Red Sox wisely draft talent over positional need with first-round pick

FT. MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 21: Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom of the Boston Red Sox addresses the media during a press conference during a spring training team workout on February 21, 2021 at jetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
FT. MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 21: Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom of the Boston Red Sox addresses the media during a press conference during a spring training team workout on February 21, 2021 at jetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

The Red Sox hit a home run with their first-round draft pick

None of the mock drafts or expert analysis that we poured over in the months leading up to the MLB draft projected the Boston Red Sox to select Marcelo Mayer. It’s not that he wasn’t deemed a great fit for the organization, it’s that few expected him to be on the board when the Red Sox were on the clock with the No. 4 overall pick.

Boston was connected most frequently with Louisville catcher Henry Davis and Vanderbilt right-hander Jack Leiter but when the Pittsburgh Pirates and Texas Rangers made them the top two selections in the first round Sunday night, everyone’s draft boards went through a bit of a shakeup.

The Detroit Tigers had a chance to grab Mayer when he fell to them at No. 3 but they apparently already had their hearts set on Jackson Jobe. Detroit probably never imagined they would have a chance at Mayer but rather than strike at the opportunity, they stuck with their plan by selecting the high school right-handed pitcher.

The Red Sox would not allow Mayer to slide any further. The talented shortstop from Eastlake High School was the closest this draft class offered to a consensus top choice. MLB Pipeline, Baseball America, FanGraphs and The Athletic all had Mayer either at the top of their draft board or projected to go No. 1 overall in this draft.

Mayer was rated with the top grades in this class for his hit tools and defense. He’s been compared to a cross between World Series MVP Corey Seager with the bat and three-time Gold Glove winner Brandon Crawford with the glove.

The Red Sox were ecstatic that this potential phenom fell into their laps, as amateur scouting director Paul Toboni explained to Chad Jennings of The Athletic.

"“There was like a slow trickle of excitement that worked around the room,” Toboni said. “Scouts were getting notifications probably from friends or whoever it might be (that Mayer was going to fall to the Red Sox). It was cool to see because there was genuine excitement on everyone’s face.”"

While the Red Sox draft room was celebrating, a portion of the fan base was left wondering why they went with a high school shortstop instead of a player who could reach the majors quicker and fills a position of need.

Baseball, perhaps more than any other sport, requires scouts to prioritize talent over positional need. It can take years for prospects to develop in the minor leagues before they are ready so teams must analyze a player’s floor and ceiling rather than the current needs of the major league club, which could drastically change before the players they draft now reach that level.

Let’s review some of the reasons some fans might question this draft pick and explore why the concerns aren’t rationale.

The Red Sox need pitching

The Red Sox have struggled to develop starting pitching for years, with Jon Lester being the last pitcher they drafted to emerge as a legitimate ace. That’s part of what made Leiter so appealing and he would have been a strong choice if he were available. When Leiter and the top high school pitcher in this class were both off the board within the first few picks, pivoting to the next best pitcher on their board rather than the best player would have been a shortsighted move.

Leiter’s Vanderbilt teammate, Kumar Rocker, who fell all the way to the New York Mets at No. 10, might go on to have an excellent career. However, his stock has fallen since he was viewed as a potential top overall pick prior to this season. On ESPN’s broadcast of the draft, it was discussed that an extra year at the collegiate level exposed some of Rocker’s weaknesses. He still possesses the electric fastball and nasty breaking ball that had scouts salivating but they spoke of him as a future No. 2 starter rather than a no-doubt ace.

The Red Sox farm system might be starved for pitching but reaching for one whose floor is lower than some position players available is a poor draft strategy.

The Red Sox already have an All-Star shortstop

Another myth we can dispel is that the Red Sox didn’t need to draft a shortstop since they already have Xander Bogaerts. This is a ridiculous argument.

Mayer is only 18 years old and won’t reach the big leagues for at least a few years. Bogaerts has the option opt-out of his team-friendly contract after the 2022 season but Mayer wasn’t drafted to be his immediate replacement. If Bogaerts leaves at the end of next year, Mayer still won’t be close to ready.

The Red Sox will almost certainly work out a new deal with Bogaerts if he opts-out, one that gives him the raise he deserves and perhaps tacks on more years. That doesn’t necessarily make him a roadblock for Mayer. Bogaerts will be 29 next season and approaching his mid-30s by the time the Red Sox are ready to call up Mayer. By that stage of his career, Bogaerts might need to switch positions anyway. Assuming Bogaerts is still in Boston by that point, finding room for both of them won’t be a problem.

The Red Sox have a surplus of middle infield prospects

Jeter Downs, who can field both shortstop or second base, is among the top prospects in the Red Sox farm system. They used a first-round pick on second baseman Nick Yorke last year. Yes, they now have a surplus of middle infielders at the top of their prospect rankings. This is a good problem to have!

The goal is to strengthen the farm system by adding the best available talent. Mayer was undoubtedly the highest rated player on the board when the Red Sox made their pick and he immediately jumps near the top of the organization’s list of top prospects.

Don’t think of drafting a shortstop as creating a potential log jam down the line. The Red Sox are collecting assets that can be used in a variety of ways. Creating a surplus at one position enables the front office to flip some of that talent to fill other needs.

Sure, the Red Sox still need a long-term pitching solution but they can utilize the improved depth of their farm system to build a package they can use to trade for a frontline starter. Stocking the system with elite talent that will eventually fill roster spots at a bargain price for their first several seasons means they will have more payroll space to chase top-tier free agents.

Next. Red Sox Prospect Watch. dark

A lot can change with the major league roster in the several years that it will take a prospect to develop. That’s why you can’t draft for an immediate need. You take the best player available and that’s exactly what the Red Sox did by taking Mayer. Everyone in the organization is thrilled to land a talent of his caliber and fans should be just as excited about the future.