Keith Law of The Athletic believes four teams just drafted their new No. 1 prospect: the Pittsburgh Pirates (Henry Davis), Texas Rangers (Jack Leiter), Boston Red Sox (Marcelo Mayer) and Miami Marlins (Kahlil Watson).
Davis and Leiter went first and second overall, respectively, in the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, while Mayer went fourth after the Detroit Tigers selected Jackson Jobe third. Watson fell to 16th despite being widely considered one of the most talented position players in this year’s class.
It’s not shocking to see a player who’s drafted high immediately become his organization’s top prospect, as we’re obviously dealing with excellent talent and intriguing potential. But it’s a fascinating projection exercise: Determining whether a player with no professional experience belongs ahead of someone who’s been with his franchise in the minors for a year or more.
Take the Red Sox, for instance. While Mayer sat atop many MLB mock drafts, drawing comparisons to both Corey Seager and Brandon Crawford, one must think long and hard before ranking the 18-year-old shortstop above Jarren Duran, Triston Casas and Jeter Downs, among others.
This isn’t to say Mayer shouldn’t be considered the Red Sox’s new No. 1 prospect after careful evaluation. In fact, he probably should be based on his overall upside. It’s simply to point out the difficulty in deciding where to place recently drafted players within updated organizational prospect rankings.
Here’s why Law believes Mayer already is Boston’s top prospect, from a piece published Monday:
Center fielder Jarren Duran is in the majors now, but even if he was in Triple A, I’d still put Mayer over him given Duran’s propensity to strike out and Mayer’s greater overall upside, even given the latter’s distance from the majors. Duran might have star upside, given his power and his position, but I don’t think he has Mayer’s all-around potential as a hitter for average and power as well as premium defense at one of the most critical positions on the field (shortstop).
Were it not for Mayer, Boston’s best prospect now might be resurgent left-hander Jay Groome, who has come back from two lost years after Tommy John surgery and a tough start to 2021 to strike out 53 in 36 1/3 innings since the start of June with 14 walks.
It’s interesting that Law doesn’t mention Casas or Downs, whom MLB Pipeline ranks as the top two prospects in Boston’s system before factoring in this year’s draft picks. And it’s even more eyebrow-raising that he suggests Jay Groome — the Red Sox’s No. 7 prospect, per MLB Pipeline — might be the franchise’s best farmhand aside from Mayer.
Prospect rankings are extremely subjective, though, and presumably Law has his reasons for glossing over those two names. The bigger takeaway remains: Mayer is joining the Red Sox with immense outside expectations, which figure to be reflected on many prospect lists released in the coming months.