect Grisham to hit in the .250s with a pretty solid shot at 20/20 in a great lineup that will net him a good number of runs and RBI. I think that’s some excellent value in the sixth round.


7.76 Stephen Strasburg (SP, Washington Nationals)


At this point, we all know the ceiling of Stephen Strasburg, obviously. It’s a top-10 starting pitcher, one of the best in the league. But we also all know the injury risk that comes with Strasburg, especially now coming off a year in which he started just two games and pitched only five innings before missing the remainder of the season after having surgery on his right hand for carpal tunnel neuritis. That’s pretty scary and raises a lot of questions. How good will his feel for the ball be after surgery? What’s he going to look like? There’s a lot of risk here, but in the seventh round with two other solid pitchers on my staff, I’m willing to take that risk for the ceiling. If Strasburg comes back and looks like his normal self, this is an absolute steal of a pick.


8.93 Wil Myers (1B/OF, San Diego Padres)


Back from the dead, it’s Wil Myers! After a couple years of being a very okay to not particularly usable fantasy asset, Myers made some changes to his approach and turned in an excellent season in 2020, slashing .288/.353/.606 with 15 home runs. He only stole two bases, which makes me wonder if speed isn’t necessarily a priority for him anymore, but I’m fine with that if he keeps the average up alongside the power. Myers posted a 14.8% barrel rate last year, a career-best by far, and even had a .285 xBA and .588 xSLG. Will he put up another 35+ home run pace next year hitting in the .280s? No, I’m not going to say that’s a given, but it’s clearly a ceiling we can say is possible for him now. But if this change sticks, Myers could have a lot of value, even if he’s not stealing bases next year.


9.100 Alec Bohm (3B, Philadelphia Phillies)


I’m not sure I could’ve asked for more from Alec Bohm in his first season in the majors. The top prospect turned in a .338/.400/.481 slashline and looked excellent, posting a really solid Statcast profile with a 10.3% barrel rate, 46.8% hard-hit rate, .286 xBA, and a .343 xwOBA. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to expect improvement from Bohm’s rookie year to this year, and if his rookie year is any indication, I’m excited about his potential. I’m hopeful the power will develop, but bare minimum, Bohm has great contact skills and should be a solid third baseman.


10.117 Jake Cronenworth (2B, San Diego Padres)


Give me ALL THE PADRES. Cronenworth has quite the breakout year this year, slashing .285/.354/.477 and looked great, posting a .324 xBA and .541 xSLG, as well as a .383 xwOBA (an improvement over his .350 wOBA if you can believe it). It’s hard to gauge exactly what Cronenworth’s value is going to be when it’s actually draft season—I could see him easily being overvalued because of the breakout—but in the 10th round, I’m more than happy to snag him as my second baseman. For whatever it’s worth, his NFBC ADP right now as of this writing is pick 160, which suggests I overdrafted him. Personally, I’m not putting a ton of stock in NFBC ADP right now, and I think Cronenworth’s ADP is going to jump up as we get closer to the season.


11.124 Corey Kluber (SP, Free Agent)


I’m not usually a guy who makes risky picks. In fact, I tend to be more risk-averse than not. But in this mock draft, I snagged two high-risk/high-reward pitchers in Strasburg and Kluber. I was big on Kluber last year, and then he pitched one inning and was out for the rest of the year with a shoulder injury. Yes, I know Kluber is 34, yes, I know he’s pitched a total of 36.2 innings in the past two seasons, so yea, there’s a lot of risk here. But in the 11th round, I’m fine with taking a shot on Kluber and seeing what he’s got in the tank. If he’s able to even be a shadow of his 2018 self, he’ll be a really solid pitcher. I’m hopeful, and I honestly don’t think I’m risking all that much by spending an 11th-round pick on him.


12.141 Brad Hand (RP, Free Agent)


Like much of the baseball world, I’m pretty surprised Brad Hand was let go. Last year, he was one of the best closers around, logging 16 saves with a 2.05 ERA and 1.37 FIP alongside a 33.7% strikeout rate. Had we had a full season, Hand almost definitely would have logged his third-straight 30+ save season. Aaaaand now he’s a free agent. He’ll get picked up without a doubt, I just hope he lands a closing job somewhere and not a setup gig (though the latter wouldn’t shock me at all given how bullpens are used these days). It’s worth noting that, when we did this mock draft, Hand was still the closer for Cleveland (one of the downsides to doing an early mock draft). If he lands a closer gig, I think he’ll be one of the top closers again. If not, he’ll at least have value in saves+holds leagues (which, if we’re being honest, is the superior format to saves only leagues).


