To be dubbed “shortstop of the future” on a team owned by Yankees legend Derek Jeter, the player must be special. Kahlil Watson fits that bill. The Marlins are just a few pieces away from competing in a tight NL East race, and Watson’s development might just be the final hurdle to overcome.
Watson entered his senior season as a North Carolina high school senior as a likely first-round pick in the 2021 draft, but scouts weren’t really sure where. Early rumblings had the Diamondbacks potentially reaching at number six overall, or maybe slipping all the way down to an early round two selection. How did Watson respond? By putting together an absolute marvel of a spring season, instantly throwing him into top-five pick consideration. Surprisingly, Watson fell to Miami at number 16 overall. The Marlins, thrilled to find Watson still available, signed the talented shortstop for a $4.5 million bonus, a franchise record for a high school position player.
Offensively, there’s a lot to like about Watson’s profile. Watson combines lightning-quick bat speed with a large left-handed uppercut type of swing. At the surface level, Watson’s swing looks prone to strikeouts, but he’s shown good patience in the box. Watson doesn’t sell his swing for power, he generates good contact and takes his walks. As with most young players, Watson can get ahead of himself sometimes and take some bad cuts out of the zone, but he’s worked hard to improve his pitch recognition and early returns have Miami quite pleased.
Defensively, Watson has all the makings of a Gold Glove caliber shortstop. He has good instincts and above-average arm strength. He has blistering speed, which he uses on the basepaths and to make plays that other young shortstops can’t. The 5’9″ Watson uses his long arms to gobble up tough grounders or get the last couple inches on a tough pop fly. Watson is a quick learner, and has a high baseball IQ. Combine all of those traits and Watson’s defensive game profiles to a young, raw Jeter.
Perhaps the most important part in Watson’s development is the emergence of Jazz Chisholm in Miami’s infield. Chisholm played 124 games as a true rookie for the Marlins in 2021, and left with great results. Batting .248 with 18 homers and 23 stolen bases, Chisholm captured the hearts of fans around the country with his always-hustle play and general spunk both on and off the field.
A young middle infielder who blends power and speed describes both Chisholm and Watson perfectly. Chisholm’s success in 2021 now provides Watson with a mold of what someone of his caliber of game should provide in the majors, if not more. Now Watson has a middle infield partner waiting for him. An impressive combination up the middle where both players elevate the other and form a bond both on and off the field. The blueprint is complete and the plan is already in motion.
With a plethora of young talent already established or on the way soon, Watson’s development is crucial for Miami’s success. The best young teams find a way to make impressive duos or trios even with their crop of young stars. With Chisholm establishing himself as a superstar in the making at just 23 and Watson expected to move quickly through the organization, Miami has a real chance for a special duo in their infield.