The Cincinnati Reds had three picks on day one of the 2021 Major League Baseball draft. They would select 17th, 30th, and 35th overall in the first round.
With their first pick they took UCLA shortstop Matt McLain. While I always say that the national draft rankings don’t mean much because there’s tons of variability from team to team on the players, people like them, so let’s look at them real quick. McLain was rated 10th in the draft by Baseball America, 11th by Eric Longenhagen and Kevin Goldstein at Fangraphs, 12th by MLB Pipleine, and 15th by Kiley McDaniel at ESPN. Going by that, the Reds got a player at 17 that shouldn’t have been there.
With their second pick of the night, the #30 overall pick that the Reds received as compensation for Trevor Bauer signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cincinnati selected outfielder Jay Allen from John Carroll Catholic High School in Florida. He was rated as highly as 25th by ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel, but in the mid-30’s to mid-50’s at some other publications.
With the final pick of the night for the Reds the organization selected Florida State catcher Mat Nelson with the 35th overall pick. Cincinnati acquired this pick as a part of the yearly compensation round for small market teams. He had 40 extra-base hits this past season for the Seminoles. He was rated as highly as 37th by Fangraph’s Eric Longenhagen and Kevin Goldstein.
Quick Matt McLain Scouting Report
A 5′ 10″ and 170 lb. infielder, Matt McLain played some outfield as a freshman at UCLA before moving back to the infield where he spent most of his time at shortstop. It would seem most scouts believe he will wind up at second base in the long run, but if he does stick at shortstop he will be a below-average defender there. The Reds, however, think he can remain at shortstop long term. He does have above-average to plus speed and with his outfield experience there’s a chance he could wind up in centerfield in the long run as well.
Offensively Matt McLain projects to hit for a good average with a slightly above-average hit tool. He has below-average power potential, with 12-15 home runs seeming to be where most project him to land. On the bases, both in terms of base steal and simply running the bases, he should be above-average thanks to his speed.
McLain feels like a safe bet to be a big leaguer. It does feel like he’s lacking the big upside of your typical 1st round pick, though. The lack of power potential, at least according to the available scouting reports, just leaves you without that “star” upside unless he’s elite everywhere else in his game.
Quick Jay Allen Scouting Report
A three-sport star at John Carroll Catholic High School, Jay Allen never focused solely on baseball. One of the most athletic players in the 2021 draft class, he’s just scratching the surface on the baseball field. A potential 5-tool player, he doesn’t necessarily have a true plus tool in his arsenal, but all five of them could be average to above-average in the future.
As an outfielder he has enough speed to play center and enough arm to play in right if he eventually needs to move there because his frame fills out too much and he loses a step. A big riser on draft boards over the last year, his ability to hit for average and power could both be a bit above-average, and his speed should allow him to provide value on the base paths.
Quick Mat Nelson Scouting Report
There’s some high risk and high reward with Mat Nelson. He hit .330/.436/.773 with 17 doubles and 23 home runs for Florida State this past year. The power is very real and he can use it from foul pole to foul pole. What’s also seemingly real is his struggles with contact as he struck out 25% of the time he stepped to the plate as a 22-year-old junior this past season.
Behind the plate he’s got all you want to see from a catcher. He’s got a big arm, handles a pitching staff well, and there are no questions about his ability to handle catching responsibilities in the long term. Just how much he hits because of the strikeouts is a big question, but if he can make enough contact as a pro, there’s upside for a quality defender who can have a solid average and 25+ home runs in the future.
As always, I did a bit more of a deep dive on each player over at RedsMinorLeagues.com. There’s some video, stats, and quotes from scouting director Brad Meador on each player if you are so inclined to gather more information.
Day two of the draft will begin today at 1pm. You can follow along at MLB.com and there will be rounds 2-10 with 1 minute between each selection. Day three will take place on Wednesday beginning at noon and will feature rounds 11-20. Picks will be “rapid fire” without any real delay between the selections. You can also follow along at MLB.com on Wednesday to the conference call.