Could Red Sox make surprise pick at No. 4 by selecting UCLA’s Matt McLain in 2021 MLB Draft?

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)

It certainly looks like the Red Sox would like to see Jack Leiter fall to them at No. 4 in next month’s draft

The 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft may still be under three weeks away, but it certainly looks like the Red Sox have their sights set on a specific prospect.

After finishing with the fourth-worst record in baseball last year, Boston owns the No. 4 pick in next month’s draft, putting them in a rare spot to add a top-five talent for the first time since 1967 when they had the third overall selection.

In the time since the 2021 high school and college baseball seasons began in the spring, the Sox have been linked to a number of elite amateur prospects, including a pair of right-handers from the esteemed Vanderbilt University in Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter.

There have been moments these past few months where it seemed as though Rocker and Leiter could be the first two players taken off the board, but recently, Leiter in particular has been heavily linked to the No. 4 pick in this summer’s draft.

Last Monday, in their most recent mock draft, FanGraphs had Leiter falling to the Red Sox at No. 4, with former Astros executive Kevin Goldstein writing: “Word is Leiter is trying to price himself down to Boston and wants to land there. Word is that Boston would love that as well. Thus, a match made in heaven.”

Last Wednesday, in their most recent mock draft, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo also had the Sox taking Leiter with their top pick. The same can be said for ESPN’s latest mock as well.

On Monday night, Vanderbilt took on North Carolina State in the second round of the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., with Leiter toeing the rubber for the Commodores.

Since the Red Sox had Monday off before opening up a three-game series against the Rays in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, manager Alex Cora had time to tune into ESPN2 to catch some of the highly-anticipated matchup in between catching up on the latest MLB action.

While Cora said he was mainly watching the game since his brother, Joey, attended Vanderbilt, he also caught a glimpse of Leiter’s outing and was asked Tuesday to compare the young righty to a former big-leaguer.

His choice? Former Astros ace right-hander Roy Oswalt, a veteran of 13 major-league seasons.

“Good fastball. I don’t know. I hate to compare guys,” Cora said of Leiter when speaking with reporters (including MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo). “Maybe a stronger version of Roy Oswalt. Short — but he’s a little bit stronger — with a good fastball and a good breaking ball.”

Leiter, who turned 21 in April, allowed just one run while scattering four hits and one walk to go along with 15 strikeouts over eight dominant innings (123 pitches) on Monday night, though the ‘Dores ultimately fell to the Wolfpack by a final score of 1-0.

Monday’s start could be Leiter’s last for Vanderbilt, as the Commodores will face off against Stanford in an elimination game on Wednesday.

The son of two-time All-Star Al Leiter, the 6-foot-1, 205 pound hurler is currently regarded by Baseball America as the third-ranked prospect in this year’s draft class, ranking first among amateur pitchers and college players in general.

In 17 regular and postseason starts for Vandy this year, the sophomore has posted a 2.08 ERA, a 0.84 WHIP, and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 171:42 over 104 total innings pitched.

Per his Baseball America scouting report, Leiter operates with a five-pitch mix that consists of a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a curveball, a slider, and a changeup.

“This spring, Leiter has primarily worked with a fastball, curveball, slider combination,” the righty’s scouting report reads. “His fastball has been up to 98 mph, but averages 93-95 mph, with excellent carry that generates plenty of whiffs in the zone and above it. Teams love the metrics on Leiter’s fastball, and the combination of his size, extension and carry on the pitch allow it to play up, even when he’s sitting in the 90-93 mph range. His curveball is his best secondary offering now, an upper-70s, 12-to-6 downer that he lands consistently in the zone when he wants but can also bury for a put-away pitch.

“Leiter throws a slider in the low 80s that has less depth but might wind up being a better out-of-the-zone chase offering and he also infrequently throws a mid-80s changeup that scouts loved out of high school and could become an above-average secondary with more reps. Durability was the one concern scouts had with Leiter, and while he did post most weeks throughout the season, he skipped one start to manage fatigue and at times was a bit homer-prone. While Leiter might not project as an ace, scouts see a pitcher who should fit in a No. 2 or No. 3 role and pitch in the big leagues for a long time.”

