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High School | General | 1/1/2021

Finest in the Field: Class of 2021

David Rawnsley        
Photo: Jordan Lawlar (Perfect Game)
As we look to acknowledge the top defensive players at each position, starting with the 2021 class, it’s worth noting who the 2020 Rawlings Gold Glove winners were in the pandemic shortened Major League season.  The reason for this is that so many of the big league award winners actually played different positions when they were high school seniors. 
 
Mookie Betts played the middle infield and could probably still be an elite level second baseman. Alex Gordon, who retired with his eighth Gold Glove as an outfielder, was a middle infielder in high school and played his first four MLB seasons as a third baseman. Javier Baez played shortstop at Arlington Country Day but played third base almost exclusively on the summer circuit. Kolton Wong and Isiah Kiner-Falefa were both catchers before moving to the infield as professionals. And there were many scouts who felt that Nolan Arenado’s future position was catcher.
 
So while these awards may not necessarily be predictive, they do provide a snap shot as to who are the best right now.
 
(*denotes Perfect Game Alumni amongst 2020 MLB winners)
 
 
Catcher
 
2020 MLB Winners: Roberto Perez (Cleveland), Tucker Barnhart* (Cincinnati)
 
Rawlings Perfect Game Gold Glove Winner: Rene Lastres (Calvary Christian Academy, Fla.)
 
It’s hard to tell what are the most important tools and skills for a top defensive catcher anymore. With the seemingly inevitable addition of computer called balls and strikes, receiving and framing skills are de-emphasized. With the running game playing less and less a role in creating offense in today’s home run hungry game, arm strength and the ability to control the running game is likewise less important.
 
So we’ll just go to default mode and evaluate catchers as we always have; on a combination of everything.  Rene Lastres gets the nod as the class of 2021 Rawlings Gold Glove catcher over fellow PG All-American Ian Moller (Wahlert HS, Iowa). Lastres is a strong and durable receiver with a very polished game behind the plate to go with a rocket right arm and a quick release. He also has as much experience handling elite level pitchers as any catcher in the class, handling All-American right handers Andrew Painter and Irving Carter at Calvary Christian Academy along working with the Canes National’s deep and talented pitching staff.
 
Another Florida prep receiver, Jayden Melendez (Westminster Christian, Fla.), along with California’s Charlie Saum (Thousand Oaks HS, Calif.) were considered as well.
 

First Base
 
2020 MLB Winners: Evan White* (Seattle), Anthony Rizzo* (Chicago Cubs)
 
Rawlings Perfect Game Gold Glove Winner: Max McGwire (Capistrano Valley HS, Calif.)
 
Gold Glove winners at first base are often athletic left-handers due to their advantage on tag plays at first base but McGwire is simple too athletic as a first baseman not to acknowledge his ability. In fact, it’s often mentioned that with his 7.0 speed and 90 mph arm strength that McGwire could easily be a primary outfielder.  And if you were wondering, his father, Mark, did win one Gold Glove in his career, taking honors as a 26-year-old with Oakland in 1990.
 
 
Middle Infield
 
2020 MLB Winners: John Paul Crawford* (Seattle), Cesar Hernandez (Cleveland), Javier Baez* (Chicago Cubs), Kolten Wong* (St. Louis)
 
Rawlings Perfect Game Gold Glove Winners: Jordan Lawlar (Jesuit College Prep, Texas), Edwin Arroyo (Avecibo Baseball Academy, P.R.)
 
There is never a shortage of talented defensive middle infielders across the country and this year is no exception. Still, the top ranked player in the class, Jordan Lawlar (Jesuit College Prep, Texas) stands out defensively for his all-around tools and his ability to slow the game down. His defensive actions compare to Cubs 2020 first round pick Ed Howard in that they aren’t flashy and accompanied by plus-plus arm strength but they are highly athletic and polished.
 
