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 Severna Park, Maryland, high school shortstop Jackson Merrill.
Jackson Merrill is a lefthanded hitting prep shortstop out of Severna Park, Maryland. There’s some variability in his size listings — depending on the source, he’s either 6’2” or 6’3”, and 180 to 195 lbs. He turned 18 in April, and is committed to the University of Kentucky after previously having committed to Army.
Merrill is on folks’ radar because of his bat. He has a quality swing and bat speed, a good feel to hit, and makes good, loud contact. Questions about his power have been the knock on him in the past, but he has shown good raw power this spring, leading him to move up on boards. He also has a build that leads some to project more power as he develops.
Merrill, like most quality prep infielders, is a shortstop currently. There doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus as to whether he will be able to stick at shortstop — he’s not fast, and there’s concern that as he fills out he will lack the quickness to play shortstop, but reports indicate he has the arm to play third base if he has to change positions, and the hands and footwork to play second base, so even if he’s not a shortstop long-term he should be able to stay in the infield.
Baseball America has Merrill at #102 on their current top 500 draft list. MLB Pipeline has Merrill at #79 on their board. Over at ESPN Kiley McDaniel has Merrill at #84 on his current board. Fangraphs has Merrill ranked #67 on their board. Keith Law does not have Merrill on his list. Baseball Prospectus lists Merrill at #32 on their board.
Merrill is described as a “late riser,” with the BP rankings (which came out this morning) as having “late helium,” and citing a scout who compared him to D.J. LeMahieu. He is also described by BA as being “polarizing,” with the industry being all over the place on him.
The lack of consensus on Merrill is understandable, as he apparently wasn’t an active presence at the summer showcases in 2020, and Maryland isn’t a hotbed of high level high school baseball competition — MLB Pipeline notes that in the 21st century, the state of Maryland has had only two prep players be selected in the first five rounds in the draft, with both of those players being taken in the fourth round a little less than a decade ago. There’s understandably going to be leeriness about using a premium pick on a guy who hasn’t shown he can hit against quality pitching.
My guess is that folks reading this are thinking, well, sounds like someone worth considering if he’s there in the third or fourth round. However, here’s the first line in BA’s writeup on Merrill:
Merrill is one of the bigger draft risers late in the process and in June was getting buzz from around the industry that he wouldn’t get out of the second round.
Texas picks early in the third round, so maybe they target him there and offer him above slot, but if the Rangers like Merrill a lot and don’t think someone will take him later in the second round, would anyone be shocked to hear his name called at #38? It was just a year ago, after all, that the Rangers targeted an unheralded prep hitter who had almost no experience against advanced competition but whose bat they loved, and took him in the second round.
Which isn’t to say that the Rangers are necessarily going to do that again in 2021. But I wouldn’t be shocked if they did.