Could Red Sox take enticing catching prospect Henry Davis with No. 4 pick in 2021 MLB Draft?

The 2021 MLB first-year player draft is set to begin in just under three months. In case you haven’t heard, the Red Sox will be making their top selection in the draft with the fourth overall pick after finishing with the fourth-worst record in baseball last season.

In his latest 2021 draft prospect rankings, The Athletic’s Keith Law listed University of Louisville catcher Henry Davis as his No. 4 draft-eligible prospect.

“Davis has mashed all year, with huge power and a patient eye, and he’s got a plus arm and enough receiving skills to stay behind the plate,” Law wrote earlier Thursday. “Joey Bart went second overall with less bat and more glove; I don’t think it’s a stretch to think Davis could be the first college position player taken.”

Davis, 21, is listed at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds. Through the Cardinals’ first 30 games of the season, the third-year sophomore is slashing an impressive .389/.514/.676 with eight home runs, 32 RBI, and an ACC-leading nine stolen bases. He has also thrown out 11 of the 20 baserunners who have attempted to steal against him.

In the history of the first-year player draft — which dates back to 1965 — the Red Sox have taken a catcher in the first round on just four separate occasions, most recently selecting Blake Swihart out of Cleveland High School (Rio Rancho, NM) with the 26th overall pick (compensation pick from the Rangers for Adrian Beltre) in 2011.

The last catcher who played his college baseball at Louisville to be selected in the first round of an amateur draft was the Dodgers’ Will Smith, whom Los Angeles took with the 32nd overall pick in 2016.

Since then, Smith has risen through the prospect ranks and has emerged as one of the top young catchers in the National League, if not all of baseball.

Coming into play on Thursday, the 26-year-old is slashing .261/.438/.652 with two home runs and four RBI through his first eight games of the 2021 campaign.

This is not to say that Davis should be compared to Smith at the moment. Both backstops may be right-handed hitters who attended the same school, but one is already establishing himself as an everyday big-leaguer while the other has yet to go pro.

That said, it is worth mentioning that the last University of Louisville catcher to be selected in the first round of the draft turned out to be someone with plenty of potential in the form of Smith.

As for how Davis — a native of Bedford, N.Y. who played for the Cape League’s Bourne Braves in 2019 — is viewed in the eyes of scouts, his MLB Pipeline scouting report goes as follows:

“Davis’ standout tool is his plus-plus arm strength, and he erased 34 percent of basestealers in his first two college seasons while also displaying quick footwork and good throwing accuracy. His receiving still needs a lot of work because it lacks consistency and he sometimes struggles to handle quality stuff, as evidenced by six passed balls in just 13 starts last spring. Though he has below-average speed and conceivably could try an outfield corner, his value comes from staying behind the plate, so he’ll have to improve. 

“While he doesn’t have a pretty right-handed swing, Davis makes it work at the plate and has a higher offensive ceiling than most catchers. He manages the strike zone well and makes repeated hard contact, even if his stroke lengthens and he gets a bit pull-happy at times. His strength and controlled aggression could produce 20 homers per season.”

Whoever the Red Sox take — whether it be Davis, Marcelo Mayer, Jack Leiter, or someone else — with their top selection in this summer’s draft, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, amateur scouting director Paul Toboni and Co. will have approximately $6.64 million in recommended slot value to spend on the No. 4 pick.

On a somewhat related note, The Baseball Prospect Journal’s Dan Zielinski III wrote back in January that during the offseason, Davis caught bullpens for Red Sox relievers Matt Barnes and Adam Ottavino.

(Picture of Henry Davis: Louisville Athletics)

Jack Leiter, potential Red Sox draft target, strikes out 16, tosses no-hitter for Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt University right-hander and 2021 draft prospect Jack Leiter made history on Saturday, as he became the first pitcher in school history to throw a regular season no-hitter since 1971.

Making his fifth start of the season against South Carolina in Nashville on Saturday afternoon, the 20-year-old hurler walked the very first batter of the game before retiring the next 27 Gamecocks he faced in order.

In addition to yielding no hits and just one walk over nine nearly-perfect innings of work, Leiter struck out a career-high 16 batters while also inducing eight flyouts and three groundouts.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 124 (81 strikes), the New Jersey native improved to 5-0 on the season while the Commodores improved to 15-2 and 2-0 in Southeastern Conference play.

Through five starts now, Leiter owns a miniscule ERA of 0.31 over 29 total innings pitched since the college baseball season began last month.

The draft-eligible sophomore, formerly drafted by the Yankees out of high school in 2019, was already one of the hottest prospects at the top of this year’s amateur draft class, and his performance on Saturday highlighted just how high his ceiling is.

