Latest mock draft has Red Sox selecting Vanderbilt commit Ryan Clifford with second-round pick

When the Red Sox failed to sign University of Florida outfielder Jud Fabian in the wake of last summer’s amateur draft, they were rewarded with the 41st overall pick in this year’s draft.

The 41st pick will be made shortly after the Dodgers kick off the second round and Day 2 of the 2022 MLB Draft in Los Angeles on July 18. The selection has a recommended slot value of $1,905,500, which accounts for approximately 23.6% of Boston’s $8,078,300 bonus pool.

With that, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. could go a number of different directions when it comes to the Sox’ second-round pick. They could target a college outfielder as they did last year or perhaps even a high schooler.

In his latest mock draft for Prospects Live, Joe Doyle has the Red Sox taking Pro5 Baseball Academy outfielder Ryan Clifford with their second-round selection at No. 41 overall.

Clifford, who turns 19 next month, is currently regarded by MLB Pipeline as the No. 68 prospect in this year’s draft class. Baseball America lists the North Carolina native as its 77th-ranked draft-eligible prospect.

Listed at 6-foot-3 and 206 pounds, Clifford is committed to play college baseball at Vanderbilt University. The left-handed hitting, left-handed throwing outfielder has long been in the spotlight while playing for USA Baseball at several different levels.

Per his MLB Pipeline scouting report, Clifford “is equipped to hit for average and power” on account of his “picturesque” left-handed swing. “He has an advanced approach at the plate, focusing on driving balls from gap to gap while rarely chasing pitches out of the strike zone. With his bat speed and the strength in his 6-foot-3 frame, he could provide 25-30 homers per year once he starts driving the ball in the air more regularly. ”

Baseball America, on the other hand, notes that Clifford “developed a strong reputation as a hitter by playing up throughout his travel ball career and developing a solid track record with power potential in a strong, 6-foot-3, 206-pound frame. He’ll need to hit, as he has an offensive-forward corner profile and limited supplemental tools.”

On the other side of the ball, Clifford can best be described as a below-average runner with fringy speed who is “committed to working on his quickness and defense.” In addition to the outfield, the 18-year-old has experience at first base and could either settle there or in a corner outfield position in the long-run.

Because of these traits, Clifford has drawn comparisons to Diamondbacks first baseman Seth Beer, who was originally selected by the Astros in the first round of the 2018 amateur draft. The Red Sox had a chance to draft Beer, but instead took another first baseman in Triston Casas two picks prior.

(Picture of Ryan Clifford via his Instagram)

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 

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)