MILWAUKEE — It’s already a big deal to be a first-round pick in the MLB Draft. Imagine having it happen to you twice. Matt McLain doesn’t have to wonder because he experienced it on Sunday evening.
With the 17th overall selection in the 2021 MLB Draft, the Reds selected McLain, a shortstop out of UCLA.
“Cincinnati is a great organization and a great team,” McLain said. “I’m just fired up to get the opportunity to go play. It was a dream come true, to be honest.”
McLain, 21, batted .333 with nine home runs and 36 RBIs in 47 games this season during his junior year. Listed at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, he missed 10 games — roughly three weeks — this year with a fractured thumb.
“I think, first and foremost, I’m a winner and I’m a competitor above everything else,” McLain said. “I like to hit. I like to play defense. I like to run. I think I can do everything on the field. Not in a cocky way, but I just love baseball and I love playing the game every single day, going out there and giving it my all. That’s what I do and that’s what I’m going to do every single day from here on out.”
McLain was ranked as the No. 12 prospect in the Draft by MLB Pipeline.
“He is a guy we really wanted and we really liked. We had him high on the board,” said Brad Meador, the Reds’ director of amateur scouting. “We didn’t think we’d be able to get him but the way it worked out, we’re really excited. He’s a player we think can play shortstop. He’s a plus runner, he can handle the bat hitting at the top of the lineup. A middle of the field player with really good tools, really good makeup, a lot to be excited about.”
The No. 17 pick’s slot value is $3,609,700. McLain is represented by agent Scott Boras.
“I just want to go play,” McLain said. “I want to get the chance to go out there and play and make a name for myself. Just have fun because I love playing baseball and that’s what I do. And I haven’t got the chance to do that over this short period, so I’m really looking forward to it and I’m excited.”
Originally taken with the 25th overall pick by the D-backs three years ago, McLain opted to honor his commitment to UCLA instead of turning professional. He felt like his baseball IQ and physical strength have improved as a college player.
“I love UCLA. I’m a UCLA fan,” McLain said explaining his decision. “I wanted to get the chance to play at Jackie Robinson Stadium, get a chance to meet guys over at UCLA who are going to be lifelong friends and teammates. Get that college experience, mature as a baseball player and as a person. I feel like I have [done that] coming out of UCLA.
“I feel like [the coaches] helped me shape the person I am today, just because going into those three years, I was immature coming in as a freshman. I kind of sharpened myself out going into the next two years.”
The Reds scouted McLain three years ago since he was already a high-profile prospect. The club had no issue with his earlier decision to wait on turning pro.
“A guy like that who knows himself and knows what’s best for him, I think that’s a plus,” Meador said. “He knew what was the best route for him, and he bet on himself. It worked out just fine.”
There have been some who have compared McLain to a pair of previous Reds first round selections — Nick Senzel (2016) and Jonathan India (2018). Both are players that can play different positions.
“We talked about it in the room,” Meador said. “He’s a tough kid, he’s played different positions. We think he can play shortstop, we think that’s where he fits best. He’s a good athlete who has played second base. He’s played center field, he can move around the field. He gives your big league team when he gets there, flexibility and he can be able to fit in different spots. That’s a good thing. That’s exciting.”