Baseball America has Leiter — the son and nephew of former major-league pitchers Al and Mark Leiter — as their No. 5 prospect headed into this July’s first-year player draft.

Per his Baseball America scouting report, “the 6-foot, 195 pound righty has an above-average fastball that gets into the mid 90s at its best, and he throws both four- and two-seam variations. On top of that, Leiter has a big, downer curveball with a high spin rate that projects as a plus offering, in addition to a slider and changeup that round out his repertoire.”

The Red Sox, coming off a 2020 season in which they finished with the fourth-worst record in baseball (24-36), own the fourth overall selection in this year’s July draft.

Because they will be picking so high this year (2021 will be the first time they’ve had a top-five draft pick since 1967), Boston is in more control of who exactly they want to select and who they will eventually be selecting at No. 4 — a potential franchise-altering pick — in just under four months.

“You don’t have control over who’s picked ahead of you at 17,” Red Sox amateur scouting director Paul Toboni recently told The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier. “You’ve got to cover a wider pool of players. This year, we get to make the decision: Let’s figure out who is in our top five, six, seven, eight — whatever number you want to throw out — and scout those players really, really hard.”

Along with Leiter, other college pitchers the Sox could target at No. 4 include fellow Vanderbilt right-hander Kumar Rocker and Louisiana State University righty Jaden Hill, though restrictions put in place as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic limit how thoroughly the club can evaluate these prospects.

“Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter, I won’t be at every game but I will watch every one of their starts [on video],” Toboni said. “We’ll probably have a scout at close to every one of their starts. That’s partly because they’re really good players and it’s also partly because Vanderbilt is only allowing one scout from each club at every game. In order to have seven or eight evaluations, we sort of have to.”

One scout in particular who will be monitoring Rocker and Leiter closely between now and July will be area scout Danny Watkins, who covers Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee for the Sox. He is probably most known for signing Mookie Betts out of high school in 2011.

“I’m a duck in water again,” Watkins told Speier. “I get to do all these things that kind of get me going… It’s exciting. You really get to kind of shoot for the moon a little bit.”

The college baseball season runs through late June, and the potential remains for the Red Sox to take a prep prospect — like high school shortstop Marcelo Mayer — at No. 4 as well, so this is not to say we know who exactly Boston will be taking with their top pick come July 11.

It’s just that, with the MLB Draft only being a few months away, “the process of identifying targets for the draft” — as Speier put it — “is well underway.”

(Picture of Jack Leiter: Vanderbilt Athletics)

Red Sox’ Alex Cora on Bobby Dalbec: ‘He’s not a home run hitter. He’s a complete baseball player’

Alex Cora’s first exposure to Bobby Dalbec came well before he became manager of the Red Sox and well before Dalbec was even a member of the Red Sox.

It’s a story you have probably heard before: Cora, then an analyst at ESPN, was covering the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. in 2016 and got the chance to see Dalbec, then a junior at the University of Arizona, in person.

At that time, Dalbec was not an everyday first baseman, but rather a two-way player who pitched and played third base for a 44-21 Wildcats team that would go on to lose in the championship series in three games to Coastal Carolina.

While in Omaha, not only did the right-handed hitting, right-handed throwing Dalbec put the finishing touches on a solid junior season that would lead to him getting selected by the Red Sox in the third round of the 2016 June draft, he also impressed the likes of Cora.

Nearly five years later, the ex-Wildcat has emerged as arguably the top power-hitting prospect in Boston’s farm system who now has the chance to crack his first big-league Opening Day roster with Cora as his manager in just over two weeks.

Through 11 games this spring, Dalbec is slashing .308/.400/.808 while being tied with Michael Chavis for the team lead in home runs (4) to go along with eight RBI and four walks over his first 30 plate appearances.

While the 25-year-old slugger is hitting for power at an impressive rate, Cora is also pleased with what he’s been able to do in other phases of the game, like how he stole a base, drew a walk, and scored two runs against the Braves on Tuesday.

“That’s the thing about him. As you guys know, I saw him play in the College World Series,” Cora said Tuesday afternoon. “And he got my attention on the mound, but also at third base. He comes from a program that they do a lot of the little things right. That team, defensive-wise, it was one of the best I’ve seen in college baseball. And he was part of that.

“We talk to him about baserunning,” added Cora. “Talking about primary leads and secondary leads. He understands that. He’s a good baseball player. I was just telling him. I said, ‘You know what? People get caught up on the home run stuff.’ And he’s not a home run hitter. He’s a complete baseball player. And we’re very happy with the way he’s progressing.”

