Tigers draft watch: Marcelo Mayer challenges Jordan Lawlar as top prep shortstop

Detroit News

Lynn Henning | The Detroit News

Supposedly, the prep shortstop who was above all others in 2021, who had scouts whispering of Derek Jeter reincarnate, was Jordan Lawlar of Dallas Jesuit High.

And that may still be true. But those same scouts know Lawlar has company at Eastlake High in Chula Vista, California, where Marcelo Mayer is showing that he’s the deepest hew of blue-chip talent.

Mayer, who turned 18 in December, is a left-handed batter who has hit four home runs in his first 13 at-bats. That he is 6-foot-3, 188 pounds, with a MLB scouting rating of 60 with his arm and 60 as a hitter (on an 80-grade scale) explains why his draft profile is broadening.

Joe Doyle, who directs the MLB Draft for ProspectsLive.com, had a weekend tweet that conforms to other scouting services in sizing up Mayer’s stock:

“Really beginning to think Chula Vista., Calif. SS Marcelo Mayer doesn’t make it out of the top five … There’s still a ton of projection in his frame/physicality.”

Doyle’s summary meshes with appraisals already long on the books. Consider the Fangraphs.com file on Mayer:

“Mayer is a graceful infield defender with a very projectable frame. His swing currently prioritizes contact. He has terrific vertical plate-coverage and generates all-fields spray. But he’s also shown an ability to turn on and punish pitches inside with power.

“His frame is nearly identical to (Friendswood, Texas, prep) Izaac Pacheco’s, but Mayer has a better chance to stay at short and has more room to fill out, so he’s slightly ahead of Pacheco here.”

And then there was this from Baseball America’s Carlos Collazo:

“Many clubs believe Southern California shortstop Marcelo Mayer is the best pure hitter in the prep class, and it’s rare for that profile to last long in the draft. In recent years, the perceived best pure high school hitters have all been selected among the top 10 picks: Jarred Kelenic went No. 6 to the Mets in 2018, Riley Greene went No. 5 to the Tigers in 2019, and Robert Hassell went No. 8 to the Padres in 2020. Mayer has the superior defensive profile to all those hitters, which should create a lofty realistic range for him.”

The Tigers are believed to be leaning toward a position player when they pick third overall in the July 11-13 MLB Draft. There are no certainties, but unless an available pitcher is seen as being decidedly superior to a bat, the team’s philosophy since 2019 has been to opt for a hitter.

That’s especially true if the hitter is a shortstop, which remains the filet mignon of everyday lineup cuts.

The duel between Lawlar and Mayer could be a fight that extends to draft day.

Lawlar, in Baseball America’s scouting view, is the superior athlete (first in the country, while Mayer isn’t listed in the three-player grouping) among all prep baseball players, and the country’s best hitter, a notch behind Mayer at No. 2.

Lawlar is rated the second-fastest prep star, behind Pennsylvania outfielder Benny Montgomery, while Mayer wins first prize for being the land’s best defensive player.

The Tigers have four months to take their own notes, and also to decide if a team deep into a rebuild can afford to wait three, four, or five years for a high-school dazzler to wend his way through the farm and make it to Detroit, not that there ever are assurances there.

That also presupposes a player as good as Mayer, or Lawlar, is even available when the Pirates and Rangers own the 2021 talent-show’s top two picks.

But what scouts see and ultimately conclude through spring, as prep and college baseball resume old ways after schedules a year ago were knocked out, is what makes pre-draft weeks and months of deep intrigue in any professional sport.

How a possible Top 10 MLB draft list might look today (last week’s ratings in parentheses; UR denotes “unranked”):

1. Jack Leiter (1), RH pitcher, Vanderbilt, 6-1, 205: Never mind that it was against Illinois-Chicago. Leiter on Sunday struck out 11 in five innings, which accented the lone hit he allowed. He pushes 100 mph and has all the DNA on display from his dad, Al, and uncle, Mark, both of whom pitched for years (Al, especially well) in the majors. Oklahoma State, this weekend, will be Leiter’s next victim.

2. Jordan Lawlar (2) SS, Dallas Jesuit High, 6-2, 180: Lawlar is, well, warming up. Hitting only .333 through 12 games, but add another front digit or two to that percentage, as no doubt will be the case in coming weeks, and everyone will understand more clearly why he might be the top prep talent in the country. Right-handed batter, supple in the field, with all the essential plus-components.

3. Marcelo Mayer (UR), SS, Eastlake High, Chula Vista, California, 6-3, 188: Suddenly, it’s Mayer who is dueling Lawlar for Best Prep Talent in the Nation billing. He’s hit four home runs in his last 13 at-bats. The Tigers would prefer instant help for their reconstruction, but Mayer could be too special to pass on, should he make it to three overall.

4. Henry Davis (5), C, University of Louisville, 6-1, 205: Was 4-for-11 during the weekend, with a home run, double, and sacrifice fly. For the year: 11 games, .395, 1.204 OPS, with three home runs, eight walks, and a mere three strikeouts. Davis bats right-handed and it won’t hurt that he’s a catcher with a nice arm. Could move into Top 3 territory, and soon.

5. Ty Madden, Texas (UR), RH starter, University of Texas, 6-3, 215: Madden had an interesting game Friday against Houston, although interesting isn’t the word Houston was using after Madden struck out 14 Cougars in nine innings, while walking two and yielding two hits. Madden is your basic Big Horse rotation man whose body is designed to make scouts say: Why can’t every pitcher look like this?

6. Jud Fabian (3), OF, University of Florida, 6-1, 180: The problem with Fabian, and it’s hardly trivial, is that he’s striking out, a lot, which is a habit that doesn’t always offset a guy with Fabian’s imposing power. For the year: .275 in 12 games, .961 OPS, with five homers, 17 strikeouts, and eight walks.

7. Kumar Rocker (4), RH pitcher, Vanderbilt, 6-4, 255: Rocker ripped to pieces Illinois-Chicago batters Saturday to the tune of six innings, two hits, 11 strikeouts, and a lone walk. Still, scouts are hoping Rocker shows a fastball that impresses this year as much as his slider. That’s not the sequence MLB teams picking in the first round tend to appreciate.

8. Gunnar Hoglund (8), RH pitcher, Ole Miss, 6-4, 210: One more example of how loaded is the 2021 draft’s crop of power-pitchers. Hoglund in 17⅔ innings has racked up 28 whiffs against five walks.

9. Brady House (UR), SS, Winder-Barrow High, Winder, Georgia, 6-3, 210: In this marvelous athlete scouts see a living, breathing testament to this year’s prep shortstop crop. House not only has all the inventory you want at shortstop, from size to power to defense, his arm is so good he can throw 96 when Winder-Barrow moves him to the mound.

10. Ryan Cusick (9): RH starter, Wake Forest, 6-6, 215:  Needs to clean up his strike-zone finesse, but Cusick throws high-octane fastballs from a body that by the time his front foot has landed looks as if he is 20 feet away. It’s how you strike out 21 in 11⅓ innings. He has walked five.

11. Dropping from Top 10: Sam Bachman, Miami (Ohio); Jaden Hill (LSU); Matt McLain, UCLA.

Pushing for Top 10 inclusion: Bachman, Hill, McLain; Richard Fitts, RH pitcher, Auburn, 6-3, 200; Adrian Del Castillo, C, University of Miami, 5-11, 210; James Wood, OF, IMG Academy, 6-6, 230. Sal Frelick, IF/OF, Boston College, 5-9, 175.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.

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