The Red Sox may never have a better opportunity to add top-flight talent to their farm system than the No. 4 pick in Sunday's 2021 MLB Draft. In fact, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom is counting on it.
If the Red Sox make a habit of selecting atop the draft, it will be because they're losing. And the goal is to use this pick to help build a sustainable winner that leaves the Red Sox at the bottom of the first round every year, which is ultimately where every team wants to be.
"You nailed it," Bloom said this week on NBC Sports Boston's Talkin' Baseball. "We never want to pick in this spot again. That said, it's an opportunity that, given that we have it, we want to make the most of it."
The Red Sox will need to scour the country to fill out the bulk of their draft board, but not the top of it. To make their first pick, they'll really only need to familiarize themselves with three names.
Assuming that California high school shortstop Marcelo Mayer goes No. 1 overall to the Pirates, the Red Sox will probably be picking from among the following trio: Dallas high school shortstop Jordan Lawlar, Louisville catcher Henry Davis, and Vanderbilt right-hander Jack Leiter.
In conversations with rival evaluators and other league sources, Leiter and Davis are the players most often linked to the Red Sox, though MLB.com recently predicted they'd take Lawlar, who's in the running to be selected No. 2 overall by his hometown Rangers.
There's a lot to like about all three. Lawlar was the Gatorade Player of the Year for Texas as a five-tool shortstop who has earned comparisons to former No. 2 overall pick Bobby Witt Jr. Davis has an advanced approach at the plate and an absolute cannon of an arm behind it at an impact defensive position. Leiter is the best pitcher in the draft and the son of a former All-Star.
Maybe the Red Sox surprise and go with power-hitting Georgia high schooler Brady House or Leiter's Vanderbilt rotation-mate, Kumar Rocker, but the safest bet appears to be one from the aforementioned trio, with the focus on Leiter and Davis.
The Rangers are the wild card. For months, it appeared they had zeroed in on Lawlar. The Vanderbilt commit plays his high school ball at Jesuit College Prep in Dallas, just 25 miles from Globe Life Field. He's a tremendous athlete with the range and arm strength to stick at shortstop. However, the most recent MLB.com mock draft has Texas taking Leiter while continuing a trend of targeting productive college players atop the draft.
That could foil the plans of the Red Sox, who have been linked to Leiter since the start of the season. The 6-foot-1 right-hander went 11-4 with a 2.13 ERA as a sophomore, beating Mississippi State in Game 1 of the College World Series, which Vandy would go on to lose in three games (the final a blowout loss started by Rocker). He tied his teammate with a nation-leading 179 strikeouts while featuring a fastball that reached 97 mph.
Leiter is reportedly trying to price himself down to the Red Sox, but with limited bonus pools, it's unclear how much more he could really demand from Boston than anyone else. If the Rangers decide to nab him, then the Red Sox could very well be looking at Davis.
An offseason workout partner of Red Sox pitchers Matt Barnes and Adam Ottavino, per this excellent Boston Globe story, Davis checks multiple boxes. He hits for average (.370), he exhibits an above-average understanding of the strike zone (.482 OBP), he possesses power (15 HRs), he threw out 48 percent of would-be base stealers, and he's clearly the best college position player in the draft.
That last bit represents an important distinction, because hitters are generally safer bets atop the draft than pitchers.
"You assess everybody on the merits," Bloom said. "Position players and pitchers have different types of risks. We need to make sure we're assessing those risks correctly with a clear head and that most of all, we're nailing the talent of the player, the makeup of the player, who the player is."
We'll have the answer to that question on Sunday. It could be Leiter. It could be Davis. It could be Lawlar. The Red Sox fully expect it will be someone impactful.
"We're fortunate in this spot that we're going to end up with somebody that we really like," Bloom said. "We need to make sure we're lining them up the right way and just picking the best player for the Boston Red Sox."