Red Sox general manager Brian O’Halloran echoed this same sort of sentiment regarding Dalbec when recently speaking with The Athletic’s Jim Bowden.

“Bobby continues to work hard at all aspects of his game this spring,” said O’Halloran. “People obviously notice the home runs and the power to all fields. He is very diligent in working on his approach and any adjustments he needs to make at the plate. He also continues to focus on defense and base running in order to become a complete player.”

As previously mentioned, Dalbec is on track to make his first Opening Day roster out of camp this spring and figures to see most of his playing time come at first base with a little bit of third base — his natural position — mixed in there as well.

Upon getting called up by Boston last August, the 6-foot-4, 227 pounder posted a .263/.359/.600 slash line to go along with eight home runs and 16 RBI over his first 23 games in the majors.

He also struck out more than 42% of the time in that stretch, but Cora is optimistic that Dalbec will be able to lower that number in 2021 once he properly adjusts to a more advanced degree of pitching, as has been the case throughout his professional career after getting promoted to a new level.

“I don’t think Bobby Dalbec will be swinging and missing 40% of the time during the season,” Cora said back in February. “I think if you look at his career, the first part of the season, whatever league he’s at, he swings and misses a lot. But then he catches on. We do believe that he will make more contact. What he did last year was eye-opening. It was fun to watch. And hopefully he can get a lot of traffic in front of him and he can drive them in.”

Dalbec, who doesn’t turn 26 until late June, figures to be in play for the American League Rookie of the Year award this year assuming he can successfully build off what he did in 2020.

(Picture of Bobby Dalbec: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Latest 2021 mock draft has Red Sox taking University of Florida outfielder Jud Fabian with top pick

The 2021 Major League Baseball first-year player draft may still be seven months away, but the Red Sox already know they will be picking fourth in said draft thanks to finishing the 2020 season with the fourth-worst record in baseball (24-36).

Since the inception of the amateur draft in 1965, Boston has made its first selection within the top four on just two occasions in 1966 and 1967, so it goes without saying the upcoming draft will serve as an important hallmark for the franchise.

Though the 2021 high school and college baseball seasons are still a ways away from starting, next year’s potential draft class is already starting to take shape, even with possible COVID-19-related obstacles on the horizon.

That being said, MLB.com’s Jim Callis recently released his first round of predictions for which amateur prospects will be taken within the top-10 picks of July’s draft, and he has the Red Sox selecting University of Florida outfielder Jud Fabian at No. 4.

“Fabian might be the most polarizing prospect among the eight players who seem to have separated themselves from the rest of the Draft class at this point,” Callis wrote. “He could have the most usable power in the Draft and may stay in center field, but he also has hit just .250 with a 22-percent strikeout rate in two seasons at Florida.”

Fabian, who turned 20 in September, is about to embark on his junior season for the Gators this coming spring.

The right-handed hitting, left-handed throwing center fielder out of Ocala, Fla. came into 2020 as a preseason All-Southeastern Conference second teamer. He posted an impressive .294/.407/.603 slash line to go along with five home runs and 13 RBI over 17 games played before the ongoing coronavirus pandemic forced the SEC to suspend its baseball season in mid-March.

Still, Fabian managed to salvage the year by taking part in the Florida Collegiate Summer League, where he went 14-for-46 (.304) at the plate with a pair of homers and 11 runs driven in across 19 games for the Orlando Scorpions.

He also spent the summer of 2019 on the Cape with the Bourne Braves.

Listed at 6-foot-2 and 190 lbs., Fabian very well could have been drafted out of Trinity Catholic High School in 2019 had he not skipped his senior season in order to enroll early at Florida. He has the advantage over other college prospects on account of the fact that he will be younger than the average junior.

Per his FanGraphs scouting report, Fabian “has a rare, unfavorable ‘backwards’ profile — he hits right and throws left, limiting him to 1B/OF — but looks like he’ll hit enough for that not to matter. While his lower half has gotten a little heavier and softer since high school, Fabian still has a fairly athletic swing, and his hitting hands work in an explosive loop that give him low-ball power. His hands load deep and high, and Fabian’s bat path doesn’t always look like it’s going to work, but he still covers the zone from (nearly) top to bottom and can pull his hands in to get the barrel on inside pitches.”

In recent years, the Red Sox have leaned more towards taking high school talent — Nick Yorke, Triston Casas, Jay Groome, Michael Chavis, Michael Kopech — with their first-round selection.

