As a slow offseason grinds on and we inch closer to a season that will hopefully look more normal than 2020, the 2021 MLB Draft is also beginning to come into focus. The Detroit Tigers are once again well positioned with a plethora of top 100 picks, the earliest at number three overall. In Baseball America’s new 2021 mock draft, they have the Tigers spending their top pick on Dallas Jesuit High School SS Jordan Lawlar.
The 2020 showcase circuit saw Lawlar rise up numerous draft boards to become the top prep player in the draft, replacing early favorite Brady House. Despite their naturally risk-averse organizational approach, the Tigers are no stranger to plucking teenage talent with their first pick. In 2016 they selected righthander Matt Manning, while in 2019 they took another high-end prep talent in outfielder Riley Greene. So far, so good on both counts. Still, selecting a prep bat inherently comes with more risk for the organization. So why Lawlar? Carlos Collazo of Baseball America says it’s all about the tools.
They’ll have a chance to add even more impact talent in 2021 and in this scenario they wind up with Lawlar, who has a strong all-around skillset with a chance for above-average tools across the board.
Let’s start with the swing, as Lawlar’s hit tool is the main selling point here. At 6’2 and 185 pounds, his rangy frame projects to add plenty of good muscle in the coming years, but you don’t get selected in the top ten on the hope of physical projection. Lawlar’s eye and ability to consistently drive the ball are fundamental to his prospect status.
A nice open face look shows the quiet setup and smooth hands. As noted in the tweet, there is a slight hesitation in the hands, but that is just to adjust to an offspeed pitch. As the swing and ability to adjust suggest, Lawlar has an excellent hit tool. Hence the industry’s confidence that he’ll be selected near the top of the draft. Whether he’s worth taking there will ultimately be decided by his power development and his ability to stick at shortstop long-term.
Here’s one more look at the swing in action.
Jordan Lawlar is so, so good. Gets two high fastballs he swings under... lays off a slider on the corner... gets another high fastball from Thatcher Hurd, adjusts, drives it deep into the RCF gap for a triple. Pretty special hit tool from this young man. pic.twitter.com/f19E45mrHn— Joe (@JoeDoyleMiLB) October 4, 2020
The power department is where there’s some real projecting to be done. His tall, rangy frame suggests more power will be unlocked as he develops, but Lawlar doesn’t sell out for the fences with his compact swing. Teams will have to project enough strength gains to believe that his pure hitting ability will carry him the rest of the way.
Joe Doyle of Lookout Landing has been hard at work creating in depth profiles for potential draft picks for the Mariners, including Lawlar. Pretend he’s referring to the Tigers and there is a good look at the skillset Lawlar brings to the table as a potential pick.
The combination of advanced hit tool and defensive ability form the core of Lawlar’s attributes. Between smooth motions, a strong arm, and sublime instincts, there is much to like about Lawlar’s defensive ability.
Good look at some pregame work from the top prep SS for the ‘21 #MLBDraft Jordan Lawlar (TX) defending pregame.— Shooter Hunt (@ShooterHunt) August 7, 2020
Effortless athleticism w/ big arm strength. Confident aura pervades.
Crisp attention to detail. #MLBDraft@NathanRode @PBR_Texas pic.twitter.com/hIGtr187Cv
Think back to Spencer Torkelson and the worry that Detroit wouldn’t get enough value back for a first overall pick with a first baseman. Position matters a lot in terms of projecting future value. A prep shortstop won’t inherently cause the same worry, but many high school shortstops do move off the position as their frame fills out. Lawlar appears to have a good chance to stick there, but he isn’t a lock. The odds that he ultimately ends up at third base, where his arm and actions will certainly play, are not insubstantial.
Just how risky is taking a prep shortstop? Taking a look at the high school draftees that were announced as a shortstop when drafted dating back to 2005 paints a pretty confident picture.
Top 3 HS SS Selections
|Bobby Witt Jr.||2019||2|
That table turned out rather better than expected. Save for Lewis and Witt Jr. who haven’t debuted yet, the recent run is very impressive. But it does back up the notion that in order to take a high school shortstop in the top three, the Tigers better be confident not only in the skillset Lawlar possesses, but their own ability to develop him into an MLB talent.
