Kahlil Watson leads NC representation in MLB Draft

The Wake Forest High shortstop was taken 16th overall by Miami

Wake Forest's Ryan Cusick stands with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred after being selected by Atlanta Braves as the 24th pick in the first round of the 2021 MLB Draft on Sunday in Denver. (David Zalubowski / AP Photo)

The MLB Draft took some unexpected twists and turns in the first round over the weekend, and no one benefited more than the Miami Marlins.

With teams reaching and prospects sliding, Wake Forest High School shortstop Kahlil Watson was still available when the Marlins went on the clock at No. 16 overall.

“When you get a player with that type of talent combined with that type of performance, to have him fall down to us for our pick was extremely exciting,” said Miami’s director of amateur scouting DJ Svihlik. “Kahlil is one of the more dynamic players in the draft. You’re talking about a guy that has a plus arm, plus run, electric bat speed, combined with a great swing and athleticism.”

Watson became the first North Carolina high schooler drafted in the first round since 2017 when Whiteville’s MacKenzie Gore was selected third overall by San Diego.

The Marlins’ gain may have been NC State’s loss, as Watson was committed to the Wolfpack as the gem of Elliott Avent’s 2021 recruiting class. There’s still an outside chance that Watson will pass up a contract with Miami and play for Avent, of course.

State also had four members of this season’s College World Series team selected in the first 10 rounds of the draft — the final 10 rounds took place on Tuesday afternoon.

Second baseman Tyler McDonough was taken by Boston in the third round, No. 75 overall. It’s the third time in the last four drafts Boston has taken a State player.

Shortstop Jose Torres went to Cincinnati 14 picks later, and pitcher Evan Justice was taken by Colorado in the fifth round, No. 140 overall. He’s the first Wolfpack player taken by the Rockies since 2011 when Harold Riggins went in the seventh round.

Outfielder Austin Murr was taken by Detroit in the sixth, No. 165 overall, the third time in four years that the Tigers have taken a Wolfpack player.

State wasn’t the only North Carolina school to have 2021 recruits drafted. The UNC Tar Heels may have to fill unexpected holes in their incoming freshman class after having two high school commits selected.

Left-hander Anthony Solometo was taken by the Pirates in the second round, No. 37 overall, and third basemen James Triantos was taken by the Cubs 19 picks later.

Three current Tar Heels were also drafted in the first 10 rounds. Right-hander Austin Love was drafted by the Cardinals in the third round, No. 90 overall. It’s the first time since 2018 that the Tar Heels haven’t had a player selected in the first round, and Love is the first Heel selected by St. Louis since Brandon Riley in 2018.

Catcher Caleb Roberts was taken by Arizona in the fifth round, No. 138 overall. He’s the first UNC player selected by the Diamondbacks since Austin Bergner in 2018 and the third Tar Heel catcher drafted in the last four years.

Outfielder Justice Thompson was taken by the Reds in the sixth, No. 180 overall.

Wake Forest also faces the prospect of losing a commitment as right-hander Peter Heubeck was selected by the Dodgers in the third round, No. 101 overall.

Only one current Demon Deacon was taken in the first 10 rounds, with right-hander Ryan Cusick selected by Atlanta in the first round, No. 24 overall. It’s the second straight draft and third time in the last four that a Wake player has gone in the first round, as Cusick joins Jared Shuster (Braves) and Griffin Roberts (Cardinals).

East Carolina pitcher Gavin Williams was selected 23rd overall by Cleveland, the first Pirates player taken in the first round since 2014. (Mark Humphrey / AP Photo)

East Carolina rounded out the state’s representation in the first round. Right-hander Gavin Williams was selected by Cleveland 23rd overall. He becomes the first ECU player taken in the opening round since Jeff Hoffman in 2014.

Second baseman Connor Norby was taken a round later, No. 41 overall, by Baltimore. It’s the first time ECU has ever had two players selected that early in the MLB Draft.

Duke was the other North Carolina school to have multiple players drafted in the first 10 rounds. Shortstop Ethan Murray was taken by Milwaukee in the fifth, No. 147 overall. He’s the first Blue Devil taken by the Brewers since Jeff Becker in 1998. Outfielder Joey Loperfido went to Houston in the seventh, No. 208 overall, and outfielder Peter Matt was taken by the Cubs in the 10th, No. 304 overall.

Pitcher Mason Miller of Gardner-Webb was drafted by Oakland in the third, No. 97 overall. Campbell’s Spencer Packard was drafted by Seattle in the ninth, 264th overall. NC Central’s Austin Vernon went to Tampa Bay in the 10th, No. 311 overall, becoming just the third NCCU player ever drafted.

Four North Carolina products who played in college out of state were also selected: Pitcher Brett Kerry (Clemmons, University of South Carolina) went to the Angels in the fifth, 141st overall. Left-hander Rohan Handa (Huntersville, Yale) went to San Francisco in the fifth, 146th overall. Right-hander Jake Smith (Chapel Hill, Miami) was taken by the Angels in the sixth, 171st overall, and Shane Connolly (Huntersville, Virginia Tech) was selected by Kansas City in the 10th, 289th overall.

Here are the players with local ties who were selected in Rounds 11-20 on the draft’s third day:

11th round, pick 313, Pirates, Jack Carey, P, Duke
11th round, pick 324, Mariners, William Fleming, P, Wake Forest
11th round, pick 340, Padres, River Ryan, P, UNC Pembroke
12th round, pick 345, Tigers, Mike Rothenberg, C, Duke
12th round, pick 354, Mariners, Corey Rosier, OF, UNC Greensboro
12th round, pick 356, Giants, Landen Roupp, P, UNC Wilmington
13th round, pick 401, Rays, Bobby Seymour, 1B, Wake Forest
14th round, pick 428, Athletics, Jonny Butler, OF, NC State
14th round, pick 430, Padres, Adam Smith, P, UNC Wilmington
14th round, pick 431, Rays, Antonio Menendez, P, Wake Forest
15th round, pick 436, Red Sox, Payton Green, SS, Green Hope High School
15th round, pick 438, Diamondbacks, Shane Muntz, C, Wake Forest
15th round, pick 446, Giants, Brooks Baldwin, SS, UNC Wilmington
16th round, pick 463, Pirates, Daniel Corona, SS, Wake Forest high school commitment
16th round, pick 481, Cardinals, Aaron McKeithan, C, UNC Charlotte
16th round, pick 485, White Sox, Terrell Tatum, OF, NC State
17th round, pick 499, Royals, Luca Tresh, C, NC State
17th round, pick 503, Nationals, Brendan Collins, P, UNC Greensboro
18th round, pick 530, Rockies, Bryce McGowan, P, UNC Charlotte
18th round, pick 536, Giants, Hunter Dula, P, Wingate
18th round, pick 543, Yankees, Bailey Dees, P, Hough High School (Charlotte, college at Penn State)
19th round, pick 555, Tigers, Justice Bigbie, 1B, Western Carolina
19th round, pick 571, Cardinals, Thomas Francisco, 1B, East Carolina
19th round, pick 576, Indians, Reid Johnston, P, NC State
20th round, pick 587, Orioles, Trendon Craig, OF, Louisburg College
20th round, pick 596, Vance Honeycutt, SS, Salisbury High School