The next Seager? No. 11 pick is ready to make his own name

July 15th, 2024

When you’re 6-foot-3, hit left-handed and play shortstop, the comps come pretty easily, quickly and constantly. For some teenagers, being put side-by-side with four-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger Award winner and two-time World Series MVP Corey Seager might lead to putting too much pressure on yourself.

Bryce Rainer, selected by the Tigers at No. 11 overall in the 2024 Draft, doesn’t seem fazed by it, presenting a California cool that belies how intense a competitor the young infielder actually is.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” Rainer said. “To be compared to arguably one of the best players in Major League Baseball right now, I think that’s awesome. But at the same time, I try to be my own unique self. At the end of the day, we’re different people.”

Rainer only can hope he can follow in the footsteps of Seager, who was the No. 18 pick in the 2012 Draft and made his big league debut in September of 2015, then went on to win National League Rookie of the Year honors with the Dodgers the following season. As one of the top two high school hitters in the 2024 Draft class -- Mississippi’s Konnor Griffin, selected No. 9 overall, is the other -- it’s not too difficult to dream about that kind of trajectory, but the crazy thing is that as recently as last fall, it wasn’t completely obvious that his future would be as a position player, let alone a top of the first round type of talent.

As a freshman at southern California high school powerhouse Harvard-Westlake, Rainer was a starting pitcher and he didn’t play the field much because the coaching staff didn’t want to overload the young player with double duty. He was still pitching regularly as a sophomore and junior, and the school had another shortstop. Even last summer on the summer showcase circuit, and then for Team USA, Rainer was a very intriguing two-way player who looked better at short than anticipated but also was firing mid-90s fastballs from the mound with a good breaking ball. With a bit of a longer swing in the past, some scouts thought perhaps his future would be on the mound, kind of like Jack Flaherty, a Harvard-Westlake first-round pick in 2014.

Then the transformation began in earnest. There were signs of it last summer, as he was more agile and athletic defensively than he had been. During the fall and winter, heading into his senior season, he got bigger and stronger. And that helped him make the biggest leap forward at the plate, as he lost the bat wrap behind his head and shortened his swing, allowing him to make more consistent and impactful contact against top competition. The key ingredient? A whole lot of reps on his own.

“It was a lot of time to myself hitting by myself, talking to my coaches, my dad,” Rainer said. “They all really helped me get to the spot where I'm at today, and I can't thank them enough. But really, it was just a lot of time by myself hitting, trying to get the right feel for my swing. And it worked out.”

Rainer’s name was already creeping up Draft boards with how he broke out of the gate this spring, but he cemented himself as perhaps the best pure prep hitter in the class when he and his Harvard-Westlake teammates came to compete in the National High School Invitational. It’s an opportunity for scouting staffs from all 30 teams, including many scouting directors, to see potential draftees in a competitive setting like that, different from showcase events.

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Rainer was the best player at the event, going 7-for-13 (.538) with a pair of doubles, five walks, no strikeouts and two stolen bases while playing a very smooth shortstop. He had the top four exit velocities for the week (and five of the top six), all 106.8 mph or better. The Texas recruit was also up to 95 mph consistently in one relief outing on the mound for good measure. Maybe it wasn’t an “aha moment,” since his helium began prior to the event, but it definitely made Rainer realize he was in a pretty good spot, even if he was once again pretty even-keeled in his reaction.

“I think NHSI was kind of that [moment of], ‘This feels really good and I hope I can carry this on as my career evolves,’” Rainer said. “I didn’t realize it was that big of a tournament, to be honest with you. I had the same mindset: Every game I play, I’m just trying to help my team win. And whatever I can do to help, that’s what I’m going to do. That was the main goal at that tournament, to win, and we fell short, but we all had fun. And I thought we did the best we could have done. And it just so happened that I did pretty well myself and put myself in a pretty good position.”

That position is becoming the fifth first-round pick in Harvard-Westlake’s history. Three have been pitchers: Flaherty in 2014, Max Fried and Lucas Giolito in 2012. The most recent one is a hitter, outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong in 2020. Rainer has now added one to the position player column, even though he admits to enjoying being able to control the game on the mound and at least one of those alumni believe he has the ability to keep doing both.

“I think Bryce is more than capable of being a top five pick and a kid that goes to the big leagues in the next four or five years,” Crow-Armstrong said. “And he’s got the attitude for it. … Now it’s just his turn to kind of find his way in the pro ball setting and get beat up a little bit, but then have the opportunity to show everybody who Bryce Rainer is.

“He’s really, really, really talented. Better than me at that age. Not even close. Not defensively, but he can hit and if he wanted to go try the two-way thing, I think he’d have a good chance of doing that. Talent wise, he’s got it, for sure.”