Who is Kahlil Watson?

October 29th, 2021

The Marlins landed one of the top high school shortstops in the 2021 MLB Draft in Kahlil Watson with the No. 16 pick. Here's what you need to know about Miami's No. 1 prospect.

Primary position: SS
Height/weight: 5-foot-9, 178 lbs.
Bats/throws: left/right
Birthdate: April 16, 2003 (Age 18 on Draft Day)
High School: Wake Forest (N.C.)
Hometown: Wake Forest, N.C.
College commitment: North Carolina State

Most upside?

Watson, Marcelo Mayer, Jordan Lawlar and Brady House made up an extremely tantalizing quartet of prep shortstops who each heard their name called within the top 20 picks of this year's Draft. And Watson may be the most athletically gifted player of them all.

According to MLB Pipeline, Watson has above-average tools across the board, including a 65-grade run tool on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. Despite his undersized frame at 5-foot-9 and nearly 180 pounds, Watson can drive the ball to all fields thanks to his evident bat speed. He also has more than enough foot speed to steal a bag and the arm strength to stick at shortstop throughout his career.

Some of those abilities are natural, but others developed through Watson's history playing football and basketball. While shining on the diamond at Wake Forest High, he was also one of the school's best football players, lining up at five different positions.

As one scout told Baseball America, "He’s the best athlete at shortstop in the draft, man. He might have the best upside.”

A good but brief introduction

Watson made his pro debut in the Florida Complex League on Aug. 16 and put up fantastic numbers over a nine-game span: .394 average, 1.130 OPS, five extra-base hits, four steals. He also had more walks (eight) than strikeouts (seven). But a hamstring strain forced him to miss 18 of a possible 27 games before the end of the Minor League season.

Although he didn't struggle too much at the plate, Watson told the Miami Herald that dealing with the evident jump in pitch velocity from high school to the FCL was challenging.

“As soon as I went into it, people were throwing 95 and 97 [mph]," he said. "In high school, I wasn’t seeing that at all. It was a big difference.”

Rising up the ranks

Watson had been a projected first-round pick for a while, but a strong senior season at Wake Forest High cemented his status as one of the top Draft prospects.

On April 25, one day before Watson's spring season began, he was listed as the No. 15 overall pick in a mock draft from MLB Pipeline's Jonathan Mayo. Then Watson hit .583 for the Cougars, whose season wrapped up on June 15. He scored 24 runs and tallied 13 extra-base hits in just 53 at-bats. On June 16, Mayo's mock draft had Watson going to the Rangers at No. 2.

'I am kind of chirpy'

Watson has plenty of game on the field, and he likes to talk a good game, too.

"I am kind of chirpy," Watson told Baseball America, "but I like it when other teams chirp against me because I motivate off of that."

Watson isn't short on confidence either. He will tell you that he is the best high school shortstop among this year's distinguished class.

"I don’t think they have the same speed as I do. So that’s where I have an advantage," Watson said. "And then the athleticism, I think I have more athleticism than anyone in the prep shortstop (group). For me, that is how I look upon it, but I will still keep putting my work in."

Player comps? Watson has one for himself

With a shortstop as skilled as Watson, the inevitable player comparisons tie him to some marquee names. MLB Network's Harold Reynolds has likened Watson to former Phillies star and 2007 NL MVP Jimmy Rollins. But Watson told Reynolds before the Draft that he tries to pattern his game after Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor.