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Khalil Watson, An Underrated Acquisition

Could the once highly-revered draft prospect be a late bloomer?

MLB: New York Yankees at Miami Marlins Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

At the end of July, the Cleveland Guardians were in the midst of a rather disappointing season. Nothing ever really clicked, and they were not able to sustain any sort of momentum. Despite still being in a race to win the worst division in recent MLB history (maybe all-time), the Guardians did not want to take their already slim chances in the playoffs and made moves that are likely to really help the team’s future.

They traded away Amed Rosario to the Dodgers so that they could give a shot to their MLB-ready shortstop prospects. They also traded Aaron Civale to the Rays for one of the league’s best prospects in Kyle Manzardo, and they traded away their recent offseason acquisition in Josh Bell to the Marlins. In return for Bell, the Guardians received Jean Segura (who was later DFA’d) and shortstop prospect Kahlil Watson, who I believe might turn out to be one of Cleveland’s best acquisitions in due time.

Kahlil Watson, 20, was once mocked by many to be taken in the top 5 of the 2021 MLB draft. Although he ended up not being drafted even in the top 10, he was picked up by the Miami Marlins at 16th overall. However, he did not pan out too well for Miami, so they traded him to Cleveland in the aforementioned deal of Josh Bell. Watson still has yet to build up some steam at the plate, but I think it may only be a matter of time before he starts to live up to the hype as a legit hitting prospect.

MLB Pipeline grades his power at 50, but his hit at 40. Though I agree with the contact, he seems to have more than average power than they make it out to be. One thing cannot be denied about him, though, and that is that he is athletic. He is 5’10”, 178 lbs with a strong, athletic frame. He is fast, has a very strong arm and great glove, and displays a lot of range on the field. He could easily prove to be a perennial Gold Glove candidate on any team and could be an amazing double play partner for Andres Gimenez if none of the team’s leading shortstop candidates takes the job. Speaking of which, if that happens, I do believe he can easily be plugged into the outfield, considering he has all the tools to make that his new primary position.

At the plate, Kahlil Watson generates a lot of bat speed and pulls fly balls at a high rate. Those combine to help him hit for consistent extra bases and, more often that not, hit more homers. Across all levels and organizations this year, Watson hit 14 homers and 13 doubles out of his 63 hits. In fact, 5 of those homers came during his stint here in Lake County, where he had not even half the plate appearances. He hit for a total .189 ISO (.209 in LC) and .734 OPS.

Watson’s big drawback, as you could guess, is his ability to make contact with the ball and have good plate discipline. Despite a 12.4 BB%, he has a very aggressive approach that leads to many Ks, putting up a total 26.8 K% this year. He also whiffs 30.74% of the time, which is very foreboding for how he could fare against better, more league-ready pitching. His splits are uneven when it comes to AVG, being .119 against lefties and .228 against righties. But that is not much of a concern, as he has a nearly identical OPS against them as he does against righties. For a guy with plus power, that is good to see.

So, why am I feeling optimistic about Kahlil Watson? Simple, I’m confident in the potential of the bat. Specifically because he can hit the ball hard and generate pulled fly balls. As I mentioned, he could be an extra base-hitting machine with those qualities alone. His bat is very quick and he has a beautiful bat path. As long as he sharpens up his approach a bit and makes more consistent contact, he could take off. Now, I’m not saying he should embrace the contact over power approach that has been present in the Guardians’ major league club over the last couple years. But, even the best power hitters in the league need to make consistent good contact. He is only 20 years old, so there is plenty of time for him to develop and figure things out. And if he does, watch out, because he will be great.