LOS ANGELES – Mikey Romero and Marcelo Mayer spent years playing together on travel ball teams in Southern California. Both excelled, capturing the attention of the baseball industry – including Red Sox Southern California area scout J.J. Altobelli.
In 2021, with the Red Sox in possession of the No. 4 pick in the draft, the team took Mayer out of Eastlake High School. And on Sunday night, Romero learned that he’d be reunited with his close friend and longtime teammate, getting taken by the Sox with their first-round selection (No. 24 overall) out of Orange Lutheran (Calif.) High School in the 2022 draft.
“We’re just going crazy just because of that relationship,” said Romero.
Yet while the two can now dream of a future pairing in the Red Sox infield, Romero – who hit .372/.419/.659 with four homers in 30 games as a senior and struck out just seven times in 105 plate appearances – forged his own profile. It doesn’t take long to find out his most noteworthy attribute on a baseball field.
“He can hit. He’s a hitter. He can really, really hit,” said Altobelli. “He’s got unbelievable baseball IQ. He’s a complete baseball player. And he can do the hardest thing there is in the game better than most, which is hit.”
Orange Lutheran coach Eric Borba offered similar accolades.
“The hit tool on Mikey is as good as I’ve ever seen,” said Borba, whose program has turned out several draft picks, including Gerrit Cole and 2018 first-rounder Cole Winn. “Having been a high school coach for 25 years, I’ve never seen a kid that has the ability to just find the barrel as well as he does. He has an understanding of the strike zone, but his barrel awareness is as advanced as anybody I’ve ever coached. …
“The ability that he has to make adjustments in-game is way more advanced than anything I’ve ever seen,” he continued. “He’ll come back to the dugout and talk about what a pitcher is trying to do. And he’s got a true understanding of what it takes to be successful.”
Borba’s affinity for Romero’s predates Altobelli’s by years. Borba coached Romero in 2016 for the 12-and-under national team. His jaw dropped upon his initial introduction.
“The first game I ever saw him play, he was playing for a little travel ball team in Cary, North Carolina. Within five minutes, I said, that’s gonna be my starting shortstop, just the way he handled himself the way he went about his business,” said Borba. “He was a coach on the field, communicating with his teammates, what he saw in the dugout, and it was just off the charts. It was special and different than anything I’ve ever seen before.”
Altobelli had the opportunity not just to scout Romero – including on his travel ball team with Mayer, when Romero moved to second in deference to Mayer, who was one year older – but to coach him in the Area Code Games in the summer of 2020. Altobelli was taken both with Romero’s ability to handle elite stuff – including high velocity – and by what he considered the player’s exceptional makeup.
Even so, while most agreed that he possessed a standout hit tool, there were questions in some quarters about his power potential and his ability to stick at shortstop. Through the draft season, most industry publications pegged Romero as falling just outside of the first round – projecting him to be taken either in Compensatory Round A or early in the second round.
Romero took note.
“Comparing myself to other guys, there’s never a doubt that I was going to be a top guy. I feel really confident in my ability,” he said. “Those mock drafts, it’s kind of fuel to the fire for me. It adds to the chip on my shoulder and it’s just another reason for me to prove people wrong, prove myself right.”
The Red Sox shared Romero’s belief that public projections were too light on the middle infielder, and that growing strength and power that he showed in workouts and the draft combine late in the year had elevated the 18-year-old’s status. They see him as a player who could be a standout pure hitter with average power (homer totals in the teens), and solid to plus infield defense.
The Sox – no stranger to draft day surprises or defiance of industry expectation – felt that if they didn’t take Romero with the No. 24 pick, he’d be gone by the time they made their next selection at No. 41.
“I think there’s very, very, very little chance he would have gotten to 41. That was obviously part of the calculus for us,” said Red Sox amateur scouting director Paul Toboni. “What happened in 2022 I think was interesting in that, really toward the end, he started to grow into some power maybe a little bit later. … When he started showing that, we were super, super intrigued because we already loved the kid, we loved the positional profile, and we loved his ability to hit.”
And so, the Sox grabbed the shortstop – a decision Borba believes the team will not regret.
“I think the Red Sox got a shortstop that’s gonna play for 15 years in the big leagues and be a Hall of Famer,” said Borba. “That’s the kind of kid they just got.”
Romero became the third straight high school middle infielder and fourth straight high-school position player taken by the Red Sox in the first round, following Mayer (2021), Nick Yorke (2020), and Triston Casas (2018).
With two more picks on Day 1 of the draft, the Red Sox took two more high school position players.
With its second-round pick (No. 41 overall, compensation for the team’s inability to sign second-rounder Jud Fabian out of Florida in 2021), the team tabbed shortstop Cutter Coffey out of Liberty High School in Bakersfield, Calif.
Coffey, a 6-foot-2 righthanded power hitter, was one of the better two-way prep players in the draft. He hit .442/.581/1.021 with 12 homers in 31 games as a senior while also striking out 42 in 35 1/3 innings and showing the potential for three average or better pitches, headlined by a mid-90s fastball and slider.
“He definitely could go out as a pro right now as a pitcher. ... My guess is we’d probably lean just having him play a position to start but you never know. He could pick it up and do it pretty easily,” said Toboni. “That being said, we do prefer him as a shortstop first. ...
“He’s got tremendous athleticism and power potential and bat speed, but he’s also a really good defender and he’s got a good feel for the game.”
With their final day one pick, the Red Sox took high school outfielder Roman Anthony out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., with the No. 79 overall pick in the draft (compensation for the departure of Eduardo Rodriguez in free agency). The Sox believe Anthony has a chance to stay in center while producing huge power.
“I think he’s a much, much better talent than [getting taken 79th] would indicate,” said Toboni. “He gets on base, he sees the ball well, but also [has] got tremendous, tremendous power potential. And that’s a pretty rare combination to find for a centerfielder.”
The draft kicked off with a pair of high school position players who were the sons of big league stars at the top. Shortstop Jackson Holliday (the son of former All-Star Matt Holliday) went first, followed by outfielder Druw Jones (son of Andruw Jones) with the second pick. While both of those players were expected to go at the top of the draft, the Rangers shocked the industry with the No. 3 pick, taking righthander Kumar Rocker – a pitcher connected by many to the Sox with the No. 24 overall pick.
UConn standout Reggie Crawford – a two-way player who has shown both enormous power and an electric fastball that topped out at 102 mph in the Cape League in 2021 – was taken by the Giants with the 30th pick of the first round. Crawford missed the 2022 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in the fall.
Day two of the draft on Monday will feature rounds 3-10, and day three on Tuesday will feature rounds 11-20.