Aw yes, Joe Mack. A legend written in the winds of time. His lore foretold five years prior to his birth. The chosen one. A child predestined for greatness, marked by the holy trinity of Mark Morrison. Angie Brown christening the gritty scamp’s ascension through his destiny.
He hath returned.
There’s no shortage of exciting prep bats in the 2021 draft and this Williamsville, New York slugger might fit at the top with the lot of ‘em. Indeed, Mack has the big stick to dream on and in a down year for college hitters, makes a lot of sense near the top of the crop.
Like Tyler Soderstrom from a year prior, Joe Mack is a big, strong lefty prep catcher who’s bat figures to do the lion-share of the lifting while he elevates through a minor league organization. But unlike Soderstrom, scouts believe Mack has a slightly better chance than not to stick behind the plate.
Here’s the thing. Unlike most players who have been chronicled about through these weekly articles and on my objectionable Twitter page, Mack hasn’t started playing yet. In fact, Williamsville East doesn’t play their first game of the season until May 22. We still have a week and a half to go! So while some players draft stock has been seemingly etched in stone, Amazon hasn’t even shipped Mack’s slab and chisel yet.
Now, right out of the gates it’s important we recognize the demographic we’re dealing with here. Every prospect needs to be evaluated in a vacuum, free of outside noise and predispositions. But it should be noted, only eleven high school catchers have been selected in the first round in the last 13 drafts and the results have not been terribly inspiring.
Again, that being said, there should be no presumptions placed on Mack’s bat. Mack possesses more physical tools than almost any player on this board and is a cold weather profile that should lend well toward transitioning into pro ball.
Mack has a very interesting story. Back in March of 2020, he ended up catching COVID-19 and lost close to 20 pounds. In an interview with Dani Wexelman, Mack said he was able to put that weight back on thanks to “mom’s chicken, steak, Brussels sprouts and lot’s of greens.”
Also finding ways to pass the time in a pandemic-funk’d 2020, Mack decided to play catch with his brother in the rain (when he’d generally be out at the field) and obliterated his dad’s windshield in the process.
Personality-wise, Mack is cut from the same cloth as Mike Zunino. He’s a verbose leader with the thick, poignant New York accent built to bring out the inferiority complex from any of his pitchers. It’s the sort of delivery that pitchers don’t want to hear when they’re missing high and arm-side.
“Hey Leake! Hello!? Figure it out befawh I tell Scott tuh come figure it out fawh ya! Okay?”
In all seriousness, Mack has “it” when it comes to being a leader on and off the field, and any staff will be much better off having him at the helm than the alternative.
Future Value (Tools)
Mack is already equipped with a strong, athletic, muscular build and it lends well to his ability to impact the baseball. He comes to the plate with a wide stance, open with his shoulders mostly squared to the pitcher. He has a higher hand set that drop and lock into an athletic position in his loading sequence. He’s generally on time for velocity and allows his hands to stay back on slower breaking stuff.
Mack has shown the ability to handle big velo at showcase events and generally does a good job laying off pitches outside the zone. He’s a selective hitter who doesn’t seem to get over-anxious at the plate. At said showcase events against the very best arms, Mack has worked gap-to-gap with solid-to-above average bat speed, though he has turned and burned on a few pitches on the inner half, showing off big pull-side power.
Mack’s present strength and well-leveraged swing helps him optimize the amount of juice he can put into a baseball. He drives the ball with authority and has really shown some punch to all-fields, but especially his aforementioned pull-side.
Mack’s quick hands and rotational power reminds me a good bit of the operation Brad Miller brings to the table. Miller obviously had issues with pitch recognition and approach, an area of Mack’s game I have less concerns over. In any case, if you’re provided the opportunity to draft a player at a premium defensive position with an above average hit tool and the potential for above average game power, you jump at it.
Mack’s athleticism immediately jumps out in his actions behind the plate, especially when it comes to throwing out runners. His transfers are among the best you can find in high school ball with no wasted movements and a really quick release. The following example is absolutely absurd.
My pop time on that throw-and-catch unofficially registered at 1.81 seconds. That’s approaching elite territory. While I recognize Mack was exploding out of the crouch well before the ball arrived (mostly because this is a showcase event and baserunners run rampant and wild), the ball was deep arm-side and he was still able to transition into a throwing motion without any lost energy.
Mack’s drill sessions are just as impressive. His throws are on-line and feature plenty of carry and consistency. He figures to be one of the better throwing backstops at the big league level by the time he debuts.
The biggest question mark surrounding high school catchers is whether or not they’ll be able to actually catch at the next level. Mack’s athleticism, flexibility, blocking and receiving skills are among the best in the class.
Mack’s lateral mobility is strong, and he’s shown the ability to handle a one-knee down setup as well as in a traditional squatted position. Mack does a good job bodying up balls in the dirt and keeping errant pitches in front of him, holding runners. All this supplementing an already impressive arm, Mack should have no trouble sticking behind the plate.
While Mack isn’t the best runner you’ll find (no catchers are), he’s certainly above average for the position. He’s reasonably quick out of the box and is light on his feet. He’s not a lumbering runner, suggesting his legs should age well as he nears he big league debut. Mack might not be a guy that’s going to be dangerous on the base paths, but he’s talented enough to steal a handful of bags each year.
In terms of the Seattle Mariners, this is a big name to watch. The team seems to be seeking an impact bat somewhere on the dirt, and Mack fits that billing. Right now, most have Mack going somewhere in the late teens to the back of the first round. If Mack comes out hitting for more power and continues to look impressive physically, he’s a bat that could be in play at pick no. 12.
Even if Mack doesn’t hit the mark for the Mariners, he’s a really solid big league prospect and a name who is sure to be coveted by several teams across the first round landscape.