All these months we insisted the Red Sox would be choosing fourth overall, and then draft night arrived and it turned out they were actually picking first.
How else to explain the consensus No. 1 player in the draft, California high school shortstop Marcelo Mayer, slipping to them at No. 4? Virtually every mock draft had him going first or maybe second, and the club could've been forgiven if it had diverted its scouting resources elsewhere. On a night when little was certain, at a bare minimum we knew Mayer would be long gone by the time the Red Sox found themselves on the clock.
Reality had other ideas, and so the Red Sox pounced. All caveats about drafts and crapshoots aside, the selection has the potential to be franchise-altering and for once the old saw is true -- the Red Sox couldn't believe their good luck that such a talented player landed in their lap.
Twitter explodes after Red Sox select arguably the top prospect in the MLB Draft
"I think that's fair to say," said scouting director Paul Toboni. "For sure, this wasn't the likeliest outcome in our eyes."
Mayer may not be a can't-miss talent like Alex Rodriguez or Bryce Harper or Joe Mauer, but that doesn't make his selection any less stunning. He was widely considered worthy of the No. 1 overall pick as a high school shortstop whom Toboni compared offensively to Dodgers Silver Slugger Corey Seager, and defensively to Giants Gold Glover Brandon Crawford.
He had no business lasting until the Red Sox picked, but here we are. At 6-foot-3, 188 pounds and with room to grow, he's a bigger shortstop in the mold of Seager or San Diego's Fernando Tatis Jr., but with the glove not just to stick at the position, but thrive. Most scouting services rated him as both the best offensive and defensive shortstop in the draft.
"The thing that really sticks out to me with Marcelo's game is that he just does everything at a pace that it looks like he's doing it so, so easy," Toboni said. "You talk about quarterbacks slowing the game down, right? This kid slows the game down both at shortstop and when he's in the box. It's like he's always under control."
Mayer hit .392 with 15 home runs at Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, Calif. If that school sounds familiar, it's because it produced former No. 1 overall pick Adrian Gonzalez. It's also the home of 2019's 13th overall pick, Twins shortstop Keoni Cavaco.
That's the player Red Sox area scout J.J. Altobelli was following two years ago when he noticed a lanky sophomore with a fluid swing and easy actions in the field. That player was Mayer, not yet a household name.
"We would chat for long periods of time and I would ask (Altobelli) how Keoni was playing, the whole deal," Toboni said. "Very naturally, the conversation would always turn back to this incredible high school shortstop that was a sophomore at the time. He would glow about him, non-stop. It was like, he would tell me how Keoni played, but it felt like the majority of our conversation every single time we talked was about this Marcelo kid. I knew the name but I didn't really know much about him. He just talked about him as, 'This is one of the best prospects I've ever seen.'"
It will probably be a while before we see him in Boston. For one, the Red Sox are all set at shortstop for the foreseeable future with veteran Xander Bogaerts. For another, Mayer is only 18 and even the most advanced prospects need time to develop out of high school.
Mayer is a big fan of Tatis Jr., who spent parts of three seasons in the minors before reaching the Padres at age 20 in 2019. Seager was also drafted at 18, in 2012, and reached the big leagues three years later, winning the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2016. If Mayer follows a similar schedule, he wouldn't arrive in Boston for good until 2025.
That we're even having this discussion seemed completely improbable on Sunday morning. When the draft began, the Red Sox expected Mayer's name to be called first by the Pirates, but they took Louisville catcher Henry Davis. The Rangers had been linked to multiple high school shortstops, but they choose Vanderbilt ace Jack Leiter, a presumed target of Boston's.
That's when phones started buzzing in the Red Sox draft room, with scouts getting tips from colleagues across the game that the Tigers were targeting high school pitcher Jackson Jobe with the third pick.
Suddenly, Mayer was teed up for Boston, and the Red Sox took a big swing. It will be years before we can render a final judgment, but for now, remember the date: July 11, 2021. We may one day look back at it as the start of something special.