REVEALS: Why Marcelo Mayer Remains Elite Red Sox Prospect After Throwaway Season

Red Sox Prospect Marcelo Mayer Ruled Out For Remainder Of 2023

The 2021 first-round pick battled a shoulder injury in 2023

Before the start of the 2024 season, NESN.com is evaluating several noteworthy prospects in the Boston Red Sox organization, using insight and analysis from industry experts to gauge each player’s outlook for the upcoming campaign. First up: Marcelo Mayer.

Marcelo Mayer, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, entered 2023 as the consensus top prospect in the Red Sox organization.

One year later, he still holds that distinction among many experts, but not necessarily with the shine you’d expect based on his prior trajectory.

So, what should we make of Mayer’s outlook before the 2024 campaign?

Here’s everything you need to know about the 21-year-old shortstop.

Background
Mayer was widely considered the best player in the 2021 MLB Draft. And he fell into the Red Sox’s laps, with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers selecting Henry Davis (catcher), Jack Leiter (right-handed pitcher) and Jackson Jobe (right-handed pitcher), respectively, with the first three picks. Not a bad consolation after Boston’s dismal pandemic-shortened 2020 season, in which the Red Sox went 24-36 under Ron Roenicke.

First impression? Mayer has the look — on and off the field. The Eastlake High School (Chula Vista, Calif.) product might be able to carve out a career in Hollywood if the whole baseball thing doesn’t work out, with social media quickly pointing out his uncanny resemblance to Adrian Grenier, the actor who played Vincent Chase in the hit series “Entourage.”

Anyway, Mayer was the Red Sox’s highest draft pick since selecting pitcher Mike Garman third overall in 1967. Boston leaned heavily on position players — specifically infielders — in recent drafts, but choosing Mayer was a no-brainer. (Interestingly enough, the Red Sox went back to the Southern California well in the first round in 2022, choosing Mikey Romero — Mayer’s former travel teammate — with the 24th overall pick.)

Mayer first caught the attention of scouts while playing alongside Minnesota Twins 2019 first-round pick Keoni Cavaco, the second player ever from Eastlake High School to be selected in the first round of the MLB draft. (Former Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez became the first in 2000.) After that, the arrow consistently pointed upward — until 2023.

It’s still pointing upward, to be clear; it just started wobbling back and forth a little bit last season thanks to a shoulder injury. As such, this is a big year for Mayer as he looks to show he’s still one of the best prospects in baseball.

Scouting report
Basically, we should just throw away 2023.

Easier said than done, of course. Mulligans in real life are a tougher sell than the breakfast ball you’ve grown accustomed to every Sunday morning. But it’s fairly obvious the shoulder injury Mayer suffered in May ruined his second full professional season.

“Up until the point he got injured, he was hitting really well. He was doing everything we needed to see,” Ian Cundall, director of scouting for SoxProspects.com, recently told NESN.com. “His exit (velocity) data was really good. He was hitting the ball hard. Couple of things — kinda the same issues we were seeing in past seasons — were still cropping up, where he does expand the zone a little too much and he does have some issues recognizing and dealing with breaking balls, but the rest of the stuff, across the board, was all really good in High-A Greenville.”

Mayer attempted to play through the shoulder injury, which only exacerbated the ailment, weakened his production and ultimately ended his season in August.

“I just got to a point where I couldn’t really go anymore,” Mayer told reporters in January. “I think that’s on me, for not really knowing my body.”

In hindsight, Mayer probably should’ve proceeded more cautiously rather than risk further damage. But now, with the injury behind him — “my shoulder’s in a great spot,” he said — it’s time to offer a reminder: Mayer has all of the tools, offensively and defensively, to be a franchise cornerstone.

“He almost looks like he doesn’t try at times. I mean that in a good way,” Cundall said. “There are definitely guys who don’t try and it’s bad. But it’s just so effortless and so fluid with him that it’s really different when you look at him compared to someone like (Red Sox prospect Chase Meidroth), who’s kind of on the opposite end of the scale, where everything he does is made more difficult by his size, but he’s still able to do it because everything is like max effort there.”

