2021 Miami Marlins: Draft Notes

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After a historic performance across the pandemic-shortened 2020 MLB season, the Miami Marlins seemed in an unusual spot entering the 2021 MLB Draft. What is now recalled as a fluke campaign resulted in the Marlins settling in with the 16th overall pick, their lowest since 2010.

Yet, there is another underlying truth behind that story. That year saw Florida, just two years before rebranding as the Miami Marlins, select outfielder Christian Yelich with the twenty-third pick. And, as the saying goes, the rest is history – Yelich would go on to have an immensely successful nine-year tenure in the National League, more so with the Milwaukee Brewers than the Miami Marlins.

Nevertheless, the meaning behind that symbolism is as clear as it has always been during any offseason or draft preparation. The lesson is that the drafted position often has little significance. Meanwhile, just the opposite applies to the wonders that smart player assessment can work, not just for the prospect of seeing the player on the MLB field years but also the development of his value as a trade asset. Such development could boost the short-term ability of the team to compete at any given time.

The Marlins have rarely experienced the taste of the latter in recent memory – only a single winning campaign since 2009. However, what they have done quite well is developing depth and quality to their farm system. The 2021 draft was yet another step in that process.

The Pick That Started It Off

Round 1, Pick 1: Kahlil Watson, SS, Wake Forest (NC)

Kahlil Watson is not a random name on the draft board, at least according to the pre-draft observations of scouts across Major League Baseball. Furthermore, his fall down the draft order, amid other surprises that struck front offices, members of the media, and the audience across the league alike, could be considered mind-boggling. Jim Callis even named it “the steal of the day” during his analysis of the first round of the 56th Annual Rule 4 Draft.

The 18-year-old Watson was initially ranked third among high school prospects. At the same time, the statistical accomplishments and prerequisites of his high school tenure serve as a major reason for positivity, even when compared to high school batters draft higher such as Jordan Lawlar and Marcelo Mayer. Here is our earlier breakdown of Kahlil Watson’s potential heading into the professional game:

“The third straight shortstop amongst the high-schoolers with the highest profiles, this time out of North Carolina, Watson was an avid power-hitter for the better part of his career.

The NC State recruit had more playing time than both Lawlar and Mayer, which means a bigger sample for his numbers and more credibility. The averages themselves aren’t of smaller proportions either – an OBP north of .600 in two campaigns, SLUG over .1000 twice, and an OPS better than 1.000 on three occasions. To say that Watson’s track record is tremendous would be quite an understatement.

Less importantly, MLB Pipeline has given Watson a better rating in the baserunning department than both Lawlar and Mayer received – 65. The league-owned outlet is also quick to note Kahlil Watson’s consistency at the plate despite his emphasis on “power over hit”.

According to the Pipeline, this and his “spectacular spring” have given him “the chance to become the third North Carolina prepster selected No. 1 overall” in the history of the draft. With the leverage that Mayer and Lawler are rumored to have on the draft boards of the thirty major-league scouting departments, the odds are stacked against the 18-year-old. Nonetheless, this does not translate into a slower minor-league or MLB stint as his objective prerequisites might be better than the two higher-ranked high school prospects in the 2021 MLB Draft.”

Also, this selection resembles a reinforcement at a position of need for Miami’s farm system. Out of the Marlins’ ten prospects held at the highest regard, just four are position players, only one is an infielder, and none are shortstops. Should all go as planned, Watson promises to fill that hole in the long term.

Vulnerability Addressed

Competitive Balance Round A, Pick 31: Joe Mack, C, Williamsville East High School (NY)

Just like Kahlil Watson, Joe Mack‘s draft-day story is notorious for all the wrong reasons. The Williamsville East High School alum was initially projected as the 19th-best prospect, per MLB Pipeline. However, the New Yorker would fall outside the first round, earning a spot in Miami’s farm system with one of the last selections of the first day of the 2021 MLB Draft.

Joe Mack, whose brother Charles was drafted in the sixth round by the Twins three years ago, gather respectful figures across his two more active campaigns with the Flames. Furthermore, it was exactly the consistent firepower he showcased at the plate throughout his high school career that made him a highly-though of prospect and promises to witness him outmatch the expectations that pick 31 sets for the 18-year-old.

First, the Williamsville native was a regular starting piece of the Williamsville East Flames lineup during his sophomore year in 2019, and he was quick to impress. Mack had an on-base percentage of .594 across 72 plate appearances, more than a credible sample for this dominant figure. Also noteworthy are his 17 walks, equal to more than two-thirds the amount of his hits in the 2019 campaign.

