Hayden Cantrelle hasn’t played in a game since March 10 due to the coronavirus pandemic and anxiously awaited the MLB draft over the last three months.
On Thursday, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette shortstop expected to hear his name called sooner than he did on the second day of the draft. But as the picks kept getting announced and Cantrelle was still undrafted, some nerves started to develop, he said.
Once the fifth round rolled around, Cantrelle had confidence that a major league team was going to draft him. The Milwaukee Brewers ended up being that team. With the 151st pick in this year’s draft, the Brewers drafted the versatile player who has intriguing tools on both sides of the ball.
“It was amazing,” Cantrelle said. “I was about to settle with a deal later in the draft and it happened at the last moment where we ended up finding part of the bonus pool with the Brewers. It ended up working out really nicely.
“A lot of emotions were going through my mind throughout the day on if I was going back to school or if I was going to sign. All of those years I really wanted to play pro ball, and to hear my name called was really special.”
This marks the second time in Cantrelle’s career that a major league team has drafted him. Out of high school, the New York Yankees drafted the Lafayette, Louisiana native in the 40th round of the 2017 draft.
On Thursday, Cantrelle received plenty of interest from major league teams earlier in the draft. But he didn’t want to settle for a signing bonus that was less than what he sought and was content with going back to Louisiana-Lafayette if a team didn’t meet his price, he said.
“I was expecting to go way sooner, but that was just the nature of this draft with being just five rounds,” Cantrelle said. “There were a lot of guys going under slot and it made it really hard. It was making sure that we tiptoed that line the right way to maximize the earning potential.”
Cantrelle was a solid performer throughout his three years with the Ragin’ Cajuns. He played immediately as a freshman in 2018 and hit .287 with four home runs and 22 RBIs in 266 plate appearances in 59 games. He also swiped 18 bases.
He showed an even better feel at the plate in his sophomore year. In 59 games, he batted .309 with nine home runs, 31 RBIS and 28 steals in 291 plate appearances.
After hitting just .174 in the Cape Cod League in 2018, Cantrelle showed tremendous improvement last summer. He posted a .315 batting average with three home runs, 14 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in 36 games. He credits a change in mentality for his growth last summer in the top collegiate summer league.
Cantrelle struggled in an abbreviated season this spring. He batted just .136 with one home run, four RBIs and four stolen bases in 17 games. Cantrelle said he felt comfortable at the plate and doesn’t believe there were any specific reasons for his slow start this spring.
“It certainly hurt me in the draft,” Cantrelle said. “It didn’t help me at all. But it’s crazy because that’s been my track record for the last three years. When I get those first 100 at-bats under my belt, I’m unstoppable after that.”
Cantrelle is a 5-foot-11, 175-pound switch-hitter who profiles as a top-of-the-order bat in the pro ranks. He hits the ball with more authority from the left side of the plate. He’s a gap-to-gap hitter who has some sneaky power. He also has above-average speed that will allow him to create havoc on the base pads.
Cantrelle played shortstop with the Ragin’ Cajuns. He also played second base and the outfield in the Cape Cod League the last two summers. His arm strength and athleticism will allow him to play multiple positions in pro ball.
The Brewers announced Cantrelle as a shortstop when they drafted him. Even if he doesn’t stick at shortstop long term, Cantrelle is fine with moving to second base or center field.
“It doesn’t really matter to me on the position I play,” Cantrelle said. “I can play anything. And worst case, I can go handle shortstop with the best in the game, if you ask me. I’m not too worried about it. It’s going to be about whatever it takes to get me in the lineup. That’s one thing I take pride in is that I can do a lot of things for a team.”
He has spent the last three months refining his swing and preparing his body to handle the daily grind of a pro season, he said. Once Cantrelle signs his contract with the Brewers, he’s unsure of the next steps, especially with baseball currently shutdown. But regardless of what’s ahead, he’s eager to start his pro career.
“Brewers fans just need to know that they are getting a kid with a lot of energy who loves to win,” Cantrelle said.
Read an in-depth story on Cantrelle’s development into a MLB draft prospect here.
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for six years. He’s interviewed 253 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.