The 2021 MLB draft got off to a hot start with the mock drafts getting blasted all over the place. Things got a bit wonky with interesting names, like Kumar Rocker, sliding down the board. Most mock drafts had the Reds picking all over the place, but most of the players that were slotted to the Reds were taken earlier in the draft. However, it does appear that the Reds have continued a trend with the guy they drafted. The Reds have shown a proclivity for taking highly athletic dudes that have good offensive production in the first round in recent years, such as Nick Senzel and Jonathan India. However, the difference with this pick is the legit possibility he sticks at shortstop.
Matt Mclain, SS, R/R, 5’11, 170lbs, JR, UCLA - 21 years old
If you’ve heard Mclain’s name before, it’s because he was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks 25th overall in the 2018 draft. Instead of taking millions of dollars to sign, he chose to honor his commitment to UCLA. The bet paid off as Mclain picked himself up a few more dollars by sliding higher up the draft.
Mclain is an interesting prospect due to his high athleticism. While he floundered a bit in his freshmen year, it could have been due to him playing all over the infield but mostly from him taking on the center field role due his defensive position being blocked. In that year he barely hit over the Mendoza line while striking out in near 30% of his plate appearances. He did hit much better in the 2019 Cape Cod Summer league with a slash line of .274/.394/.425. It was in 2020 and 2021 where Mclain really started to rake.
2020: .397/.422/.621 in 64 plate appearances
2021: .333/.434/.579 in 226 plate appearances
Another important note is that Mclain missed three weeks of games in 2021 with a thumb injury so we can’t be 100% how much power that sapped. But, let’s get to the scouting grades.
Grades (via MLB.com)
The big questions out there about Mclain will be his ability to remain at shortstop and his ability to hit for power. From most of the reports I have read, most people are balking at his power potential. However, the grades at MLB.com do not agree and they did not agree during his draft recap live on MLB.tv. There was a lot of comps to Nick Madrigal due to their body types, but the one observation that is consistently made is that Mclain is thicker and stronger. Madrigal is a better pure hitter but Mclain is a better pure athlete. It will be interesting to see how that comparison plays out in the future. As for the shortstop criticism, the guy can throw and run and that’s usually the combination you look for. While some scouting reports question the ability, I have yet to read one that seems to take the idea of moving him off shortstop as realistic. In my opinion, it reads as the constant criticism of shortstop prospects except that Mclain doesn’t size up as some physical monster that will have to move. To me, it’s just noise. Mclain probably won’t win Gold Gloves but there is no reason to think he can’t be solid at the position.
This is just my uninformed, stupid opinion, but this screams of a definite Best Player Available pick but also one where the Reds continue to search for that ever elusive everyday short stop. It’s also one that won’t break the bank letting the Reds continue to pick up talent later since they have three picks in the first round. I like the pick, but I’m also dumb. The one thing I do know is you don’t snub bat talent and Mclain has it.