While it certainly looks like the Red Sox are locked in on one of Vanderbilt right-hander Jack Leiter or Louisville catcher Henry Davis when it comes to who they will take with the No. 4 pick in the first round of the 2021 MLB Draft Sunday night, some recent speculation suggests that the club could go in another direction.
According to Baseball America’s Carlos Collazo, the Sox may have their eye on University of California, Los Angeles shortstop Matt McLain depending on who is still on the board by the time they are put on the clock.
“It sounds like UCLA shortstop Matt McLain could wind up being a bit of a wild card here and Boston might be a fit depending on who’s available for them,” Collazo wrote earlier Sunday.
McLain, who turns 22 next month, is regarded by Baseball America as the No. 10 prospect coming into this week’s draft, ranking seventh among all position players and third among college bats.
Listed at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, the California native was originally selected by the Diamondbacks in the first round of the 2018 amateur draft (one pick before Red Sox prospect Triston Casas), but opted to honor his commitment to UCLA rather than go pro out of high school.
In his junior season with the Bruins, McLain slashed an impressive .333/.434/.579 to go along with nine home runs, 14 doubles, two triples, 36 runs driven in, 47 runs scored, nine stolen bases, 34 walks, and 34 strikeouts over 47 games (226 plate appearances).
A broken thumb forced the right-handed hitting, right-handed throwing infielder to miss nearly three weeks of time in the month of May, but he finished the year strong by hitting .379 (11-for-29) in his final seven games this spring.
Per his Baseball America scouting report, McLain — who spent the summer of 2019 on Cape Cod with the Wareham Gatemen — “is a dangerous hitter who is strong” despite his undersized frame.
“He has a short, direct swing and consistently lines balls hard from gap to gap. He has a knack for finding the barrel, separates balls from strikes and rarely chases outside the strike zone,” his scouting report reads.” He is a consensus above-average to plus hitter and projects to hit at the top of a lineup for a first-division team. The only question about McLain’s offensive game is how much power he will produce. Though he hit for power in college, his fringe-average raw power will likely translate more to doubles with a wood bat and limit him to 10-15 home runs per season. He has plus speed and consistently runs hard to beat out infield singles and leg out doubles and triples.
“McLain played shortstop the last two seasons at UCLA and is playable there, but he lacks the natural actions for the position and projects better at second base. Some teams prefer him in center field, where he played as a freshman, and others think he projects best as a multi-positional player who bounces around the diamond. He is an instinctive defender who positions himself well, gets good reads off the bat and has above-average arm strength at any position.”
Whoever the Red Sox, led by chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and amateur scouting director Paul Toboni, do take with the fourth overall pick Sunday night, one thing is for certain: they will have approximately $6.664 million in slot money to spend on that particular pick.
With that in mind, however, it remains possible that Boston could select a prospect such as McLain, who is projected by Baseball America to go to the Brewers at No. 15, with the intention of signing him to an under-slot deal, which in turn would give the club more money to spend in Rounds 2 through 20.
(Picture of Matt McLain: UCLA Athletics)