Mayer has a sweet left-handed swing, which he uses to make solid contact to all fields. Over time, a few more balls might sail over the fence, but the Red Sox, by and large, should feel good about his advanced approach when he’s healthy and everything’s clicking.

“There is a significant growth in power last year, which is good to see,” Baseball America’s Geoff Pontes recently told NESN.com. “I think a lot of that is working with the team internally and (Red Sox director of hitting development) Jason Ochart. He’s big on bat speed. I think with a skilled player like Marcelo, it’s important to build impact. He has the bat-to-ball ability and the approach, though that backed up last year. I’m not so sure that I’m panicking. In-zone whiff rate was still below 20 percent. He was about acceptable with contact while dealing with a shoulder injury.”

“Up until the point he got injured, he was hitting really well. He was doing everything we needed to see.”

Ian Cundall, director of scouting for SoxProspects.com, on Marcelo Mayer

Mayer is almost as smooth in the field despite being listed at 6-foot-3, 188 pounds. There’s a chance he’ll someday move to the hot corner, currently occupied in Boston by Rafael Devers, depending on how he develops physically. Just don’t expect a position change anytime soon.

“I was really impressed, as were scouts that I polled after the (2023) season, with his defensive ability at shortstop,” Pontes said. “He’s not super rangy, but he’s really clean with the actions. He’s got a good first step. I think he’s really good around the bag. Arm is good. If he moves to third base, fine. I also think he’ll be good as a defensive shortstop.”

Baseball America ranked Mayer No. 14 on its Top 100 Prospects list before the 2024 season. Meanwhile, MLB Pipeline placed Mayer at No. 15. The Athletic’s Keith Law and ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel had him at No. 8 and No. 28, respectively, which speaks to the variance created by last year’s injury.

“If he’s physically ready to play a full season this year, he’s going to take off,” Pontes said.

Most-likely outcome: Above-average everyday shortstop.

Mayer isn’t the flashiest prospect. No light-tower power. No blazing speed. No defensive wizardry. But the sum of the parts is very, very good. Which makes for a high floor in addition to a high ceiling.

Best-case scenario: All-Star shortstop.

Upon being drafted, Mayer drew comparisons to Corey Seager, another sweet-swinging shortstop who plays the game with relative ease. Seager, a four-time All-Star and two-time World Series MVP, found another gear with the Rangers in 2023, so we shouldn’t get too carried away. But it speaks to the general skill set.

Xander Bogaerts, from a statistical standpoint, might be another pie-in-the-sky comp. He averaged 20 home runs, 85 RBIs and a .291/.355/.456 slash line per 162 games over the first 11 years of his MLB career. Perhaps Mayer can sustain a similar performance at his peak.

Again, these shouldn’t be the expectation. But Mayer is talented enough that one can dream on a star outcome as the Red Sox plot their path forward.

“If he’s physically ready to play a full season this year, he’s going to take off.”

SoxProspects ranking: No. 2

Mayer previously jockeyed with Triston Casas for the No. 1 spot in the Red Sox system. Casas since graduated to Boston, where the hulking first baseman thrived down the stretch in 2023.

Now, Mayer is competing with Roman Anthony atop SoxProspects.com’s rankings, with the latter earning the slight nod thanks to the superior offensive upside he showcased last season.

“It was not easy. And it’s more a 1A and a 1B situation,” Cundall said.

Fenway forecast
Could we see Mayer make his MLB debut in 2024? Sure. He advanced to Double-A last season and just participated in the Red Sox Development Program, a sign he’s inching closer to the big leagues.

But 2025 is a more realistic timeline, especially with Trevor Story penciled in as Boston’s starting shortstop. After all, Mayer just turned 21 in December.

“There’s just a lot of advantages to waiting until 2025 and trying to get a full season out of him, rather than rushing him up, especially with the middle-infield depth they have,” Cundall said. “You have Trevor Story healthy, hopefully, the entire year. You have Vaughn Grissom. They obviously have a couple of guys who are ahead of him timeline-wise — like David Hamilton and Pablo Reyes. They have good options there.

“I just don’t think you want to rush it, especially where he’s going to play this entire season at 21. There’s just no need, unless he just goes out there and is Jackson Holliday 2.0 numbers-wise from last year, where he just forces the issue. I think 2025 is the realistic timeline.”

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