We are now under a week to go until we get to this year’s MLB Draft, and the Red Sox are picking as high as they have in a half-century. With the fourth overall selection, the team has a chance to add real, premium talent to their farm system in a way that is just not common for them in their franchise’s history. With that in mind, in the six days leading up to the draft we are going to take a look at what seems to be a near-consensus on the top seven players for the Red Sox to consider with their first pick. We move back to the prep shortstop ranks for today with a look at Khalil Watson.
MLB Pipeline: 4
We’ve made it through four players so far in this year’s class to profile as potential Red Sox selections in the draft — you can read them here: Jack Leiter, Marcelo Mayer, Jordan Lawlar, Henry Davis — and with number five we already have our fifth high school shortstop. It is a class loaded with them, and they each have their own characteristic. Mayer is the high-ceiling defensive whiz, Lawlar is the (relatively) high-floor, across-the-board talent, and today we look at the guy with perhaps the highest ceiling of the group in Khalil Watson.
Watson is not like Lawlar, who was ticketed for a position among the top high school players of his class since basically his sophomore year. Instead, Watson really emerged on the scene as a potential first-rounder, and high first-rounder, last year in some of the amateur circuits. There weren’t as many events in 2020 as is typical the summer before prep players’ draft years, but Watson was able to find a few and really showcased his skills. Scouts saw a tremendous athlete with a huge ceiling, and the NC State commit now looks like a near-lock to go in the top 10 and forgo that college commitment.
It’s not difficult to figure out what there is to like about Watson, who has positives to check off in every area of the game. At the plate, things seem a little out of control at first as the relatively small infielder comes to the plate with a massive uppercut swing. That can often be a bad thing leading to a lot of swing and miss, but as the FanGraphs scouting report above notes, his small frame prevents the left-handed swing from being too long, helping him make more contact.
And he does make plenty of contact. There are some questions about how well this swing will be able to translate to the higher levels when he starts to see more advanced pitching, and it’s likely whoever drafts him will need to work on that swing to quiet it down at least a little. That said, the Red Sox are on the shortlist of teams who have proven most adept at developing bats, so I would trust them with this task. There is a ton of variance here and work to be done once he reaches the pro ranks, but it’s not out of the question Watson develops above-average power to go with an above-average hit tool.
Over on the defensive side of things you are going to see a lot of disagreement when it comes to the 18-year-old (he just turned 18 this past April). Where everyone agrees is the athleticism, as he is a plus runner who will be able to use that speed and quickness up the middle. The disagreements come exactly where. He’ll almost certainly start his career at shortstop, but there are some questions about his arm strength that could lead him to move over to second base, or even out to center field where his speed can really shine. That said, there are still people you’ll talk to who believe he will indeed have the skills to be able to stick at shortstop.
In comparison to Mayer and Lawlar, Watson doesn’t have the relative certainty, and for that reason I would have those two ahead of him. With that said, he certainly does have the kind of impact ceiling you’re looking for from a selection this high in the process, and while he’s only a high schooler his time on the showcase circuit last year did show off some talents against highly ranked prep players across the country. He hasn’t been on the radar a ton for the Red Sox, at least not publicly, but he’d be an instant boost in upside to a system that is strong in the middle but still lacking true top-end talents.