The track record for prep shortstops selected in the top ten of any MLB Draft is embarrassingly impressive. There’s something about the demographic that projects incredibly well at the next level. These are generally the guys that turn into generational talents at the position. 2021 might have another one of those pillars in Dallas Jesuit’s Jordan Lawlar. Better still, the Mariners might be in the drivers seat to bring him on board.
Prep shortstops selected in the top ten are a big deal. It’s a signal to the league that a kid’s ceiling is through the roof. Have a look at high school shortstops selected in the top ten over the past 15 years.
Sure, there are misses. Tim Beckham didn’t live up to expectations. Nick Gordon has largely struggled to find his footing in the league (though he’s still young). Cornelius Randolph grew out of the position and had to move to the outfield. Royce Lewis and Brendan Rodgers have ascended through the minors, performing at every step of the way, looking every bit the part of future all-star caliber players.
No argument is necessary for guys like Justin Upton, Mike Moustakas, Manny Machado, Javier Baez, Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa. Simply put, they’re among the best players in the league, or were considered as such at some point.
The blend of physical projection and top-of-the-scale athleticism makes it easier to project future success for prep shortstops. The arm can generally play anywhere on the field. The range is an asset anywhere you throw the kid. The hands are usually primo. There’s a reason the best players on earth generally play shortstop in high school. It’s the most demanding position on the field, and if you do it well, you’re going to stand out.
Lawlar is just that. A standout. He currently ranks as my 3rd best prospect in next June’s draft and may surge even higher as the summer barrels on.
So what makes Lawlar similar to the guys listed above? Why should you believe he’s cut from a similar cloth to that of guys like Correa? Well, it begins with the body... as odd as that is to type as an adult man regarding a 17-year-old. Scouting is inherently weird. Luckily, I’m doing it so you don’t have to!
At 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, Lawlar already looks the part. It’s a frame you couldn’t really draw up any better. His shoulders are broad, his waist is high, and the frame is lean. He could comfortably put on 15 to 20 pounds of muscle in his upper body and into his legs that shouldn’t negatively affect his athleticism and abilities on the field. I’ve had two front office executives in scouting from big league organizations compare it all to Derek Jeter. The comparison wasn’t thrown around with reckless abandon -- the kid has serious drip right now.
Lawlar has become more physical each of the last couple summers getting bigger and stronger as he’s gotten older. He reportedly works out in his home gym five days per week to keep the weight on and the gains coming.
In the classroom, Lawlar is a straight-A student. He takes what’s between the ears just as serious as his play between the lines. A Vanderbilt commit, Lawlar will be well taken care of should he decide to play college ball and forego professional baseball for a while. That being said, pro ball might be too hard to pass up considering the tools and his presumptive draft position.
Lawlar has one of the prettiest swings I’ve ever seen from a prep. It’s not the modern loft-heavy hack that throws plenty of swing and miss on the table. Lawlar’s swing is quiet. The head is generally perfectly still lacking much drift in any direction whatsoever. He effortlessly sets his hands pre-load. The hands don’t drift in either direction with his minimal leg kick. At the point of attack, Lawlar keeps his hands tucked inside and through the ball. The barrel plane is consistent and stays through the hitting zone a long time. It currently lacks the attack angle you want to see in prototypical power bats, but it’s far from a ground ball liability. It’s more geared toward line drives and gap power right now, but in time, should be an easy adjustment without a painful learning curve. In essence, the entire product is picturesque for the “set the hands and let em’ go” mentality in the box. It’s the same mechanism Correa tries to employ in the box. Once in motion, the hands can adjust and work the barrel. It’s exactly what allowed Jeter so much success at the plate. The hands are strong and quiet. Exceptional barrel control is a byproduct.
Lawlar isn’t a pull-happy hitter, using the entire field to his advantage. He’s smoked balls into the right-centerfield gap just as much as he’s corked them down the left field line. I’ve watched more of this kid’s tape than most of the college hitters in the 2021 class. Everything about his approach at the plate is refined and outlandish for someone his age.