The rest of the list can provide some insight as well. Moustakas was a shortstop, but grew out of the position. Machado is now a third baseman for several reasons, chief among them Fernando Tatis Jr., and of course Upton ultimately flourished as a corner outfielder. Things change with players post draft, and the variance is far greater for a prep player.
Projecting Lawlar’s build, Doyle mentions in the profile linked above that he’s got a very similar physical build to Carlos Correa. That doesn’t immediately put him on the Correa path or comp the ability in any way, but Lawlar is listed at the same weight and just an inch shorter.
The way things look right now, several months away from the actual draft, it seems the only particular risk with Lawlar is the inherent risk in selecting any prep player. They are more raw both mentally and physically, they have to adjust to the competition level, and there is a lot that can go wrong on the longer road to ‘the show.’ Still, on the surface, I would be extremely happy with the Tigers taking Lawlar.
One last note here is the makeup of a player can play a role in the risk too. By all accounts, Lawlar isn’t just a physical specimen, but a genuinely good kid too. He has a commitment to Vanderbilt, one of the top college pipelines to major league success, and is regarded as a good student and a quick study on the field as well. You can hear him speak with Joe Doyle and Ralph Lifshitz on the Prospects Live Draft Show.
What Would This Mean For The Tigers?
Obviously we’ve only just reached January and a new year. The draft is a long way off, and as the upper levels of amateur baseball have been derailed by COVID-19 for nearly a year now, there is an awful lot that could change this spring. Seeing the Tigers take Lawlar in a mock is a realistic outcome, but what would that mean for the organization? Outside of getting a player with fantastic upside, of course.
The big pitching prospects are in the big leagues, or at least knocking on the door. The Tigers have roughly three years of cheap control over Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal with which to work. So to take a prep bat, who will presumably take longer to develop than one of the college bats, things don’t line up all that well for the team building effort. Torkelson is a player who, if all goes well, has a quick path to the majors. Riley Greene was a prep player, but his precocious ability should help his timeline to match up. That kind of timeline would be a tough sell with Lawlar who would reasonably be expected to reach the majors in 2025, give or take a year.
Flip that coin over and try to project a college bat instead. Due to circumstance, there may actually be a good deal more information available on Lawlar, who was at least able to play against appropriate competition on the showcase circuit in 2020. Jud Fabian, Matt McClain, and the rest of the college players missed last season. That’s a year of scouting them essentially gone. No doubt teams have done there best to keep tabs on them, but it’s just very difficult with hitters in particular. There will be some sort of a college season this year, but as of right now schools haven’t released their schedules, and planning remains a work in progress as we wait to see how things play out with the virus this winter. There is enough uncertainty around the college players to think maybe the prep route and Lawlar is a smarter choice.
Let’s not forget the matter of the remaining top 100 picks. There is only so much draft pool to go around. Taking a high schooler that early will likely mean signing over slot value, which could have some ramifications for the rest of the draft. The Tigers will have a valuable pick in supplemental round A after the regular first round is completed, and then they hold the third pick in the second round as well. They’ve got to retain enough spending power to maximize those first three selections in particular.
Ultimately, we’re a long way from worrying about these factors right now. Much will change in the spring, and draft boards will be shuffled and reshuffled again by the time things start to solidify. But Lawlar’s timetable and potential signing demands are factors that will have to be considered should he retain his status as a consensus top ten pick through the spring months.
Lawlar is a physical specimen and one heck of a baseball talent. To take a prep shortstop top three is a massive endorsement of the upside of that particular player. Teams don’t take a selection like that lightly, hence the consistently good recent outcomes for prep shortstops at the top of the board. These guys can play. Lawlar is no different.
Really the biggest downside to picking Lawlar is getting the timing lined up with the top pitching prospects and the top hitters. As we start to see the fruits of this rebuild, like Casey Mize, Matt Manning, and company, the hitters need to be ready too. If the Tigers believe Lawlar fits into that picture, then it’s a genuinely great pick on the surface.
With so much time until the draft, everything is liable to change. For now, I like the Lawlar selection. I think Matt McClain, Adrian Del Castillo, and Jud Fabian are just a few other potential options right now for Detroit to take with their first pick, and presumably someone will boost their stock substantially this spring to enter that mix. But it’s quite possible that none of them bring as much upside to the table as Lawlar.