The 2021 MLB Draft begins on July 11, 2021, and unlike in 2020, this will be a twenty round draft — shorter than the forty rounds the draft has been in the most recent years prior to 2020, but longer than last year’s five round version. The Rangers’ top three picks are at #2, #38, and #73.
In the coming days, we will be doing write-ups of potential Texas Ranger draft picks, looking both at players who are in the mix at #2 and players who would be candidates to be picked in the second or third rounds. Today we are looking at Wake Forest, North Carolina, high school shortstop Kahlil Watson.
Kahlil Watson is an 18 year old shortstop who is listed as 5’9”, 178 lbs. by BA and MLB Pipeline, and 5’11”, 168 lbs. by Fangraphs. A lefthanded hitter, Watson is currently committed to North Carolina State.
Watson was seen as a first rounder coming into this season, but has put himself in the top tier of prep shortstops, along with Jordan Lawlar, Marcelo Mayer, and fellow late riser Brady House, since his high school season started in April. Watson earns raves for his bat speed and his swing, and though he swings extremely hard and aggressively he has shown the ability to make contact with that style while also managing the strike zone. Despite his small stature, he has shown some power, and those who are bullish on him see 60 hit/60 power potential from him.
Watson has good though not elite speed, with BA putting a 60 on his speed and MLB Pipeline a 65. There are mixed views on the likelihood of him staying at shortstop, with some prognosticators thinking he can stick there, others seeing a potential move down the road as more likely. If he does move off of shortstop, second base and center field are the two positions cited as the best fit for him long-term.
Watson has perhaps the highest ceiling of any player in this draft. The biggest concerns about him have to do with his pitch recognition. Fangraphs says he swung over some good breaking balls in summer play, and due to the underwhelming level of competition he faced this spring, it is hard to get a good read on how big an issue that is for him, and what progress, if any, he has made in that regard.
Baseball America has Watson at #6 on their current top 500 draft list. MLB Pipeline has Watson at #4 on their board. Over at ESPN Kiley McDaniel has Watson at #7 on his current board. Fangraphs has Watson ranked #4 on their board. Keith Law has Watson at #8 on his board.
I’m not going to go through all the mock drafts and what they have for Watson. The consensus is that he will go in the top nine picks, and could land pretty much anywhere in the top nine, given how close together the top tier of players is considered to be.
The general consensus at this point is that there is a top tier of eight players in this draft — Watson, Lawlar, Mayer, House, Jack Leiter, Kumar Rocker, Henry Davis and Jackson Jobe. I’ve listed them in no particular order, not every team will have those eight as the top eight on their boards, and I am sure most teams have players in sub-tiers as well, with a few of these guys slightly higher or lower than others. That lack of separation is what has led to the expectation that, particularly with the top few picks, bonus demands and willingness to go below slot will be key factors in who goes where, which is part of why there’s so much uncertainty at the top of the draft.
The reporting of late has generally been that the Rangers are primarily in on Watson, Lawlar, Mayer and Leiter at #2. How much of that is reality and how much is smokescreen...who knows. It wouldn’t be shocking for the Rangers to pick any of the eight guys I listed above at #2, depending on the circumstances.
Watson is a potential five tool player. He also has more question marks surrounding his hit tool than Lawlar and Mayer, in particular, and given the Rangers’ recent prioritization of bat to ball skills and strong contact ability, that has some suggesting Watson isn’t really a fit at #4. That may be the case. Alternatively, the Rangers may feel like the total package, as well as the asking price, makes Watson the right pick at #2 nonetheless.