As it turns out though, the last two college prospects Boston has taken in the first round have both come out of the SEC, as right-hander Tanner Houck was drafted out of Missouri with the 24th overall pick in 2017 and outfielder Andrew Benintendi was drafted out of Arkansas with the seventh overall pick in 2015.

Baseball America’s Latest 2020 MLB Mock Draft Has Red Sox Taking Arizona Catcher Austin Wells With Top Pick

In his fourth and most recent 2020 mock draft for Baseball America, Carlos Collazo has the Red Sox taking someone that has yet to be discussed on here with the 17th overall pick. That prospect’s name?

Austin Wells, C, University of Arizona

 

Collazo writes the following about Wells:

The Red Sox have to deal with losing their second round pick as a penalty of their sign stealing. They now have a $5,129,900 to spend which ranks 26th among the 30 teams’ bonus pools. That could make it riskier to take a draft-eligible sophomore like Wells who could have a high asking price, but after the run of college hitters in front of this pick, he’s the best bat on the board and would give Boston as close to a sure thing as you could hope for in the draft in this range.

Listed at 6’2″ and 220 lbs., Wells, a former 35th round selection of the Yankees out of high school back in 2018, is ranked as MLB Pipeline’s No. 27 draft-eligible prospect.

Turning 21 years old in July, the Las Vegas native who hits from the left side of the plate slashed .375/.527/.589 with two home runs and 14 RBI over 15 games for the Wildcats this year before the college baseball season was shut down in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last summer, Wells played in the Cape Cod Baseball League for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox, where he posted a .308/.389/.526 slash line to go along with seven home runs and 26 RBI over 42 games played.

Per his Baseball America scouting report, Wells “showed that the bat is his calling card and potentially enough in its own right to make him a first round pick in his draft-eligible sophomore season.”

Yes, Wells is just a sophomore. And as Collazo mentions above, that might make him more of a challenge to sign for the right price since he could always return to Arizona for his junior season.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Red Sox took former University of Arizona infielder Cameron Cannon with their top pick of the second round in last year’s amateur draft, so there should already be some familiarity there with Wells even if the team is under new baseball operations leadership.

Remember, in what will be Chaim Bloom’s first draft as Boston’s chief baseball officer, the Red Sox will have approximately $3,609,700 to work with in slot money to sign their first-round pick, whoever it may be.

Wells is the second college backstop linked to the Sox ahead of this year’s five-round draft, which will be the shortest in the sport’s history.

Dan Zielinski III of the Baseball Prospect Journal had Boston taking North Carolina State catcher Patrick Bailey in a first-round mock draft from last month.

 

Who Could Red Sox Target in First Round of This Year’s MLB Draft?

The start date and length of the 2020 MLB first-year player draft may both be unknowns at this point in time, but that’s not stopping clubs from doing their due diligence ahead of the annual amateur selection process.

After not having any first-round picks last year due to luxury tax-related penalties from 2018, the Red Sox are slated to make their first selection with the 17th overall pick in this year’s draft. That being the case because at 84-78, Boston finished with the 17th-worst record in baseball last season.

According to Baseball America, the 17th overall pick in the 2020 draft has an assigned slot value of approximately $3,609,700, meaning that’s how much money the Sox will have to spend on that pick, although they can go over that allotted amount if they are willing to incur some tax penalties.

Personally, I’m no draft expert, but since the 2020 MLB Draft is right around the corner, I thought it would be a good idea to look into who Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. could be targeting in the earliest stage of this year’s draft. Let’s get into it.

Target No.1: RHP Nick Bitsko, Central Bucks High School East (Doylestown, PA)

In his mock draft from April 15th, CBS Sports’ Mike Axisa had the Red Sox taking high school right-hander Nick Bitsko out of Doyleston, Pa.

Bitsko, 17, was initially set to graduate from Central Bucks High School East in 2021, but he will instead graduate early, adding on to an already impressive list of draft-eligible pitching prospects this year.

A University of Virginia commit, Bitsko posted a 1.18 ERA over six starts during his sophomore season last year, per MaxPreps.

According to a Baseball America scouting report from 2019, “Bitsko has a great pitcher’s frame, standing at 6-foot-4, 220-pounds and has a smooth and easy operation on the bump, with an overhead windup and clean three-quarter slot.”

From that same scouting report, Bitsko’s arsenal includes a 92-96 MPH fastball, a 76-83 MPH curveball, and an 86-87 MPH “firm” changeup.

If drafted by the Red Sox over the summer, Bitsko would presumably become one of the top right-handed pitching prospects in the organization, although there certainly are some minor concerns given just how young he is and how he didn’t get the chance to really throw in front of scouts this year.

