DENVER — Marcelo Mayer was supposed to be long gone by the time the Red Sox made the fourth pick of the draft on Sunday night.
The 18-year-old shortstop from Chula Vista, Calif., was considered by many evaluators to be the best overall talent on the board. The 6-foot-3 lefthanded hitter out of powerhouse Eastlake High has drawn comparisons to Dodgers star Corey Seager.
But the draft started with a bit of a surprise when the rebuilding Pirates took the best college position player on the board, Louisville catcher Henry Davis.
The Rangers selected Vanderbilt righthander Jack Leiter, a player long tied to the Red Sox. The Tigers passed on Mayer for the top-ranked high school pitcher, Jackson Jobe of Oklahoma City.
That left Mayer, and the Red Sox didn’t let him drop further. They were not expecting him to still be there.
“I think that’s fair to say,” said amateur scouting director Paul Toboni, who was grinning throughout a video interview with reporters. “For sure wasn’t the likeliest outcome in our eyes.”
But it wasn’t entirely a surprise. Mayer, Davis, and Leiter were universally viewed as the best players available along with Texas high school shortstop Jordan Lawlar. But what order they would go wasn’t certain.
“This draft, it just seemed a little unsettled at the top,” Toboni said.
Once Leiter went to the Rangers, the door opened.
“What became pretty clear as the first couple picks unfolded was that we likely had these players ranked a little bit differently,” Toboni said. “We had a subset of players I think we really liked, but I think this outcome is one everybody is really, really excited about.”
High school shortstops often end up at other positions as they mature. But the Sox are confident Mayer will remain there.
“It’s one of the most appealing things about him. He’s just got such purity to his game. I don’t know how else to put it,” said Toboni, who described Mayer as having an effortless feel for the position.
“We think he will get bigger and stronger, but we don’t think he’ll sacrifice his speed or his lateral range. That’s really exciting for us … he’s not just the guy who stays at shortstop, but an impact shortstop.”
After taking second baseman Nick Yorke with their first-round pick last year, the Red Sox went back to California to form what could be their double play combination of the future.
Much as they did with Yorke, the Sox see Mayer’s personality having an impact on the organization.
“He has this unique ability to bring out the best in people around him, in a way where he challenges you and he also endears himself to you. He’s just a special, special kid,” Toboni said.
Playing against high-level competition in the San Diego area, Mayer was a career .363 hitter with good power to all fields, a textbook swing, and a strong arm.
The Sox have until Aug. 1 to sign Mayer away from a commitment to USC. The slot value for the fourth pick is $6,664,000. Mayer is represented by John Boggs.
“It’s everything I could have asked for. It’s something that I’m going to remember for the rest of my life,” Mayer said in a TV interview.
The Red Sox had not made one of the first four picks since 1967, when they selected Mike Garman, a high school righthander from Idaho, with the third pick. Garman was 2-2 with a 4.95 earned run average in 20 games for the Sox from 1969-73 before he was traded to the Cardinals.
Suffice it to say the Sox have much higher hopes for Mayer, who hit .392 with a 1.441 OPS, 14 home runs and 45 RBIs in 34 games as a senior.
The area scout who did the legwork on Mayer was J.J. Altobelli.
“Even with the pandemic, we found a way to create a really robust [scouting] process. Honestly, it was this spring as well,” Toboni said.
“On 14 or 15 different occasions, I think about J.J. sitting in three hours of LA traffic, driving down from Orange County, all the time he probably spent in his car because he knew he had to get this player right.”
Rounds 2-10 start at 1 p.m. Monday, with rounds 11-20 starting at noon Tuesday.
The Red Sox have the fourth pick on Monday, No. 40. Then No. 75, 105, and so on.