Few if any expected the Red Sox to land Marcelo Mayer in the MLB draft, but that’s not to say Boston didn’t do its homework.
The Red Sox took the toolsy prep shortstop out of San Diego on Sunday night in the first round of the 2021 draft. Meyer was a popular choice to go No. 1 overall to the Pirates, but Pittsburgh opted for Louisville standout catcher Henry Davis instead.
Texas jumped at the chance to take Vanderbilt pitcher Jack Leiter with the second pick, and the Tigers took prep pitcher Jackson Jobe at No. 3. Suddenly, a draft that was supposed to begin with three shortstops — highlighted by Mayer — going in the three first picks, was wide open.
The Red Sox took full advantage, drafting Mayer with their first pick, ending his “fall” down the draft. There’s a reason, of course, teams don’t pay much attention to mock drafts, though.
The Red Sox have been all over Mayer, dating back to 2019. Mayer played his high school ball at Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, Calif., which might as well be a baseball factory. Adrian Gonzalez, a former No. 1 overall pick played there, as did Minnesota Twins prospect Keoni Cavaco.
While sitting on Cavaco back in 2019, Red Sox area scout J.J. Altobelli became infatuated with one of his teammates, the tall, smooth-moving shortstop.
“I remember during that season calling (Altobelli), and we would chat for long periods of time, and I’d ask him how Keoni was playing, and very naturally, the conversation would always turn back to this incredible high school shortstop who was a sophomore at the time,” Red Sox director of amateur scouting Paul Toboni told reporters on a video call Sunday night following the first round. “He’d glow about him nonstop.”
Obviously, Altobelli knew what he was looking at. Mayer quickly shot up the ranks to become one of the best players in the class of 2021. In the process, though, the COVID-19 pandemic happened, throwing off just about everything in the sport. All the while, the Red Sox struggled through the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, finishing with an abysmal 24-36 record.
The silver lining, though, was Boston got the No. 4 pick, its highest pick in more than 50 years. For a team not used to picking so high, that certainly made for a unique situation. That the team couldn’t see as many players in person because of the pandemic complicated matters. Luckily for them, though, they already had a solid foundation on a player like Mayer.
“When you’re picking fourth, you need a long process to help mitigate this risk that comes with a pick like this,” Toboni explained. “We’ve been watching him for years, and even with this pandemic, we found a way to create a really robust process.
“Honestly, it was this spring as well. On 14 or 15 different occasions, I think about (Altobelli) sitting in three hours of LA traffic driving down from Orange County and all the time he probably spent in his car because he knew he had to get this player. It wasn’t just (Altobelli) … we have a pretty good contingent of scouts down in Southern California.”
This entire process underscores the importance of having a deep, robust scouting and player development department. It also speaks to the countless hours logged in traffic, on backfields and in uncomfortable bleachers just for the chance one of your guys is the pick.
For the Red Sox on Sunday night, Mayer was that pick, and they were ready to pounce. The reward? A potential face-of-the-franchise player.