The 2021 MLB Draft begins on July 11, 2021, and unlike in 2020, this will be a twenty round draft — shorter than the forty rounds the draft has been in the most recent years prior to 2020, but longer than last year’s five round version. The Rangers’ top three picks are at #2, #38, and #73.
In the coming days, we will be doing write-ups of potential Texas Ranger draft picks, looking both at players who are in the mix at #2 and players who would be candidates to be picked in the second or third rounds. Today we are looking at East Carolina second baseman Connor Norby.
Connor Norby is a 5’10”, 187 lb. righthanded hitting second baseman from East Carolina University. Undrafted when he came out of high school in Kernersville, North Carolina, Norby didn’t do much as a freshman — he only got 35 plate appearances in 27 games for East Carolina, slashing .194/.286/.290. He had a very solid performance that summer in the wood bat Valley League, however, and was off to a great start in his sophomore year, slashing .403/.439/.500 in 70 plate appearances, before COVID-19 shut things down.
When baseball resumed this spring Norby picked up where he left off, slashing .415/.484/.659 in 284 plate appearances with 33 walks against 34 Ks. He’s also 18 for 22 in stolen base attempts this year. His batted ball metrics are very strong, and Baseball America notes that he has put up a 1000+ OPS against all three categories of pitches.
Norby played third base in the summer league, and he has played the occasional shortstop (and pitched a couple of times as a freshman), but he’s mostly played second base collegiately. The consensus is he doesn’t have the arm for third base or shortstop, which means he’s limited to second base if he plays the infield. He’s not particularly fast but he’s a good baserunner, and earns praise for his all around feel for the game and approach.
Baseball America has Norby at #42 on their pre-draft top 400, and his ranking has shot up dramatically, as they originally had him at #158. MLB Pipeline puts Norby at #84 on their board, while Kiley McDaniel has Norby at #36 on his current board. Keith Law has Norby at #49 on his list. Fangraphs has Norby at #24.
Connor Norby is someone who, a few years ago, I would never have bothered writing up — he was the polar opposite of the types of players the Rangers tended to draft with their premium picks. As we have discussed — and as Eric Longenhagen noted in his write-up of the Rangers system for Fangraphs — the Rangers, after the 2018 season, significantly overhauled their evaluation system and adopted an approach that shifted away from raw tools and focused more on certain traits, with hit tool, approach and makeup near the top for position players.
When I read about Norby he sounds a lot like Nick Solak, who was a second rounder out of the University of Louisville in 2016 — a guy with a strong hit tool and great makeup but who has questions about his power and where he can play defensively. He also brings to mind the Rangers’ 2020 first rounder, Justin Foscue, who shot up some boards late due to being an “analytics darling” whose hit metrics resulted in him grading out extremely highly.
Norby’s size means that his likely never going to hit for a ton of power, but the upside with him is an average defensive second baseman who will hit for average, draw some walks, steal some bases and hit some home runs, while a — I don’t want to say floor, but a reasonable not-worst-case-but-not-what-you’re-hoping-for-outcome — would be, I don’t know, someone like Andy Ibanez, an up-and-down/AAA depth guy. That’s obviously not someone you’re going to use a high first rounder on, but at 38, that’s a reasonable bet to make.
I went back and looked at the 38th overall pick in past drafts, and interestingly enough, one of the better picks at #38 overall was Tim Teufel — a player with a lot of similarities to Connor Norby. Like Norby, Teufel was a second baseman who was a second round pick out of a four year Carolina school — in Teufel’s case, Clemson. Teufel was drafted by and came up with the Minnesota Twins as a bat-first second baseman, was traded prior to the 1986 season to the New York Mets for (among others) future MLB general manager Billy Beane, and won a ring with the Mets that year while platooning at second base with Wally Backman. Teufel went on to have an 11 year career where he slashed .254/.336/.404 with a 104 OPS+ and a 15.3 bWAR.