A few weeks ago, on a Portland Sea Dogs off day, 20-year-old Marcelo Mayer traveled down from Maine to Fenway Park.
As he tells it, Marcelo’s summer day journey resembled that of many New England fans his age, meeting up with friends to catch a Red Sox game in gorgeous weather. But there’s a key difference. Soon, Mayer plans to go from the stands to where he and Red Sox fans expect him to be — starting at shortstop.
For now, the experience of the Red Sox top prospect — who ranks fifth-highest in all of baseball, according to Baseball America — was like that of anyone his age catching a game, save for the dozens of fans who recognized him. Mayer carries a unique perspective on fandom and the future.
“I love watching the game, so from that perspective, I’m a fan,” Mayer said. “The other side of it is that I know these guys on a personal level. You play with them in spring training and they’re your boys, so you kind of feel like you’re there with them in a way.”
Listen, Mainers. Before summer’s end, do yourself a favor and head over to Hadlock Field, just like Mayer did to Fenway Park. You don’t want to miss out on seeing Mayer, the Boston Red Sox most ballyhooed prospect in more than a decade.
Marcelo Mayer (pronounced mar-SELL-oh MY-er), 20, was born in Chula Vista, California, the son of Mexican-born parents, and was drafted by the Boston Red Sox fourth overall in the 2021 draft. Many in the industry had him pegged to go higher. In the two years since, the young shortstop has shot through the Red Sox system and was promoted to Portland on May 31.
I sat down with Mayer for a 1-on-1 interview before the Portland Sea Dogs game on July 4. His humble yet charismatic demeanor reminded me of Mookie Betts during his Sea Dogs days in 2014. Betts played for the team when I was a bat boy and clubhouse assistant for the Sea Dogs while I was in high school. I’ll never forget when he set up a shoebox in the clubhouse with a slit cut in it labeled “Mookie’s Cuts.” He became the team’s de facto barber, an incredibly popular personality that’s continued through his potential Hall of Fame career.
Similarly, the bilingual Mayer is a uniting force in the Sea Dogs clubhouse, able to bring the Spanish and English speaking players together. He likes Portland, but it’s been historically rainy in southern Maine while he’s been with the team and he looks forward to experiencing the beautiful Maine weather that everyone talks about.
But the environment doesn’t affect his style of play.
“I take the same approach no matter if there’s 1,000 or 30,000 fans out there,” Mayer said. “The goal of the game is to win so I just go out there, play hard, and try to win.”
Listed at 6’2”, Mayer seems taller out on the field. When you watch him out there, his build and size really sticks out.
Or maybe that’s an effect of his electric presence. You can tell the budding star just loves life. Though Mayer went 0-4 in the July 4 game, he posted an Instagram story of the fireworks at Hadlock Field and gave a big hug to his teammate who made the game-ending catch.
For the first time in my experience following the Sea Dogs, the organization’s prospect du jour is younger than me. I’m 25. Mayer won’t turn 21 until after this season. I bring this up only to acknowledge that my perspective watching Mayer as an adult is different from that of when I watched Xander Bogaerts, Betts and Rafael Devers when I was a teenager. (As an aside, thank you, Marcelo, for assuring me I’m “not that old.”)
Blind optimism is out the window. There’s no guarantee Mayer will reach the same All-Star status at the major league level as those three former Sea Dogs. But at this point, it feels safe to assume Mayer is destined for plenty of big league opportunities.
SoxProspects.com, the preeminent source for all news and notes on Boston’s farm, pegs Mayer to make his Red Sox debut in late 2024. While Mayer’s stats in Portland over the last six weeks don’t jump off the page, no one is worried. Ian Cundall, the director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com, said on a recent podcast episode that he’s been impressed with Mayer’s swing decisions and notes that he’s been extremely unlucky on balls in play.
“His numbers in Portland are not good, [but] he’s ripping the ball,” Cundall said on the July 6 episode. “Don’t look at the numbers. It’s not an issue.”
Personally, I’d be shocked if Mayer doesn’t finish this season in Portland. Next spring, though? Probably with the Sea Dogs again to start, but if he produces at a high level over the next six weeks and impresses next spring, a promotion to Triple-A Worcester to start the season isn’t out of the question.
Note that Mayer is far from the only attraction on this year’s Sea Dogs. Second baseman Nick Yorke, 21, is the Red Sox No. 4 prospect and profiles as a regular major leaguer. Infielder and on-base machine Chase Meidroth, 21, is another exciting prospect prospering in the upper levels of the minors at a young age. Nathan Hickey, 23, is the organization’s top catching prospect (until last weekend, when the Sox drafted University of Virginia catcher Kyle Teel), and a few others are considered quality prospects with projectable major league talent.
Mayer and Yorke were selected to the MLB All-Star Futures Game. And reliever Luis Guerrero replaced Shane Drohan, who moved from Portland to Worcester earlier this year, in the Futures Game. As The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier put it, this year’s Sea Dogs boasts perhaps the best collection of talent since 2014. Mike Antonellis, the voice of the Sea Dogs from 2005-2020 and currently a broadcaster in Worcester, sees parallels between the 2023 Sea Dogs and a talented team of the past.
“Reminds me of my first year in Portland,” Antonellis said. “We had a core of Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez, and a bunch more. It’s exciting to see these great players on their way up.”
And Mayer, who is well on his way up, enjoys checking out the memorabilia from the team’s legends placed across the home clubhouse.
“You see Mookie Betts, you see [Andrew] Benintendi, the guys who end up being big league All-Stars and you’re like, ‘damn, they were once here too,'” Mayer said. “It’s kind of motivating and cool to see that they were once living in our shoes.”
The dueling conscience of fan and future Red Sox also translates to Mayer’s life stage. Most people his age are early into their careers or rising college juniors far from their first real job.
But recently, Mayer opened up his Snapchat to find a handful of memories from two years ago — senior prom and high school graduation, the MLB draft and his Red Sox introduction and batting practice at Fenway Park with fond memories of meeting Bogaerts for the first time, taking batting practice and ground balls with him. (Mayer said he hasn’t kept in touch with Xander, who signed a 11-year, $280 million contract with the San Diego Padres in December, but was visibly excited to talk about him with me.)
Many view Mayer as the replacement to Bogaerts as the Red Sox franchise shortstop in Boston. Mayer doesn’t think about it quite that way, focusing on himself and his career. His perspective is admirable, and perhaps one Red Sox fans should adopt too.
“Obviously the goal is to be the shortstop for the Boston Red Sox… that’s something that comes across my mind every single day,” Mayer said. “For me, it’s not replacing. I’m my own person and have my own style and game. It’s just hopefully [about] getting to the show and having my own style and brand of baseball.”
Greg Levinsky is a Portland native and follower of local sports. He is an alumnus of Deering High School and Boston University whose work has appeared in The Boston Globe, Detroit Free Press, and several Maine newspapers. He can be reached at [email protected].