Vanderbilt pitcher Kumar Rocker was once considered the top prospect in the 2021 Major League Baseball draft, but concerns over a drop in his velocity could make him available when the Boston Red Sox select at No. 4 on Sunday. Rebecca S. Gratz/Associated Press

The 2021 Major League Baseball draft position for the Boston Red Sox is bittersweet – from the horrors of one experience come the spoils.

After nosediving to a 24-36 record in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season – the fourth worst record in the majors – Boston gets the No. 4 overall pick in this year’s draft, which begins Sunday.

“We hope it’s the last time (the Red Sox draft this high),” said Red Sox amateur scouting director Paul Toboni during a media conference on Thursday.

But, that said …

“We all view this as a wonderful opportunity.”

Since 1967, the Red Sox have never had such a high pick. Now, what to do with it? There is a noticeable selection of top talent among high school shortstops, at least two college pitchers and a college catcher. But nothing is settled.


“That is my take on it,” Toboni said. “I have probably have just as an unsettling of a feeling as all of you have … Just as we like to keep all of you (the media) on your toes sometimes, other organizations will probably be keeping us on our toes.”

The Pirates, Rangers and Tigers pick before Boston, with no indication, of course, who they’ll select.

When Toboni was asked a hypothetical question about what the Red Sox would do if they had the No. 1 pick, Toboni said there would not be consensus among Boston officials about who to pick. “Would I personally be locked in? Maybe. I’m not totally sure.”

Here are the likely top selections:

California high school shortstop Marcelo Mayer may be the franchise player everyone covets.

The other shortstops mentioned among the elite are Jordan Lawler (Texas), Kahlil Watson (North Carolina) and Brady House (Georgia).


Vanderbilt University features the two best pitching prospects – Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker. The University of Louisville showcases the best college hitter in catcher Henry Davis (.370 with 15 home runs in 50 games this spring).

Leiter, son of former major league pitcher Al Leiter, throws a mid-90s fastball with a slider and curve. He had a 2.13 ERA this spring, with 179 strikeouts in 110 innings.

Rocker, son of former NFL player Tracy Rocker, was once considered the favorite to be the overall No. 1 pick. But there are concerns about a drop in velocity (to the low 90s), although he still features a plus slider and curve. He compiled a 2.73 ERA, also with 179 strikeouts in 122 innings.

With a premium on pitching, it would appear that one of the Commodores would be a prime Red Sox target – if either is still available. But can the Red Sox pass up a projected franchise shortstop, or future All-Star catcher?

Boston rarely has been in such a position. It is easy to dream of drafting the next superstar.

“We kind of play that game in our head. It’s fun to do,” Toboni said. “But, at the same time, we’re trying to be as disciplined as possible, in terms of keeping our emotions in check, and not let what the public thinks about these players influence our evaluation of players.


“Our intention stays the same from draft to draft: We’re trying to build as much value as we can over the course of the draft.”

Toboni said what his scouts see in a player may be different than the numerous media outlets see, especially in their mock drafts.

“Are there players out there whose industry value in the media’s eyes maybe isn’t totally aligned with how the teams see them? Yes, I think that is the case,” he said.

That certainly was the case last year when the Red Sox chose high school infielder Nick Yorke with the 17th overall pick, despite Yorke not being on anyone’s list of prime draft prospects. Yorke, 19, is excelling in his first minor league season, batting .295 with a .791 OPS for low Class A Salem.

The MLB draft began in 1965, and the Red Sox drafted high in the first three years – taking outfielder Billy Conigliaro with the fifth pick in 1965, pitcher Ken Brett with the fourth pick in 1966 and pitcher Mike Garman with the third pick in 1967.

Since, Boston has had only three picks in the top 10 – all at No. 7: high school outfielder Trot Nixon in 1993, high school pitcher Trey Ball in 2013, and college outfielder Andrew Benintendi in 2015. Both Nixon and Benintendi reached Boston, and each won a World Series with the Red Sox. Ball did not reach the majors.

Whoever the Red Sox draft in the first round will be expecting a huge signing bonus. MLB slots what each early round pick is worth. The fourth overall pick is slotted at $6.7 million, subject to negotiation.

The draft will consist of 20 rounds, with the first round on Sunday starting at 7 p.m. Rounds 2-10 are on Monday, and 11-20 on Tuesday.

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