13.148 Salvador Perez (C, Kansas City Royals)


I feel like I end up with Salvador Perez every year. I’m never willing to shell out for one of the top catchers (which has saved me the headache of Gary Sanchez in years past) so I always wait until the double-digit rounds to snag a catcher, and old Sal is always there. We actually saw a slightly different Sal Perez last year, which was interesting to me. He posted career-best numbers in barrel rate (13.9%), xBA (.325), xSLG (.624), xwOBA (.387), and xwOBACON (.496)—and all of those expected stats were in at least the top 4% of the league. He also posted a 47% hard-hit rate, down just half a percentage point from his hard-hit rate in 2018. After a lost 2019 coming off a year in which Perez hit .235 with 27 home runs, seeing him launch into a .333/.353/.633 year is not what I expected at all. So what do you expect from him next year? I think the average is almost definitely coming down, given he posted a .375 BABIP (compared to a career .287 BABIP) and an absurd 1.9% walk rate, but I still think a higher average is possible. Steamer projects him as a .261 hitter with 29 home runs: I think the power number is right, but I think that average is probably the lower end of what I’d expect. If you’re not willing to spend on an early catcher, I think Perez is a perfectly solid guy to grab.


14.165 John Means (SP, Baltimore Orioles)


I mean, you know I had to draft an Oriole, and I ended up drafting one of my absolute favorite Orioles. I talked a bunch about how much I love John Means on the Locked On Orioles podcast, but here’s the gist of why I love this guy, especially late in drafts. Means had the second-greatest gain in fastball velocity among all pitchers last year, with his fastball jumping from 91.7 MPH on average in 2019 to 93.8 MPH last year, and he added just under 100 RPMs of spin to the fastball. That’s awesome, and as a result, the fastball was a lot more effective, posting a .253 wOBA against. So why was he so bad last year? If I can take off my analytics hat for a second, I think last year was really really hard on Means. Early in the shortened season, Means’ father died, and Means ended up missing some time on the bereavement list. But after he came back, Means was lights out. In his final four starts of the year, he posted a 1.52 ERA, 2.75 SIERA, 34.5% strikeout rate, 3.4% walk rate, and a 32.1% CSW. That’s phenomenal. Honestly, I’m pretty much willing to toss out the first half of last year and believe the John Means we saw at the end of the year. Also worth noting—Means had the biggest difference in home runs allowed versus expected home runs allowed, suggesting some of his struggles last year were bad luck rather than skill-based. All the more reason to expect an improvement next year.


15.172 Christian Walker (1B, Arizona Diamondbacks)


I’ve been a big Christian Walker fan for a while now, honestly probably since he was a prospect on the Orioles blocked by Chris Davis from ever reaching the major league team (that worked out great!). Last year, we saw a really nice season from Walker, posting a .271/.333/.459 slashline, and I think we could see another pretty good year from him this year. I think the average is going to come down a bit, I think .270s is about his ceiling, but I could easily see him turning in essentially the season he had in 2019 when he hit .259 with 29 home runs. He’s not an incredible player, but a very solid guy for your CI spot or utility spot.


16.189 Nick Anderson (RP, Tampa Bay Rays)


I usually like to draft two closers in a draft, so I decided to go ahead and snag another one here with Nick Anderson. World Series aside, Anderson was fantastic last year, posting a 0.55 ERA, 1.35 FIP, and 1.96 SIERA with a 44.8% strikeout rate in 16.1 innings. Sure, he only logged six saves, which translates to a less-than-20-save season, but if he sticks as the Rays’ closer, I like Anderson as a guy who’s going to net you a decent number of saves without hurting you in strikeout and walk categories.


17.196 Colin Moran (3B, Pittsburgh Pirates)


Colin Moran started the year absurdly hot, slashing .333/.385/.875 in his first 13 games in July and then slowed way down, finishing out the year with a .247/.325/.472 slashline. Still, I’m a fan of the fact that he put up a career-best 13.4% barrel rate and an excellent 47.2% hard-hit rate. He clearly was hitting the ball harder and better last year, which is encouraging. What can we expect from a full season for Moran? I’m not 100% sure, but if I’m taking lottery tickets at the end of a draft, I’m grabbing guys like Moran who showed they may have made some skill changes to their approach last year. Moran had a .225 ISO last year—if that kind of power keeps up in a full season in 2021 and he gets back to hitting in the .270s like he has the two years prior to 2020, I’m very interested in what he can do.


