Experts debate which SS should go No. 1

Four prep shortstops could be taken in the Top 10 of July's Draft

June 8th, 2021

While there is still a considerable amount of uncertainty surrounding the 2021 Draft class, one thing cannot be denied: There are some seriously talented high school shortstops to be had.

There is a distinct possibility there will be four prep shortstops taken in the top 10 of this year’s first round in July: Marcelo Mayer in California, Jordan Lawlar in Texas, Brady House in Georgia and Kahlil Watson in North Carolina. Should they all get taken that early, it will mark the first time that many high schoolers who play the premium position were selected in the top 10 in Draft history.

There have been three years in which three prep shortstops were taken in the top 10 since the Draft began in 1965, but it hasn't happened since 1980. And there have been some exciting tandems, with many scouts recalling when Francisco Lindor and Javier Báez came out in 2011, and more recently, the 2019 Draft that featured Bobby Witt Jr. and CJ Abrams up top.

This year also features a dynamic duo in Mayer and Lawlar, currently ranked first and second on MLB Pipeline’s Top 200 Draft prospects list. They are both in the mix to go No. 1 overall to the Pirates and could become the first pair of high school shortstops to go 1-2 in the Draft.

Much like back in early April when Jim Callis surveyed scouts and executives about their preference between Vanderbilt right-handers Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker, we asked them again about the two names now at the top of our Draft rankings. The question was simple: Who would you take if given the choice between the two of them?

Any time evaluators are asked, there’s bound to be differing opinions and both young infielders have their supporters. It can get tricky to get answers on players so highly regarded since many teams didn’t spend a lot of time scouting them. If you pick in the 20s, you won’t have the chance to draft either. But both were at least seen regularly on the summer showcase circuit and into this spring, leading to a total of 20 respondents to the survey. It was Mayer from Eastlake High School in southern California who bested Lawlar, from Jesuit Prep in Texas, 13-7, though there clearly isn’t that much separating the two.

While both players have considerable tools, it appears there’s a bit more certainty in Mayer’s left-handed bat, giving him the edge over Lawlar, who most see as more athletic and perhaps with slightly more ceiling overall.

“That’s tough,” one National League scouting executive said. “Mayer’s bat is better, Lawlar is the better shortstop and athlete. I guess I would go with Mayer since I always hedge towards the bat.”

“Mayer could be quicker to the big leagues with strong average to plus defense and strong average hit. He’s the safer pick,” an NL national cross-checker said. “Lawlar has the bigger upside with a chance to have more power and chance to stay at shortstop.”

There were differing opinions over who the best defender is, though scouts who think Mayer is as good, if not better, talked more about his steadiness at the position, while evaluators lauded Lawlar for his explosiveness and quick-twitch actions. And while Mayer’s offensive potential was mentioned often, Lawlar’s ceiling was brought up just as frequently.

“Lawlar has the better chance to stay at shortstop long-term and the bigger run tool is a separator for me,” one American League scouting director said.

“I lean Lawlar for upside and impact, the likelihood of sticking at shortstop, the athleticism and track record,” another AL scouting director said.

Some thought Mayer might look like the better pick early, but that Lawlar will prove to be the better player, one of the reasons why it doesn’t pay to evaluate a Draft until 10 years down the line.

“I think Mayer will go out early and have more success with the bat, but Lawlar will eventually catch him,” said a third AL director, who pointed out he hadn’t seem either of them much this spring. “A team would be lucky to get either guy.”

While comparisons to Major League players should be taken with a grain of salt, there were several ones brought up repeatedly for both players. Lawlar was a bit all over the place, but if you have a taller, athletic shortstop on your mind, he might fit. Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, even 2019 Texas high school shortstop draftee Bobby Witt Jr., all came up, but the most complimentary comp was to Derek Jeter, not just with his actions, but with how he carries himself and his demeanor.

“Don't call me crazy, but he’s a poor man's Jeter,” that first AL scouting director said. “Not sure he will hit enough to be Jeter, but the kid has that kind of presence to him when you meet him. I was extremely impressed.” 

Scouts have seen some Chipper Jones in Mayer, but the two names who came up more often were Corey Seager (think bigger left-handed bat at short) and Brandon Crawford.

“He’s like a combination of Seager and Crawford for me,” an NL national scout said. “But his body and the ease to the game he shows is more [Manny] Machado-esque.”

Two follow-up questions closed out the survey and garnered a variety of responses. The first was, “What player in the Draft, not just these two shortstops, would you take if you had the No. 1 pick?”

Five respondents mentioned Lawlar as one of two or three choices. Ten others had Mayer on their short lists, with Leiter the main third player brought up.

Of course, who they would take and who they think the Pirates will take could be very different answers, so they were asked for a prediction about what Pittsburgh will do with that first selection.

Eight at least mentioned Lawlar. Again, 10 gave Mayer a vote. Leiter and Louisville catcher Henry Davis were the other players brought up more than once.