(Picture of Jack Leiter: George Walker IV/Tennessean.com 

Brady to Boston? MLB Pipeline’s latest 2021 mock draft has Red Sox selecting prep shortstop Brady House with No. 4 overall pick

In his latest mock draft for MLB Pipeline, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo has the Red Sox selecting Winder-Barrow High School (Ga.) shortstop Brady House with the fourth overall pick in the 2021 first-year player draft, which begins in just over seven weeks.

With shortstops Marcelo Mayer — who has been linked to the Red Sox in past mocks — and Jordan Lawlar going to the Pirates and Rangers at picks No. 1 and 2 and Louisville catcher Henry Davis going to the Tigers at No. 3, Mayo decided against having the Sox select either one of Vanderbilt right-handers Jack Leiter or Kumar Rocker and instead had them take another high school infielder in House.

“He might be able to stick at shortstop and even if he can’t, adjustments he’s made at the plate have allowed him to show off his immense raw power more consistently,” Mayo wrote of the young shortstop on Wednesday.

In an earlier mock draft from late April, Mayo projected Boston to take Mayer at No. 4, while House fell to the Orioles at No. 5. But he also noted then that House “had entered last summer as the front-runner top pick, had an up-and-down showing, but righted the ship this spring, with his name starting to pop up at least as high as right above this pick.”

Though this is just pure speculation, it would appear that there is now more evidence connecting the Red Sox to House given how Mayo changed things up in his latest mock.

House, who turns 18 next month, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the sixth-ranked prospect in this summer’s draft class, which is six spots higher than he was at this point in April.

While his high school career came to a close earlier this month, the Georgia native finished his senior season by compiling a .549/.675/.967 slash line to go along with eight home runs, 20 RBI, and 21 stolen bases over 31 games played for the Bulldoggs, per MaxPreps.

At the moment, House is committed to play college baseball at the University of Tennessee, though it seems unlikely he would go the college route if he is indeed selected in the early stages of the first round.

Listed at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, the right-handed hitter’s MLB Pipeline scouting report goes as follows:

“At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds with plenty of strength and bat speed, House looks the part of a power hitter and has well-above-average raw pop to all fields. But after showing the ability to crush good velocity and handle quality breaking balls in past years on the showcase circuit, he got excessively aggressive and his right-handed stroke got longer and slower. Since learning what happens when he sells out for home runs, he has made adjustments, shortened his swing and gotten back to doing damage. 

“An average runner, House likely will move to third base in pro ball but may be athletic enough to stay at shortstop. The Tennessee recruit should be at least a solid defender at the hot corner and possesses a plus arm that can pump fastballs up to 96 mph off the mound. Scouts compare him to a more athletic version of Joey Gallo or 2018 Cardinals first-rounder Nolan Gorman.”

The assigned slot value for the fourth overall pick in the 2021 draft is approximately $6.664 million, the same as it was in 2020.

Put another way, the Red Sox will have $6.664 million to spend in regards to signing whoever they take at No. 4 without incurring any sort of penalty.

(Picture of Brady House: Doug Bower)

Prep shortstops Brady House, Jordan Lawlar linked to Red Sox in MLB Pipeline’s latest 2021 mock draft

In his latest mock draft for MLB Pipeline, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo has the Red Sox selecting Eastlake High School (Calif.) shortstop Marcelo Mayer with the fourth overall pick in this summer’s draft come July 11.

That much is not surprising given the fact that Mayer has previously been linked to the Red Sox.

What is surprising, though, is that Mayo links the Red Sox to two other prep shortstops in Jordan Lawlar, who he has going to the Rangers at No. 2 (in between Vanderbilt’s Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker), and Brady House, who he has going to the Orioles at No. 5.

On Lawlar, Mayo writes “the Red Sox would love one of those top three to be here, particularly Leiter or Lawlar, which could easily happen if Mayer goes above.”

Lawlar, who turns 19 in July, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the third-ranked prospect in this year’s draft class, which is tops among high schoolers and all position players.

The 6-foot-2, 185 pound shortstop throws with his right hand, hits from the right side of the plate, and is committed to play college baseball at Vanderbilt University.

Through 28 games played for Dallas Jesuit High School this spring, Lawlar — a Texas native — is slashing a gaudy .425/.552/.713 with four home runs and 31 RBI over 105 plate appearances.

As a Dallas-area native, Lawlar has drawn comparisons to Royals top prospect Bobby Witt Jr., who the club selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft.

Per his MLB Pipeline scouting report, Lawlar is “a legitimate candidate” to go the Pirates at No. 1 if it’s not Leiter or Rocker.

“Lawlar is a more polished hitter than Witt was at the same stage with a quick, compact right-handed swing and a mature, patient approach, though he has struck out more than expected as a senior,” his scouting report reads. “He focuses on working the gaps and has a knack for inside-outing balls to right field. With his bat speed and the projectable strength in his 6-foot-2 frame, he should develop solid power once he adds strength and starts turning on more pitches.

“Lawlar’s plus speed plays well on the bases and in the field, and he’ll even clock some well-above-average run times on occasion. The Vanderbilt recruit is a no-doubt shortstop with plenty of range, quick hands and a strong arm, though like most youngsters he needs to improve his defensive consistency. There isn’t much to quibble with his game, though teams with age-based models won’t like that he’ll turn 19 a week after the Draft.”

Turning to House now, Mayo writes that the shortstop he projects to go to Baltimore at No. 5 “had entered last summer as the front-runner top pick, had an up-and-down showing, but righted the ship this spring, with his name starting to pop up at least as high as right above this pick.”

House, who turns 18 in June, is at the moment regarded by Baseball America as the No. 12 draft-eligible prospect in this year’s class, which ranks fourth among high schoolers behind Lawlar, Mayer, and IMG Academy (Fla.) outfielder James Wood.

Like Lawlar, House — listed at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds — throws with his right hand and bats from the right side of the plate. The Georgia native is committed to play college baseball for the Tennessee Volunteers.

Currently wrapping up his senior year at Winder-Barrow High School in Winder, Ga., the young shortstop is slashing .573/.685/1.012 to go along with eight home runs and 19 RBI over 27 games played for the Bulldoggs, per MaxPreps.

According to his Baseball America scouting report, House “has an exciting combination of a high-level track record and a gaudy toolset to go along with it. The offensive tools are the loudest with House. He has terrific bat speed and natural strength, to go along with an advanced approach that allows him to track velocity and offspeed stuff with consistency. Scouts with history on House believe he has the ability to develop into a plus hitter, and his raw power should develop into 70-grade juice as he continues to develop. He’s already a physical and imposing hitter now, with plenty of impact to all fields and plus raw power, but there’s more to be had in the future.

“Defensively, House has easy plus arm strength — he can reach 96 mph on the mound — that could be an asset on the infield, where he has a good chance to stick. He doesn’t look like a typical pro shortstop, but evaluators have been impressed with his hands, reactions, internal clock and body control. Some believe he would be a better fit at third base, where he has all the tools to turn into an above-average defender.”

Because they own the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft, the Red Sox will have approximately $6.664 million in recommended slot value to spend on said pick.

Last year, in Chaim Bloom’s first draft as Red Sox chief baseball officer, Boston took Nick Yorke — another prep infielder out of California — with their top pick at No. 17 overall.

Between Yorke, Triston Casas, Jeter Downs, Brainer Bonaci, Hudson Potts, Blaze Jordan, etc., you could say that the Sox’ farm system is chockfull of infielders. So why would they draft another infielder so early to add to that crowded mix?

To put it simply, the Red Sox will not be drafting for need by the time they are on the clock in less than three months. They will instead be going after the best player available regardless of position. Whether that be a pitcher, catcher, infielder, or outfielder has yet to be determined.

Again, the draft is still three months away, so who the Sox will be taking at No. 4 really hasn’t come into focus yet.

As Mayo put it, the names linked to the Red Sox thus far are names “that make some sense and are feasible” for the club to draft. That’s it.

(Picture of Chaim Bloom and Alex Cora: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Could Red Sox take overpowering pitching prospect Kumar Rocker with No. 4 pick in 2021 MLB Draft?

It wasn’t too long ago that it seemed like the Red Sox landing Kumar Rocker with the fourth overall pick in this summer’s draft was a pipe dream at best.