In a recent interview chatting with Lawlar, he talked me through facing some of the toughest arms on the summer circuit and how he’s approached attacking their strengths and weakness.
More often than not, talking to high school hitters and even a majority of college hitters, the mentality is “wait for my pitch.” Don’t get me wrong, there’s huge benefits to that approach at lesser-level ball. But that’s not the inherent approach Lawlar tries to employ. Instead, he catalogs each pitch he’s receiving from the opposition. He mentally charts what the pitcher has to offer and where he expects to go next. It’s an exercise in sequencing, and it’s big league-caliber thinking. Lawlar will turn on your first pitch get-me-over curveball if it’s in the report. He’ll wait for the 2-strike slider and take it the other way. It’s this frame of thinking that has allowed a guy like Kyle Lewis to shove monster batting average numbers and extraordinary BABIP lines thus far. It’s maturity at the plate. It’s not selling out for exit velocity pull-side. Having this mentality at 17-years-old is not only impressive, it should make for a friendlier transition to professional ball in the not-too-distant future.
So in a nutshell, Lawlar is an advanced, mature hitter who will take his walks, doesn’t punch out an inordinate amount of the time, and will drive the ball to all fields in the process. He probably won’t be the impact slugger right out of the gate, that too shall come…
As previously mentioned, Lawlar’s 6-foot-2, 190-pound frame is indicative of a guy that should grow into a strong, well-built, athletic body. Keep in mind, when Correa was drafted, he was 6-foot-3, 190-pounds. The similarities are striking. Should Lawlar continue to fill out like Correa, given the maturity, approach and advanced swing for his age, it’s easy to imagine a similar career trajectory. Now, of course, this is by no means saying that will happen, but some of the infantile building blocks for that are in place.
Lawlar is not currently a power hitter. He doesn’t have a “powerful” swing by traditional markers, but he does project to grow into more pop as he gets older. There’s clear and present bat speed in his profile, and he does a really nice job putting backspin on his fly balls, allowing them to carry. The hard contact is always on display for Lawlar, so getting the barrel to the ball isn’t an issue either. What will dictate his future power potential will be the direction of his body and whether or not some minimal swing changes take naturally to his game. He comes across as the type of player who’s malleable in a batting cage and on the field, so should he never find more pop in his bat, it won’t be for a lack of trying.
As it stands, this eye sees Lawlar as a 17-22 home run guy at his peak. That may be on the conservative side, though some may find it to be aggressive too. For my money, 17-22 home runs are a good median for his floor and ceiling, and for scouting purposes I like to plant my flag on the realistic side and allow players to destroy that glass ceiling. I’d rather be a glum fool and let their play muzzle my efforts.
Lawlar comfortably projects as a plus runner, and I don’t see that deviating anytime soon. As a straight line sprinter, he’s probably a tick faster. At the Perfect Game National Showcase in July, Lawlar clocked a 6.45 60-yard dash. That type of performance is indicative of a 70-grade, plus-plus runner. But there’s more that goes into the grade as a whole.
Out of the box, Lawlar can take a little time to get underway. It’s by no means a lazy or sluggish gallop from home to first, instead just a lengthier follow-through of the swing delaying his momentum. He’ll have absolutely no issues whatsoever generating extra-base hits as he can really cook down the base paths, especially the next gear from second to third.
On the dirt, there’s more than enough speed to get to the balls to his right, and he’s awfully impressive charging balls on the grass. More on that soon.
As a whole, the legs are certainly an asset right now. For comparison, because that’s just what we’ve ended up doing here, Correa’s best clocked 60 was a 6.79 in 2011. Lawlar is clearly a cut above that and his speed should age a tinge better than that of the Astros slugger.
Put simply, Lawlar is one of the better defenders at the position in the class, and one of the few I can fairly assuredly say will stick at the position at the next level.
When you play shortstop, you have to be able to make every play. You have to be able to go to your left, to your right, and charge a ball. As Mariners fans have seen this season, having a premier defender at the position like J.P. Crawford can make a big different in limiting opportunities for the opposition. Lawlar holds his own and then some.
