West Coast Draft Notes: Nick McLain Follows His Brother's Rise As a Draft Prospect
UCLA shortstop Matt McLain projects to be a first-round pick this year. His younger brother may not go too long after him.
Nick McLain, a switch-hitting center fielder at Beckman High in Irvine, Calif., has been one of the fastest rising draft prospects in Southern California this spring. After entering the season as more of a wait-and-see type of prospect, he’s vaulted himself into top three rounds consideration on the strength of an improved lefthanded swing.
McLain throws lefthanded and is a natural lefty, but growing up he emulated his older brothers Matt and Sean (who is currently Arizona State’s starting second baseman) and swung righthanded. He began switch-hitting on the advice of his scout team coach about a year and a half ago, and it took time for his lefthanded swing to develop.
After showing impressive tools and athleticism in the fall but struggling at the plate against better pitching, McLain has come out this spring driving the ball from the left side with authority. In his most recent game against Irvine High on April 20, with about a dozen scouts in attendance, he laced an opposite-field double to left and drove an RBI triple off the base of the right-field wall batting lefthanded.
“The first few months I was really struggling with it and I was so close to just giving up on it,” McLain said. “So it’s nice to finally go up there as a lefthanded hitter now up and feel like I do on the right side. It’s nice to feel comfortable and get those hits you would from the right side.”
That improvement was the last, and most important, piece of the puzzle for McLain. He is a borderline plus-plus runner who covers wide swaths of ground in center field and has shown the ability to throw out runners on the basepaths with his plus, accurate arm. Now that his lefthanded swing has developed, evaluators see a potential above-average hitter with the strength and speed to rack up doubles and triples.
Matt McLain had a similar rise at Beckman High three years ago, when he went from an interesting name to a first-round pick with a huge senior spring. The D-backs drafted him 25th overall in 2018, but he ultimately didn’t sign and went to UCLA.
Now, Matt projects to be a first-round pick once again while Nick is primarily garnering consideration in the third and fourth rounds, although a few teams are interested as high as the second.
If the McLains both go in the top five rounds, they will join a rare subset of brothers to do so in the same draft. Most famously, J.D. (No. 2 overall) and Tim Drew (No. 28) were both first-round picks in 1997. A more recent instance came in 2013, when the Mariners selected D.J. Peterson 12th overall and the Padres drafted his younger brother Dustin in the second round, No. 50 overall.
With more than two and a half months still remaining before the draft, however, they know a lot can change. Nick is committed to UCLA, like his dad and oldest brother before him, and right now, that’s where his focus is.
“We don’t really talk about it that much,” Nick McLain said. “We kind just of go day by day. It will all be interesting come July, but college is my priority and I’m excited to be a Bruin. So we’ll see how it all plays out.”
MICHAEL McGREEVY BEGINS TO SEPARATE
There was no clear top college pitcher out West when the season began, with San Diego State righthander Troy Melton, UC Santa Barbara righthander Michael McGreevy, UCLA righthander Nick Nastrini, Oregon State righthander Kevin Abel, California righthanders Grant Holman and Sean Sullivan and Nevada righthander Owen Sharts among those vying for the title.
A little more than halfway through the college season, McGreevy has separated himself into a tier of his own. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound righthander is 5-0, 2.70 with 63 strikeouts and 16 walks in 56.2 innings for the Gauchos this season. A well-regarded shortstop in high school, he’s shown excellent athleticism on the mound and elite strike-throwing ability with a four-pitch mix, including a fastball up to 96 mph with sink and run and a curveball and slider that have each flashed plus at their best.
McGreevy is a consensus second-rounder right now, but evaluators have highlighted him as a player who could rise even further in the coming weeks. McGreevy is scheduled to start a high-profile matchup at UCLA on May 14, where he’ll face a Bruins lineup that includes projected first-round pick Matt McLain and a host of other likely draft picks. UCSB is also the favorite to win the Big West Conference and make the Field of 64, although it currently trails UC Irvine by a half game in the conference standings. If he turns in strong performances against UCLA and in the NCAA Tournament in front of high-level decision-makers, some evaluators believe McGreevy has a chance to sneak into the compensation round, or even the back of the first.
CARSON WILLIAMS ON THE RISE
Torrey Pines High in San Diego is a hotbed of athletic talent, but as a school in an affluent community where getting a college degree is not only emphasized but expected, its players almost always go to college.
Carson Williams may get drafted high enough to be an exception. Williams, a power-hitting shortstop, has been the other big riser in Southern California this spring alongside Nick McLain.
Williams participated in the Area Code Games last summer and in scout showcases last fall, but came out this spring having added 10-15 pounds and hitting gargantuan home runs. Facing good competition playing in the top division in talent-rich San Diego, Williams is batting .467 with six home runs through 13 games, with many of his homers hitting the top of the eucalyptus trees beyond the left-field fence at his home stadium. Most scouts project Williams to move to third base in pro ball, but believe he has the bat to profile there. He also throws 92-95 mph off the mound and has a potential 70 arm with some improvements to his footwork.
Williams has had some of his best performances in front of scouting directors and high-level assistants. He is committed to Cal, but there is a growing sense he is playing his way into the top three rounds with his play in front of top decision-makers.
2021 NCAA Top 25 Preview: No. 21 UC Santa Barbara
UC Santa Barbara baseball's top players to know, 2021 MLB Draft prospects, starting lineup & more entering the season.
Two top prep prospects began their seasons this week. American Canyon High (Vallejo, Calif.) outfielder Tyree Reed and Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) infielder/outfielder Tyler Whitaker returned to action with their high school teams and are among the players scouts have been waiting to see most … Holman, the top college draft prospect in Northern California, has returned to the mound after missing the first month of the season with an undisclosed injury. He’s sat at 92-93 mph and touched 96 in four starts since his return ... Three other prep risers getting increased attention out West: Acalanes High (Lafayette, Calif.) shortstop Davis Diaz, Spanish Springs High (Sparks, Nev.) outfielder Jace Avina and Foothill High (Pleasanton, Calif.) righthander Matt Ager.