18.213 Spencer Turnbull (SP, Detroit Tigers)


My love for Spencer Turnbull is very well-documented on this site. I really liked a lot of the changes he was making to his game last year, and they did end up resulting in a much-improved year over 2019. Unfortunately, an improvement over Turnbull’s 2019 is still a 3.97 ERA (albeit with a 3.49 FIP) and a pretty sad 1.34 WHIP and 21.1% strikeout rate. So why am I still drafting Turnbull? Because I still think he’s got the ingredients to be a solid pitcher—his four-seam fastball still looked really good last year, his sinker looked a lot better, and his slider was still an excellent putaway pitch. He doesn’t have another good breaker, which I would love to see him develop (maybe Matthew Boyd can teach him his changeup?) but still, two solid fastballs and a great breaking pitch are a really nice foundation. I’m hopeful he can take another step forward next year, as clearly he’s a guy who’s not afraid to make adjustments, and I’m hopeful that he’ll do that. Plus, an 18th-round pick isn’t a high price to pay at all.


19.220 Deivi García (SP, New York Yankees)


During the season, I did a GIF Breakdown of Deivi García’s debut, and I was impressed with his stuff. He’s got three really solid breakers in his changeup, curveball, and slider, and he’s got a really nice fastball. But García was pretty up and down last year and finished out the year with a 4.98 ERA, 4.15 FIP, and a 22.6% strikeout rate. Still, I think the raw stuff is there, and the guy is just 21-years-old. I’d bet a lot of money García sticks in the rotation, and with his raw stuff, a full offseason to work on it, and more time in the majors, I like his potential a lot.


20.237 Jeimer Candelario (3B, Detroit Tigers)


I love Jeimer Candelario and I cannot tell you how happy I am to see him break out last year. Honestly, I feel like it was a really quiet breakout (which is unsurprising when a guy breaks out on a team as bad as the Tigers), but a breakout it was, as Candelario slashed .297/.369/.503, the best slashline of his career. So do I believe the breakout? I do, to an extent. Candelario started hitting the ball a lot better last year, posting a career-best 10.3% barrel rate and a 47.1% hard-hit rate (also a career-best). And his expected stats seem to mostly agree with the season he had, as he had a .277 xBA and a .469 xSLG. I think if these changes keep up, Candelario could be a really nice late-round add that could provide you a good average and a bit of pop.


21.244 Eduardo Rodríguez (SP, Boston Red Sox)


E-Rod missed last year recovering from myocarditis, but he’s (hopefully) on track to be back in 2021, and if he is and he’s the E-Rod we expect, the 21st round is great value for him in my opinion. Let’s not forget that he posted a 3.81 ERA with a 24.8% strikeout rate in 2019 and a 3.82 ERA with a 26.4% strikeout rate in 2018. Not ace numbers by any stretch, but really solid numbers for sure. Obviously, we’re not sure what he’ll look like in 2021 coming off of a missed season, but I’m happy to take that risk with my third-to-last pick.


22.261 Drew Smyly (SP, Atlanta Braves)


I’m a big fan of what Drew Smyly did last year, as I’ve mentioned on Twitter:

It’s worth noting that that 2.6 MPH gain Smyly had on his fastball is the biggest velocity gain of any starting pitcher in baseball from 2019 to 2020, and adding that much spin is big too. Obviously, I’m not saying Smyly is some sort of ace suddenly, but it’s abundantly clear he made some major changes last year, and they paid off big time. Now, in the Braves starting rotation, I am thrilled to snag Smyly this late in drafts (though I’d bet money his ADP will climb a good bit by March). He’s going to be on a lot of my teams this year.


23.268 Willy Adames (SS, Tampa Bay Rays)


Adames is another guy I’m really interested in, because he seems to have made some noticeable changes to his approach last year (I swear I’m not just here to promote my Twitter account):

Not everything about Adames is great, I’ll fully acknowledge that. While he saw his barrel rate jump up, it’s still just 9.9%, and his xBA was a godawful .229 and while his wOBA was a nice .341, his xwOBA was .295. So yeah, there’s plenty to not like about Adames, but I’m really interested in the changes he made and I’m willing to take a flier on him with my last pick in the draft.


Photos: KA Sports Photos / Wikimedia Commons (John Means); Quinn Harris / Icon Sportswire (José Abreu); Scott Ableman / Creative Commons (Stephen Strasburg) | Design by Quincey Dong (Twitter: @threerundong)

Ben Palmer

Senior columnist at Pitcher List. Lifelong Orioles fan (which can be....painful at times) and a Ravens/Wizards/Terps fan. I also listen to way too much music and watch way too many movies.

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