The following season concluded early due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this pause only supplied Joe Mack with more time to prepare. When it was time for Mack to deliver, he did in the best possible way, leading the Flames to the A1 state championship.

In 87 plate appearances, Mack drew an OBP of .678 with a slugging of over 1.000 and an OPS of nearly 1.700. Unfortunately for him, it was not enough for the State Player of the Year Award, but Mack was as good as any other player in New York high school baseball. He entered the 2021 MLB Draft as one of the highest-ranked catchers on the board.

Joe Mack’s tremendous numbers have the sample to back them up, building a very promising picture for his minor and major-league future. Moreover, he is said to be very solid defensively, with MLB Pipeline rating his arm abilities at 60, higher than any other component. One cannot see many reasons for the downfall of the Clemson recruit, and the Marlins might have another efficient pick.

The Highlights Down the Board

Round 4, Pick 118: Tanner Allen, OF, Mississippi State

Tanner Allen has been one of the best outfielders in the Southeastern Conference since the start of his sophomore campaign. The outfielder’s streak of being a regular member of the Mississippi State lineup and posting incredible success over a large workload at the plate was only broken up by a 2020 campaign that was cut short for pandemic-related purposes.

Over his latest season, which saw Mississippi State win the first College World Series title in the 136-year history of the program, Allen had an on-base figure of .456 and an OPS over the 1.000 threshold for the first time in his collegiate tenure. In large part, the Alabama native replicated but built upon a very pleasant 2019 campaign that saw him turn in a .426 OBP and a slugging percentage of .516. More importantly, though, Tanner Allen proved his success as a sophomore was indicative of his identity as a hitter rather than a one-off occurrence.

In addition to leading “The Dawgs” to a CWS victory, Allen was ended the campaign leading the SEC in batting average, as well as ranking second in OBP and fifth in on-base plus slugging. The ceiling here, especially when adding the continuation of the stability to the mix, is very high for a fourth-rounder.

Round 7, Pick 209: Gabe Bierman, RHP, Indiana

Gabe Bierman was second in the Big Ten Conference in earned run average this past season. Despite this accomplishment raising his draft stock, there are still very legitimate concerns regarding the validity of his claims.

On the one hand, Bierman achieved these numbers while starting 12 games on the mound for the Hoosiers. This workload, coupled with his 74 innings pitched, is very close to the rest of the pack that represents his competition in the ERA department. However, the Jeffersonville native has not made more than five starts in any of his other two years on the B10 stage. Furthermore, Bierman has not enjoyed great dominance in terms of ball control, a field where he conceded more than 3.5 walks per nine innings.

On the other hand, what Gabe Bierman had going for him is strikeout and big-ball stability. The college junior-turned-MLB seventh-round pick averaged 9.7 K/9 while allowing just 0.5 home runs per nine. These are very satisfying figures but Bierman has failed to turn his success into a trend. Therefore, he could become a liability within Miami’s system.

Round 16, Pick 479: Ivan Melendez, 3B, Texas

Ivan Melendez‘s position within the final quarter of the 2021 draft is quite conflict-provoking. On the one hand, his OBP of .438 was the ninth-best this past year. At the same time, he was one of just nine players with an OPS over the 1.000 mark.

On the other hand, these are all the achievements Melendez can boast for the time being – he was drafted after the conclusion of his sophomore year with the Longhorns. That makes his figures inconclusive and difficult to digest but it is not hard to envision Melendez increasing his value in the event he stays at Texas. Still, giving him a positive grade would be an overly high estimation.

However, Ivan Melendez might indeed have chosen to improve his profile. He announced on Twitter, about ten days after the conclusion of the draft, that he was returning for his junior year in Austin. This could make him one of the favorites to land a first-round position in one or two years. Similarly, the Marlins are unlikely to move out of the bottom of the league in the next three or four-year cycle. Therefore, Miami should not be ruled out as a destination for Melendez despite his refusal to sign with the organization.

Follow me on Twitter at @TeodorTsenov for more of my content. Don’t forget to check out our baseball podcast, Cheap Seat Chatter! We’ll see ya there!

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Teodor Tsenov is an editor in the NFL Department of Overtime Heroics. Teodor joined the media in March 2020, previously writing for Franchise Sports UK. Also, a first-year International Sport Management student at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in Den Haag, the Netherlands. Originally from Sofia, Bulgaria.