Prospect Spotlight: Kahlil Watson, SS, Miami Marlins
While not at the head of the prep shortstop list entering the 2021 season, Kahlil Watson showed loud in-game tools and caught the eye of many scouts prompting him to be listed as a top 5 prospect by many sites pre-draft. A left-handed hitter standing 5’9” and listed weight of 178 lbs, Kahlil really took off as a senior at Wake Forest High School but fell to the Marlins at the 16th pick of the 2021 MLB draft. The slide was mostly due to assumed contract demands, and he ultimately signed for $4.54 million, over $750,000 over slot value.
Watson appears to be quite humble in this somewhat candid interview and is aware the level of professional competition will be a big step up from what he saw in high school. He talks specifically about how nobody can gain an advantage from simply putting in the work and is focusing on taking one game at a time.
While most analysts will tell you Kahlil’s hit tool is a work in progress, there are varying opinions on how that tool will develop. His stance is quiet and open pre-pitch, with his hands low but rising as he prepares to swing. He uses a modest leg kick to hold his weight back and close the stance as he swings, shifting weight forward with level head movement until his front foot plants and incorporates his leg and core strength into the swing.
His bat speed is a plus, probably a 70-grade tool which has many believing Watson will be able to improve his hit tool as a pro. The swing path is short and direct to the ball spending little time in the zone but attacking the pitch with the intent to hit the ball in the air and generating hard contact. While the bat speed will allow Watson to get to many balls other hitters can’t, the bat path hints there could be significant swing and miss to his game and possibly also many misstruck balls.
Watson is not a free swinger and is quite patient at the plate. He appears to target pitches and swings when he gets what he’s looking for but does not often chase fastballs out of the zone. He has decent zone awareness and is happy to take walks, which is apparent in his small sample Florida Complex League walk rate of 19%. Where Kahlil gets into trouble is with spin, frequently selling out to fastballs and swinging over breaking stuff. This is something that he can work on as pitch identification should come with experience but there’s a good chance, he always has trouble contacting breaking balls down and out of the zone. Patience will be key, but it’s reasonable to expect Watson to offset high strikeout rates with strong walk rates as well.
Kahlil has impressive raw power, especially for a player his size. He has short arms, which he holds close to his body through swing help use his core and lower body strength to crush balls he barrels up. Common to left-handed hitters with a strong vertical bat angle, Watson’s power is primarily pull-side and will have to work to drive balls to center. Say what you like about players with shorter arms, but when you see Watson get ahold of a ball it opens eyes. As mentioned, the swing is aggressive and meant to hit the ball hard so there is power in this profile, and it will be up to the hit tool to get that raw power into games at the pro level.
Watson is fast, currently grading as a plus runner. He has strong legs and carries more muscle in his lower half than the average high school prospect. Some believe he’ll lose some speed as he matures and continues to add weight but only slightly. I think it’s safe to assume he’ll steal bases in the big leagues but will be unlikely to ever be a league leader in the stolen base category. Look for 20+ SB in the early part of his career with the ability to score on hits other players wouldn’t.
A solid defender with good hands and range, Kahlil’s arm which is probably average and sometimes not accurate, might ultimately make him move off the position. While it’s easy to look at him today and say ‘yea, he could stick at the position’ and just project the player to do that. What tends to happen as prospects mature, especially at SS, the player is ready for a callup and is blocked by franchise cornerstones or elite defenders. The organization then tinker with the prospect’s defensive positioning and its case closed. I don’t see Kahlil forcing the issue defensively, and there’s a good chance he makes his debut at 2B or LF and it sticks.
Kahlil Watson has loud tools that jump out when you see him play, and he’s a player that could someday be the subject of many highlight videos. The power and speed make him an attractive dynasty league target, but it’s the hit tool that will likely define him as a player, but he’s fortunate to be in an organization that recently developed a playable hit tool with another raw but high upside prospect, Jazz Chisholm Watson himself feels he’s probably 2-3 years from the big leagues and that’s likely a realistic expectation. If you want to draft Watson in your fantasy league, you’re probably going to have to use a top 3 pick in your supplemental draft, and the talent is there to warrant the pick.
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