For pure tools and some flash, our second pick for a class of 2021 middle infield Gold Glove is Puerto Rico’s Edwin Arroyo (Arecibo, P.R.). Despite being one of the youngest players in the class, Arroyo’s polish comes close to matching Lawlar’s, plus he has that 96 mph infield arm strength to back up his glove and athleticism.
 
Among the other top prospects who look like they have the tools and projection to stay in the middle infield for the long term include California’s Marcelo Mayer (Eastlake HS, Calif.) and Cody Schrier (JSerra Catholic, Calif.), Michigan’s Alex Mooney (Orchard Lake Mary’s Prep, Mich.) and Florida’s Justin Colon (Montverde Academy, Fla.) and Alex Ulloa (Calvary Christian Academy, Fla.)
 
 
Third Base
 
2020 MLB Winners: Isiah Kiner-Falefa* (Texas), Nolan Arenado* (Colorado)
 
Rawlings Perfect Game Gold Glove Winner: Brady House (Winder-Barrow HS, Ga.)
 
The top third basemen in the Major Leagues are often high school shortstops who gravitate to the corner as they get bigger and less agile. Of course, evaluators can get too anxious about consigning top prospect shortstops to the hot corner, as many did with Corey Seager and Carlos Correa at this age.
 
Two present middle infielders stand out as potential elite future third basemen, Georgia’s Brady House and Texas’ Izaac Pacheco (Friendswood HS, Texas). Both definitely have the chance to stay in the middle infield despite their size, as House is listed at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds and Pacheco at an even bigger 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, due to their light and quick feet and overall athleticism. House gets the nod for now based on his better arm strength.
 
 
Outfield
 
2020 MLB Winners: Luis Robert (Chicago White Sox), Alex Gordon* (Kansas City), Joey Gallo* (Texas), Tyler O’Neill* (St. Louis), Trenton Grisham* (San Diego), Mookie Betts* (Los Angeles Dodgers)
 
Rawlings Perfect Game Gold Glove Winners: Benny Montgomery (Red Land HS, Penn.), Malakhi Knight (Archbishop Murphy HS, Wash.), Braden Montgomery (Madison Central HS, Miss.)
 
The two Montgomery’s, who are not related, stand out simply for the outstanding physical tools, although both, and especially Braden, have also shown mature route running ability.  Benny Montgomery’s 6.32 speed and long legs will eat up ground in centerfield, while Braden Montgomery’s elite level arm strength paints him as a high-level defensive right fielder.
 
While he doesn’t have the pure speed of Benny Montgomery or the raw arm strength of either of the Montgomerys, probably the best defender of the class and the most likely to stay in center field for the long term is Knight. A superlative athlete who averaged 26 points and 9 rebounds as a D1-caliber point guard last winter in basketball, Knight made the top outfield defensive play at both the PG National Showcase and the PG All-American Classic last year and his range and jumps are outstanding.
 
A second Gold Glove outfield of the speedy Jay Allen (John Carroll Catholic, Fla.), two-way standout Drew Gray (IMG Academy, Fla./Ill.) and switch-hitting Thaddeus Ector (Starrs Mill HS, Ga.) wouldn’t be much of a step down from the first unit.
 
 
Pitcher
 
2020 MLB Winners: Griffin Canning (Los Angeles Angels), Max Fried* (Atlanta)
 
Rawlings Perfect Game Gold Glove Winner: Jackson Jobe (Heritage Hall HS, Okla.)
 
The default for a pitcher’s Gold Glove at this level, since they have relatively few opportunities to actually show their young fielding skills, is simply athleticism. Being an accomplished middle infielder prior to converting a primary pitcher, such as Oklahoma’s Jackson Jobe (Heritage Hall HS, Okla.), certainly stands out as well.
 
It would surprise no one if other pitchers such as right-handers Max Debiec (O’Dea HS, Wash.) and Drew Christo (Elkhorn, Neb.) and left-handers Carter Holton (Benedictine Military, Ga.), Josh Hartle (Reagan HS, N.C.) and Mason Albright (IMG Academy, Fla/Va.) also become first-rate defensive pitchers.

 

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