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2021 Arizona Diamondbacks Draft Preview: Introduction

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The Diamondbacks hold the sixth pick in this year’s draft. Who might they select and why?

2020 Record: 25-35 (.417)
Position: 25th
2021 Draft Bonus Pool: $11,271,900 (7th)

Thanks in no small part to last season’s May swoon, the Arizona Diamondbacks will be selecting sixth in this year’s First-Year Player Draft. In years past, the draft was generally held around the 4th of June. This season though, MLB has decided to hold the draft during the All-Star break, adding more festivities (and hopefully eyeballs) to the combined events. The woeful Pittsburgh Pirates hold the first selection in this year’s draft, which has a decent amount of upper-tier depth. Putting things in a bit of perspective, the 2015 draft, in which the Diamondbacks had the first overall selection, would have seen its top players struggling to crack this year’s top-6. There is, however, one thing that seems to be a possible similarity between the drafts, that the first-overall pick hails from Vanderbilt. Not just one, but two, of the top talents in this season’s draft are right-handed pitchers from that prodigious baseball talent factory.

As is the norm, this season does not have a no-doubt, stand-out 1-1 pick. There is though some certainty to be found in the first few picks. Beyond that, things get hazy, as organizational needs and philosophies don’t quite match up with the remaining top talent. Still, there are a few things that can be banked upon, giving at least a small bit of clarity to what the Diamondbacks might do with their sixth pick.

For starters, here are the top-12 talents according to Baseball America, along with their Fangraphs Big Board ranking.

  1. Jack Leiter, RHP, Vanderbilt (1)
  2. Jordan Lawlar, SS, Dallas Jesuit HS (5)
  3. Kumar Rocker, RHP, Vanderbilt (2)
  4. Marcelo Mayer, SS, Eastlake HS (7)
  5. Henry Davis, C, Louisville (11)
  6. Brady House, SS, Winder-Barrow HS (9)
  7. Sal Frelick, OF, Boston College (12)
  8. Ty Madden, RHP, Texas (10)
  9. Gunnar Hoglund, RHP, Mississippi*
  10. Khalil Watson, SS, Wake Forest HS (4)
  11. Jackson Jobe, RHP, Heritage Halls HS (29)
  12. Matt McLain, SS, UCLA (3)

*Gunnar Hoglund just underwent Tommy John surgery, likely dropping him out of the top-10 selections. However, the talent is real enough that he should still expect to go in the 15-20 range.

Short of Arizona trying to get ultra-creative with their draft bonus pool, it is fair to say that the sixth selection in the draft will come from this list. Two names that will not be available at #6 are Leiter and Lawler. While there is some debate as to how high Leiter goes in the draft, no one, but no one, has him falling to #6, and only one major outlet has him falling as far as #5. As for Lawler, he is not making it beyond Texas at #2. Texas has made it abundantly clear that, unless Pittsburgh takes him first overall, they will be taking Lawler at #2. In some seasons, Hoglund’s surgery might not be enough to force him to be passed over at #6. However, this season has enough upper-tier depth that it seems unlikely he would be a candidate for Arizona at #6. His talent is sufficient enough that he would not be looking at needing to take a discount in his signing bonus to be taken at #6, so there is no added upside, while there is considerable risk in taking a pitcher who will be only two months removed from Tommy John. Lastly, there is Khalil Watson, potentially one of the most dynamic players in the draft - from either the prep or college ranks. He is also a classic boom or bust candidate. There is far more certainty, with little drop-off in projection, with other prep shortstops on the list. Selecting #6, the Diamondbacks are certain to have at least one, if not two of those prep shortstops to choose from if that is the route they want to take.

Finally, it’s time to address the elephant in the room - Matt McLain. It’s known that the Diamondbacks’ front office likes McLain and his tools. They like McLain so much that they drafted him in the first round back in 2018, despite a strong commitment to UCLA. The team was unable to sign him away from going to university and wound up having to settle for a compensation pick the following year. It can be easily argued that McLain made the right call going to UCLA instead of signing. He will almost certainly go in the top-10 this year, as opposed to 25th, where Arizona selected him in 2018. The problem with McLain is, it can also be argued he has done little to improve his overall stock since 2018. His first season at UCLA, he was forced into service as a center fielder. That transition did not go especially well. While he acquitted himself just fine in the field, his bat took a significant step back. Then, he lost the 2020 season to the pandemic. Now, back on the infield, he is thriving again. His bat has returned and shows promise, but his ability to stick at shortstop long-term has come into question. There are still plenty who feel he has the tools to stick at short, but that he would do so as an average defender. Others feel his best home will be second base, though he still has the tools to also rotate back into the outfield. Matt McLain is the clear-cut best college shortstop in the draft, but he might be only the fifth-best shortstop overall. McLain also has the advantage of being one of the best college bats in a draft that is, to be kind, somewhat lacking in quality college hitters. If Arizona is dead-set on taking a college bat, and Henry Davis is off the board, there could potentially be a reunion between Arizona and McLain. Otherwise, the reunion seems highly unlikely. Higher upside and better shortstops are both likely to be available, while at least one other college pick seems to line up better with Arizona’s recent draft strategy. Should Arizona, for some reason, wind up taking McLain at #6, expect Derrick Hall and Mike Hazen to be working overtime to spin the pick in a way to soothe the burning disappointment from fans across the desert.

That leaves seven names left to explore as potential candidates at #6.

  • Kumar Rocker
  • Marcelo Mayer
  • Henry Davis
  • Brady House
  • Sal Frelick
  • Ty Madden
  • Jackson Jobe

Over the next two weeks, we will examine profiles of each of these players and look at how likely (or unlikely) it is for Arizona to select them.

Up next: Ty Madden, RHP, Texas