The Pittsburgh Pirates selected Louisville catcher Henry Davis with the first pick in baseball's amateur draft Sunday, with the Texas Rangers then taking Vanderbilt pitcher Jack Leiter.
Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced the choices from Denver's Bellco Theater. Major League Baseball moved the draft from its longstanding June slot to July’s All-Star weekend in an effort to better showcase its future stars.
Davis has big power and an even bigger arm, throwing out 46% of would-be basestealers to become a finalist for the Buster Posey Award as college baseball’s best defensive catcher.
He batted .370 and led the Cardinals with 15 homers, and his .482 on-base percentage was best in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“I want to win, a competitor,” Davis said. “I’m going to do everything I can to help this organization get where it needs to be.”
The Rangers grabbed Leiter with the second pick, landing a right-hander with a mid-90s fastball and two overpowering breaking pitches.
Leiter is the son of former big league All-Star pitcher Al Leiter. His repertoire that could play near the top of a big league rotation. He was 11-4 with a 2.13 ERA with the Commodores, including a no-hitter against South Carolina, and struck out 179 in 110 innings.
After MLB slimmed the draft from 40 rounds to five last year in response to the coronavirus pandemic, this year's event will go 20 rounds spread over three days.
The draft opened Sunday night with the first 36 selections on tap. Fans were allowed to watch the event in person for the first time, and a smattering of onlookers booed loudly when Manfred took the stage. Previous drafts were held at MLB Network's studio in Secaucus, New Jersey, which only had room for media and small groups of friends and family.
Fans stood and cheered when Davis’ name was announced. He hugged friends and family before making his way to the stage, where he was handed a Pirates hat and jersey and shook hands with Manfred.
The Pirates picked first overall for the first time since taking Gerrit Cole in 2011, by far the most successful of their four previous No. 1 selections. Their other top picks were infielder Jeff King (1986) and right-handers Kris Benson (1996) and Bryan Bullington (2002).
The Detroit Tigers went with Oklahoma high school pitcher Jackson Jobe at No. 3, a year after taking Arizona State slugger Spencer Torkelson with the top pick.
Jobe was expected to be the first high school pitcher drafted after going 9-0 with a 0.13 ERA at Heritage Hall. He has a deep pitch mix, including a slider that was considered among the best in the draft class.
The AL East-leading Boston Red Sox picked fourth and selected slick-fielding shortstop Marcelo Mayer. The left-handed hitter had been the favorite to go No. 1 overall after drawing comparison to Dodgers star Corey Seager.
“I did see it coming,” Mayer said of his slide to the Red Sox. “I knew they were high on me. I’m just super blessed to be part of the organization.”
Mayer hit 14 homers his senior year at Eastlake High School in California, one shy of the school record set by 2000 No. 1 pick Adrian Gonzalez. Marcelo batted .392 with 45 RBIs and 46 runs.
The Baltimore Orioles followed with Sam Houston outfielder Colton Cowser, who impressed with his talent and performance despite playing at a smaller college. He was named Southland Conference player of the year after batting .374 with 16 home runs, 52 RBIs and 61 runs scored.
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Jake Seiner, The Associated Press