Not every draft has an unquestionable top player among its entrants. The Tigers were lucky that Casey Mize separated himself from the pack in 2018, but there wasn’t quite as much consensus in 2020 when they took Spencer Torkelson in the top spot. Even on draft day there were still some who believed that Austin Martin was the better prospect, but most of the coverage went to Torkelson because the Tigers had made it little secret that they were planning to select him.
It’s a similar situation in the 2021 draft class. There is a distinct top tier of players, but among them, it’s a game of preference. Multiple sources confirmed to Bless You Boys what most people already knew — the Tigers’ preference is for Eastlake high school shortstop Marcelo Mayer.
Because the Tigers’ opinion of him is high and the fact that they’ll draft him if he reaches the third pick so seemingly clear-cut, let’s take a look at what he brings on the field.
The appeal of Mayer’s game is how tuned-in he is to his offensive abilities. It’s not surprising that the Tigers zeroed in on him; they’ve prioritized low maintenance hitters with a realistic chance to hit for both contact and power in recent drafts. His swing is chocolatey, it’s as smooth as they come, but it has some body to it as well. “He is rhythmic and quiet in the box, covers the whole strike zone, and has surprising power for how effortless his swing is, including to the opposite field,” wrote FanGraphs in their report.
No one can be expected to be a complete player as a teenager coming out of high school. Bryce Harper and Juan Soto are the exceptions that prove that rule. What makes Mayer’s offensive potential so exciting is that he is already well-versed in the mental aspects of hitting.
Every scouting report out there talk about how poised he is at the plate, how well-timed and balanced his swing is, and how well he knows the strike zone. His bat path indicates that, once he gets stronger, he’ll be able to hit for power. He just needs to add the muscle to his 6-foot-3-inch frame, which likely won’t be a problem as he gets older and works with a pro strength and conditioning program.
Additionally, there’s little doubt that Mayer will be able to stay on the dirt in the long run. His arm is strong and his defensive motions are foundationally sound. Prospects Live is unequivocal in their belief that he can handle shortstop duties as a professional as well. They refer to him as a “buttery” defender and insist that as long as he doesn’t markedly regress as an athlete, he should be fine at the position. Even if he has to move off of short, he could be a plus defender at second or third base and has plenty of offensive game to float the profile.
It’s hard to find a bad word about Mayer anywhere, but any concerns are centered around his defensive profile. The question isn’t so much will he make it as a pro? as how high is his ceiling? FanGraphs articulated the problem this way:
“Mayer is a waist-bender and a below-average runner, so there are some club personnel who believe he won’t be a shortstop long-term, but he has the hands, actions, and arm strength for the position.”
That’s a pretty tame complaint, especially in the light of nonstop praise being showered on what he can do in other areas of the game. Heck, they undercut their own worry with a commendation of his fundamentals within the same breath. There’s a depth of certainty in the conversation surrounding Mayer that hasn’t been attached to a high school hitter in years.
The biggest worry when drafting a player like Mayer is that, while everything used to triangulate whether he can hit high-level pitching says “yes,” there’s no track record of him doing so. It’s a big delta between high school pitching and the stuff seen in the major leagues, and there’s no way to know for sure that he’ll be successful until he proves it.
Expected draft range: 1st-3rd overall
After the hype for Kumar Rocker and Jordan Lawlar lost steam, it was Mayer who succeeded them as the player with the best chance to be drafted first overall. If he isn’t picked off by the Pirates at the top, it’s not impossible that the Rangers may look in another direction with the second pick. The current regime in Texas has usually preferred players with louder tools or a higher floor than Mayer’s, and with a crowded top group of prospects, they’ll have other options.
However, if he gets to the Tigers, he’ll slide no further. From what we can tell, the team is deeply infatuated with him and have him firmly atop their draft board. Just don’t expect them to get the chance.
Mayer will command a large signing bonus, but that’s all right. The Tigers have the second largest bonus pool in the league. Furthermore, it’s sometimes better to get the best player than risk outsmarting yourself with signing bonus shenanigans and wind up with nothing, like the Tigers did in 2017.