Sunday night was pretty much a dream scenario for the Red Sox picking at four, with the number one player of most public rankings falling to them. It goes without saying that anything can happen during Marcelo Mayer’s development, and that’s without even getting to the potential financial implications, as we don’t know how much, if at all, the Red Sox will have to go overslot to sign the prep shortstop. That said, in a vacuum, in terms of pure talent, it’s hard to dream up a better scenario than this, particularly if you take Jack Leiter out of the conversation.
As I said, there is still a financial aspect to all of this, but these days teams don’t really make a pick this early without feeling good about their chances to sign a player. Failing to come to an agreement with their top pick not only results in them losing that player, but also affects their overall signing pool for the entire draft. Long story short, it’s safe to assume Mayer will join the Red Sox organization this summer. So, after that, the next question naturally becomes: Where does he rank in the system?
This has been said here and other places before, so I won’t pretend this is some unique, profound statement, but I do feel it’s better to work within tiers for prospect rankings. Traditional ordinal rankings inherently imply that the gap between each prospect is equal, even though we know in practice that is very much not the case. And in this specific case, while I think it can be easy to get caught up in the moment when a new player joins the organization, it seems like Mayer has to belong to the top tier of Red Sox prospects.
The other prospects in the top tier are pretty clear, with Triston Casas, Jarren Duran, and Jeter Downs making that up. People have quibbles with each of them, and Downs in particular seems to be falling off, but these three still seem like the top tier in some order, with Mayer joining them. FanGraphs, for what it’s worth, says they’ll have Mayer falling in at number 37 in the global rankings when he signs, a spot that is currently occupied by Downs. So just by their rankings, Mayer would be second to only Casas, with Downs and Duran behind him. But I think you can make a case for him being number one, climbing ahead of any of them.
We’ll start with Downs, who is the most natural companion in the system just because he’s a fellow highly-ranked middle infielder. Downs’s case over Mayer is simple, revolving around safety and proximity to the majors. But for the latter, a case can easily be built around upside. For one thing, while Downs is partially playing more second base for the Red Sox because of the presence of Xander Bogaerts, he also doesn’t project greatly on the left side of the dirt. Mayer, meanwhile, should be able to stick at shortstop. (Though, to be fair, that’s not a consensus opinion, even if I lean more towards the optimists.) I can see Mayer developing into a similar kind of sum-of-all-parts offense player rather than one with a standout tool, but you can also dream more on his upside both in the hit tool and power. As long as you’re not too scared off by how far away he is — and it’s a legitimate thing to be scared off by — it seems there’s a solid case to put Mayer ahead of Downs.
Moving on to Duran, the upside and positional value argument doesn’t come as much into play. Duran is a bit older, which often implies a relative lack of upside, but the new swing to tap into more power adds a different wrinkle here. That said, the arguments for Mayer probably revolve around the defense. One of the biggest questions remaining for Duran is whether or not he can turn into a net positive in center field. He certainly has the athleticism to make it work, but he needs to refine his techniques and reads to get there. For Mayer, again, I think he’s going to stick at shortstop, and potentially play it at a high level. That provides a higher floor out of the gate, at least on that side of the ball. Throw in some of the swing and miss that Duran has added this year, and it’s understandable being scared off enough to have Mayer ahead of him, especially since the scenario in which both hit their peak outcomes, Mayer is likely the better player.
Finally, with Casas we have the guy that most everyone still has as their top prospect in the system. I do think there has been some overdone worrying about Casas’s performance of late — the first base prospect is hitting .224/.318/.289 over his last 22 games, but he hit .318/.396/.506 in his first 22 games — but we’re here to make the case for Mayer. And that case is that, while his ceiling is not as high at the plate, and he’s not as high up the ladder, the overall ceiling is higher. That feels crazy to say about a high schooler who was just drafted in comparison to a Double-A first baseman who has drawn Joey Votto comps, but it’s true. Again, just talking about ceilings and not most likely outcomes, Mayer could be a plus defensive shortstop who is at least above-average with both the hit tool and power. That’s easily better than even the best first base prospect in the game, and Casas isn’t even that.
So, that’s the case for Mayer above each of the other three top-tier prospects, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I believe it. Most of those cases are built upon ceiling, which is a big factor in these kinds of conversations but not the only one. Mayer, who doesn’t turn 19 until December, is obviously much further away, and proximity is another big factor. With all of that being said, here’s how I would rank these four, with the caveat that they are all within the same tier for me and can be ordered in pretty much any variation without all that much argument from me.
What say you?