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Jordan Lawlar may be the Diamondbacks most exciting prospect since Justin Upton

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It’s been a while since we’ve had a prospect to get crazy excited over.

The Diamondbacks entered the 2021 MLB Draft in need of adding high ceiling talent in a system that had regressed across the board after a year without sufficient competition. Players that have performed well have been promoted up to the next level while others are sticking around to see a longer sample or hope to break out of a slump. With the farm system taking a major step backward, it proved how difficult it’s been on the organization to try to retool the organization as quickly as possible.

Going into the draft, I was a bit worried when the front office said they would take the best fit as opposed to the best player. Fortunately for us, those two things ultimately meant the exact same thing. Thanks to the Baltimore Orioles opting to take a deal over the most talented player on the board, Jordan Lawlar ended up falling right into the D-backs lap at #6. Without hesitation, they selected the Dallas area shortstop.

Lawlar gives the Diamondbacks a 5-tool impact talent at the shortstop position. The last time the team had a player in their system with this much talent goes back to when Justin Upton, a former #1 overall pick, was taken by the D-backs first overall in the 2005 Draft. Ironically enough, I had the 2011 All Star Game BP Jersey of Upton in the room out of sight during this draft. Upton was the top high school bat in his draft and would have likely stuck at the shortstop position if not for the team selecting Stephen Drew out of Florida State the year before.

Lawlar isn’t quite in the same tier of prospect as Upton was for Arizona, but he has a chance to provide a similar level of impact at the MLB level. Upton produced a 118 OPS+ and 13.7 bWAR in 731 games in Arizona, including a 2011 campaign that saw him produce an OPS+ of 141 and 5.5 bWAR enroute to a 4th place MVP finish. One thing that always held Upton back was he wasn’t a natural outfielder defensively and it showed both on the eye test and defensive metrics. While he wasn’t a butcher in the outfield, with slightly positive grades in Arizona, he was a guy who moved well laterally but struggled to go back or straight in. Lawlar won’t have that problem, as he won’t be moved off the shortstop position, even though I think his ceiling with the bat is not as good.

In both the draft thread and the live stream, Lawlar’s potential signability out the draft came up although with more time to think about it I don’t see it as a problem. Even though he’s committed to play in the top NCAA Baseball program in Vanderbilt, I don’t believe he will turn down the slot value of $5,724,700 in hopes of being a top-5 pick in two years. That decision would have more risk than reward for Lawlar, so expect him to put on a D-backs uniform in front of the media in the coming months. There’s a lot of risk in play trying to get another million two years later as a draft-eligible sophomore as opposed to take slot now and getting that million back in free agency at Age 29 instead of 30 or 31.

Future Tools and Grades

Overall: 60, Organization Rank: 2nd

Lawlar possess a similar body types to both Derek Jeter and Carlos Correa. Not surprisingly, he has modeled his own game after those two All-Star shortstops. He currently measures in at 6’2” 185 but has room in his frame to add 20-30 pounds without sacrificing speed and athleticism. His overall game is very smooth and looks effortless, both at the plate and in the field, and he has a very good chance of sticking at the shortstop position. His body control and baseball IQ are definitely worth noting as a plus for him in addition to the great physical tools he possesses.

As a long term fit, he will be a starter on the infield as he is capable of playing any position on the dirt depending on how the shortstop position shakes out. Lawlar could very well move to 3B if Perdomo’s bat can develop enough for him to play at the MLB level, but given the latter’s struggles at the plate in 2021 it’s too early to make assumptions about the future of the position.

In the D-backs organization, I would rate the combination of Corbin Carroll and Jordan Lawlar more as a 1A and 1B than 1 and 2. Carroll doesn’t have nearly the same power ceiling but has a better hit and run tool than Lawlar, with less concerns about handling more advanced pitching. A year from now, the top two may indeed flip when it’s more clear if Lawlar can adjust to pro pitching and has less risk of busting.

Hit: 55+

Lawlar controls the strike zone with a very simple, yet effective swing. There aren’t a lot of moving parts and is very repeatable, which bodes well for projecting him to hit for a solid average and on base percentage in the MLB level. One thing I will want to see from him will be the ability to draw walks when teams pitch away from him. One additional note is he shows an ability to bunt for a hit against teams that don’t respect his speed. In Arizona, it’s likely he’ll see a lot of time batting either first or second in the lineup as a guy who put himself in scoring position or drive in the leadoff hitter.

Power: 55

His current power would probably grade out as a 45, but I’m projecting more power in the future as he bulks up. His ceiling as a hitter is in the 30/10/25 doubles/triples/home runs range, especially with Chase Field being a big doubles and triples ballpark. Due to his speed and athleticism, he will get a lot of hustle doubles against lesser skilled defenders. I don’t expect Lawlar to put up gigantic home run totals as his game is more potent with line drives than fly balls.

Speed: 60

Lawlar recorded a 60-yard dash time of 6.45 seconds at 185 pounds at the 2020 Perfect Game Showcase. Comparing him to two of the faster prospects in the system, Corbin Carroll ran 6.33 at 165 pounds and Alek Thomas ran 6.63 at 175. His present day run tool would grade at 65, possibly even 70, but I expect him to somewhat slow down a bit as he fills out more to 200+ pounds in the future. I still project him to be an above-average to plus runner on the bases with the potential to swipe 30 bags a season although his stolen base total will drop as he gets older and more concerned about the risk of injury.

Defense: 60+

As mentioned before, Lawlar is very smooth and under control of the field with exceptional body control. He should very little issue sticking at the shortstop position long term unless he simply lacks the range for it and I don’t believe that will be the case. He does have some fallback options defensively, as he could move to any position on the infield although it’s most likely his secondary position would be 3B should Perdomo’s bat develop enough to stick in the majors. In the minors, there will be no long blocking him at the position, so reps won’t be an issue. The only thing he needs to work on while preparing for the majors is consistency. His defense will be ready to play at the MLB level before the bat.

ETA: July 2025

I have no clue how the service time calendar will unfold in the next CBA, but I expect Lawlar to spend most of the remainder of 2021 working out at the team’s Spring Training facility and play some Arizona League games. Those games are closed to the public as far as I know, so the earliest you’ll get to see him is in Visalia (Low A) next year. If you have any travel plans in the area next summer, consider buying a ticket.

If things go well for Lawlar, he should advance one level per year. I don’t think he’ll be tested much in Low A, so his first speed bump could be at the High A level and playing in the Pacific Northwest. At that level you start to see the prospects begin to separate from the pack as the league is full of guys just out of college and high upside arms as the top prospects. We may see a bit of high offensive numbers in AA given half the games are played in the southern Texas heat and any numbers he puts up in Reno are obviously not noteworthy unless he obliterates the level as he’ll be MLB-ready by then.

With or without service time manipulations, I would expect four years as the median time necessary from drafted to in the Dbacks’ everyday lineup. His bat is a bit more advanced than your typical prep infielder pick, so I could see him up as early as three years. In the mean time we will be waiting anxiously to see how he progresses in the system in the near future. Depending on how things shake out, there is a solid chance the team may end up with the best bat, if not the best overall player in the draft.