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
The Dallas Jesuit prep has fantastic hands. His glove control is excellent and his ball-to-hand transitions are smooth. The arm is really, really quick. He’s seemingly always composed on balls in play. Lawlar’s athleticism is off the charts with the glove. On one occasion this summer, he leapt high into the air to snare an errant throw from the catcher, only to snap the ball down on a would-be base-stealer seemingly before he’d even reached his apex. As an onlooker, I threw my back out. The entire exchange reminded me of some of the insane stuff we see from Baez, albeit this on a pretty small scale. The body control was next-level and we didn’t see another shortstop make anything even remotely as flashy as that play all week.
To his left, Lawlar is fluid to the ball. His hip flexibility is smooth and natural allowing him to pick anything within his radius without losing his momentum or balance. He’s shown the ability to throw across his body and turns a composed double play at the bag.
Charging the ball is another play Lawlar’s shown comfort in, throwing off-balance and against the grain with ease. We’ve seen him barehand a number of balls at this point, clearly a piece of his game he’s comfortable in. There’s more than enough arm to make the play, and his ball doesn’t tail up the baseline making the first baseman’s job that much easier.
Backhanding balls to his right, planting and firing (arguably the most difficult play for a shortstop) is under control and the throws are on target. He doesn’t have the cannon that someone like Correa has, though we’ll touch on that later. Lawlar has shown the ability to circle in on a ball to his right and throw across his body from deep in the hole.
Lawlar has plenty of arm to play the position, though it likely will never be the type of tool that wows you. His throws are accurate and consistent. They don’t tail up the line or short-hop the first baseman for the most part.
The throws moving left and the throws charging in are strong and consistent. Planting to his right in the hole, he’s got enough arm to get the ball over to first accurately and on-time.
Lawlar clocked 85 mph on his infield tosses at PG National, but he’s been clocked in the high 80s prior. 85 is a pretty average arm on the dirt, pushing solid average, though if he improves that number to approach 90 on record by next spring, the 55-grade would be a pretty comfortable tag. I do think there’s a frame and arm action here to dream on a plus arm, but you’d like to see it tick up before making that assumption.
For what it’s worth, because I know you’re probably wondering, Correa clocked one of the biggest infield throws in the history of Perfect Game Showcases in 2011 at 97 mph. There’s a clear difference here. The elder simply has a howitzer for the position, unmatched by just about anyone in the sport. It’s unlikely Lawlar will ever develop into something like that.
Before you say “But Correa went first overall, Lawlar isn’t even better than Kumar Rocker, Jack Leiter or Jud Fabian…” keep in mind Correa wasn’t even a consensus Top 5 talent in 2012. The top three by almost all talent prognosticators were Mark Appel, Kevin Gausman and Mike Zunino. Correa fell somewhere behind those guys in the pecking order. He was a pretty massive under-slot for the Astros, allowing them to draft more aggressively as the rounds went by.
I also want to make one further point clear: I am not placing a comp. of Correa on Lawlar. I think there’s a lot of similarities in the swing, as well as the build, but Lawlar lags behind Correa in a number of ways at this same point in their careers.
I’m not saying Lawlar is the best player in this draft. But I’m not saying he isn’t either. Everything about this profile is tantalizing. The body, the makeup, the tools, it all screams big league impact to me. If the Mariners elect to go prep in the first round for the first time since 2014, I think Lawlar is the guy. He likely won’t be available to Seattle until 2025, at which point Crawford will be 30 years old and potentially on his way into the throes of free agency.
Here’s the thing. It’s no guarantee Seattle will have a top-two, top-three, or hell, even top-four draft pick next June. It’s important you get to know some of the guys outside of the Rocker’s, Leiter’s, Jaden Hill’s and Fabian’s.
With the rebuild reaching it’s completion, the team will be able to flip the farm on it’s head here soon and start reaching for higher-ceiling preps in the not-so-distant future. After all, the only other time the Mariners selected a prep infielder in the top five it didn’t turn out so bad…