Target No. 2: C Patrick Bailey, North Carolina State University

Moving to the college ranks now, Dan Zielinski III of the Baseball Prospect Journal has the Red Sox taking North Carolina State backstop Patrick Bailey in his latest first-round mock draft.

The 20-year-old out of Greensboro was drafted by the Twins in the 37th round of the 2017 draft, but he opted to honor his commitment to North Carolina State instead, and it looks like that decision is going to pay off for him.

Although he played in just 17 games for the Wolfpack this year due to the college baseball season being shut down last month, Bailey produced over the course of that small sample size, as he slashed .296/.466/.685 with six home runs and 20 RBI.

Per a March scouting report from Perfect Game USA, Bailey “has significant value as a switch-hitting catcher with pop on both sides of the plate to go along with strong defensive skills.”

If taken by the Red Sox this summer, I would guess that Bailey would slide behind Connor Wong as the second-best catching prospect in Boston’s farm system.

Target No. 3: RHP Tanner Burns, Auburn University

The first college hurler on this list, My MLB Draft’s most recent 2020 mock from earlier in the month has the Red Sox taking Auburn right-hander Tanner Burns in the first round.

Another former 2017 37th-round pick, Burns was limited to just four starts and 22 1/3 innings pitched this season due to the aforementioned shutdown. In those four starts though, the 21-year dazzled by posting a 2.42 ERA and averaging nearly 13 strikeouts per nine innings.

Listed at 6’1″ and 205 lbs., MLB Pipeline has Burns ranked as their No. 28 draft prospect. They describe the junior as a hurler, who “can work at 92-97 mph with his fastball and locate it to both sides of the plate. His breaking ball can be a plus pitch at times, combining slider velocity in the low 80s with curveball depth, but it gets slurvy at others. He hasn’t had much need for his changeup, though it has some sink and shows some signs of becoming an average third pitch.”

Burns also comes with some durability concerns, as he dealt with right shoulder soreness throughout the majority of his sophomore season in 2019.

Like Bitsko, Burns would presumably become one of the top right-handed pitching prospects in the Sox’ farm system if he is drafted by Boston at some point this summer.

Target No. 4: LHP Garrett Crochet, University of Tennessee

Sticking with the Southeastern Conference here, Prospects Live has the Red Sox selecting University of Tennessee southpaw Garrett Crochet in their 2020 Mock Draft 2.0.

A native of Mississippi who turns 21 in June, Crochet was only able to make one start for the Volunteers this year due to upper back soreness. To add on to that, the left-hander broke his jaw last May after taking a line-drive to the face in his final start of the 2019 regular season that resulted in him missing two weeks of action.

According to a Prospects Live scouting report from Crochet’s lone outing of the 2020 campaign against Wright State in March, the junior’s pitch arsenal included a fastball that sat around 95-97 MPH and maxed out at 99 MPH, an 84-86 MPH slider, an 80-90 MPH changeup, and an 80 MPH curveball.

MLB Pipeline has Crochet ranked as their 18th-best draft-eligible prospect, so he could very well still be on the board by the time the Red Sox make their first pick at No. 17.

Target No. 5: OF Heston Kjerstad, University of Arkansas

Last but not least, we have the lone outfielder on this list in the University of Arkansas’ Heston Kjerstad, who Perfect Game USA’s Brian Sakowski has going to the Red Sox in the first round of his most recent 2020 mock draft from late last month.

The Amarillo, Texas native did nothing but rake in his three seasons as a Razorback, putting together a .343/.421/.590 slash line to go along with 37 home runs and 129 RBI over 150 total games dating back to 2018.

Sakowski’s scouting report for Kjerstad looks a little something like this:

The left-handed slugger has double-plus raw pop along with the bat speed and impact generation to crush balls with wood. There are some positional questions long-term, but the Red Sox have shown the willingness to take prospects with big power and figure out how to get them into the lineup later.”

MLB Pipeline has Kjerstad ranked as their 10th-best prospect in this year’s draft, so he might not even be on the board by the time the Red Sox make their first selection at No. 17, but if he is, and the Sox take him, that would be quite the addition to an already fascinating mix of outfield prospects that includes Jarren Duran, Marcus Wilson, and Gilberto Jimenez to name a few.

Well, there you have it. Five prospects the Red Sox could take with the 17th overall pick in the 2020 first-year player draft. If they do wind up taking one of these five young players with their first pick, you can come back here and remember that I had it first.

Also, the 17th overall pick is the lowest first-round pick the Red Sox have had since 2016, so it’s probably important that they hit on it in order to improve a poorly-regarded, but steadily-improving farm system.