Wake Forest High School baseball coach Mike Joyner believed four years ago that Kahlil Watson would one day be good enough to hear his name called during the Major League Baseball’s amateur draft.
That day, as it turns out, is happening faster than Joyner imagined. Watson, a 5-foot-9 shortstop, is ranked fourth by MLB.com among 2021 prospects and is expected to be the highest player from the Triangle taken in the draft on Sunday since Josh Hamilton went No. 1 overall in 1999.
Joyner reflected on the first time he knew Watson was a special talent. Watson played on his summer team prior to his freshman year at Wake Forest. After playing one game with his peers, Joyner moved him up an age group.
“He played his first game with with older kids and he hit a home run — and never moved back to the young team,” Joyner said. “He started every game as a freshman at shortstop and leadoff and it’s been like that ever since.”
Watson, 18, initially committed to N.C. State, but soon found his stock rising too high to turn down the allure of turning pro. He still maintains a connection to the Wolfpack, as former pitcher Joey Devine is serving as his adviser. Devine played for the Pack from 2003-05 and was a first-round pick of the Atlanta Braves.
Watson averaged .477 for his career, including batting .513 as a senior. He also had 61 steals in 66 career games for the Cougars. The pro scouts are enamored with his athleticism, which transcends baseball. He also starred at receiver and defensive back on Wake Forest’s two-time state champion football team.
“I knew the kind of player he was, with his speed and being a left handed hitter, that this would be a distinct possibility one day,” Joyner said. “You never know exactly where it’s gonna fall, but I’m not surprised that he’s going to be picked in the top probably the top seven or whatever that is. I’m not surprised me at all.”
Watson would be the first North Carolina prep star to be a first round pick since Wilmington pitcher Blake Walston, who played at New Hanover High, was taken 26th overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2019.
Potential first rounders
East Carolina’s Gavin Williams is considered one of the hardest throwing pitchers in college baseball this season. The 6-foot-6 right hander was projected as high as the 20th pick to the New York Yankees in The Sporting News mock draft, to No. 26 MLB.com and No. 28 in Bleacher Report.
Wake Forest’s right handed pitcher Ryan Cusick, who is also 6-foot-6, led the ACC in strikeout rate averaging 13.9 per nine innings. He could follow pitcher Jared Shuster to give the Demon Deacons a first-rounder for the second straight year.