The Vanderbilt University right-hander came into the 2021 season regarded by many as the consensus top amateur prospect ahead of the July draft and was projected to go to the Pirates at No. 1 overall.

Since Vanderbilt’s season began in late February, Rocker has seen his stock fall to some degree, while his fellow rotation mate, Jack Leiter, has seen his stock rise.

Rocker, a 21-year-old junior, has posted a 1.64 ERA and a 0.80 WHIP to go along with 81 strikeouts and 15 walks through his first nine starts and 55 innings pitched this year.

Leiter, meanwhile, turned 21 on Wednesday and is a draft-eligible sophomore. The son and nephew of former big-leaguers, Leiter has produced a miniscule 0.98 ERA and 0.70 WHIP while striking out 94 and walking 22 over nine starts and 55 1/3 innings of work. He threw a no-hitter against South Carolina on March 20.

The pair of Commodores are undoubtedly the top amateur pitching prospects in the country, but the two hurlers have seen their draft projections shift in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo ran through a 20-pick mock draft on the latest installment of the Pipeline Podcast, and the two will publish a list of their top 150 draft prospects later this week.

Alternating between picks, Callis had the Pirates taking Leiter with the top overall pick, writing, “It feels like a four-man race to go No. 1 right now, but give me the guy who’s dominating the Southeastern Conference and can pitch off his fastball like few can.”

After high school shortstops Jordan Lawlar and Marcelo Mayer were taken off the board by the Rangers and Tigers at picks Nos. 2 and 3, it was Mayo’s turn to pick for the Red Sox at No. 4. He went with Rocker.

“No way I was going to let Rocker go further than this,” Mayo wrote while explaining his pick, “not with that ridiculous fastball-slider combination that comes from his intimidating 6-foot-5 frame.”

Per his MLB Pipeline scouting report, Rocker “is a physical right-hander who can overpower hitters with his fastball and slider. He usually operates at 93-96 mph with his heater, which can reach 99 and features some run and sink but also can get flat at times. He notched all 19 of his whiffs in his no-hitter with his slider, a mid-80s beast with power and depth that grades as plus-plus at its best. 

“Rocker hasn’t used his changeup much, and while his third offering has average potential and some sink, it gets too firm at times. He throws strikes but has just average command, and he’ll need more finesse for days when he doesn’t have his top-notch stuff. He has the makings of a frontline starter but isn’t a finished product and scouts would like to see him dominate more consistently this spring.”

Because the Red Sox will be picking so early in this year’s draft, the club has been able to hone in on a select group of prospects they may be interested in drafting “and scout those players really, really hard,” as amateur scouting director Paul Toboni told The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier in March.

Rocker and Leiter are surely two of the players the Sox have been monitoring closely this spring, and area scout Danny Watkins — who covers Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee for the team — recently provided some insight into what makes each of them so intriguing.

“Both of those guys are phenomenal talents,” Watkins explained last month on Podding the Red Sox: A BloggingtheRedSox.com Podcast. “[They] have many differences, but they’re so similar in some ways as well. We’re sitting there at No. 4 in this year’s draft and the thought of having one of them available at 4 is pretty nice.”

At the moment, the Red Sox taking either one of Rocker or Leiter at No. 4 would be pretty nice. But, as MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith notes, the 2021 Draft is not slated to begin until July 11, so there is still plenty of time for rankings and projections to change between now and then.

(Picture of Kumar Rocker: Peter Aiken/Getty Images)

New Podding the Red Sox episode: Area scout Danny Watkins joins the show

On this week’s installment of Podding the Red Sox: A BloggingtheRedSox.com Podcast, I am joined by Red Sox area scout Danny Watkins, who covers Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee for the team.

Among the topics Danny and I discussed are what it’s like to be an amateur scout for a Major League Baseball team, how the scouting landscape has changed in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, what it was like scouting Mookie Betts out of high school, how preparations are being made for the 2021 draft, how it is scouting Vanderbilt University’s Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter, and much more!

The episode is available to listen to on iTunes and Spotify, among other platforms.

Thanks to Danny for taking some time out of his busy scouting schedule to have a conversation with me.

Thank you for listening and we will see you next time! Please make sure to subscribe and leave a five-star review if you can!

(Picture of JetBlue Park: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

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)