Hayden Cantrelle had aspirations of playing college football early in his high school career. He drew interest from collegiate programs, but he started to realize that baseball might be a better path for him.
His goal was to sign a professional baseball contract out of high school, which would’ve allowed him to keep his eligibility for college football in case he wanted to pursue that option in the future, he said. But he realized after playing in the East Coast Pro Showcase against elite prep players in the summer leading up to his senior year that he was unpolished as a baseball player.
The New York Yankees selected Cantrelle in the 40th round of the 2017 MLB draft. He didn’t receive the signing bonus amount he desired and honored his commitment to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The decision to stay home and play collegiate baseball has worked out for the Lafayette, Louisiana native.
Over the last three years, Cantrelle has refined his skills in all facets of the game and produced at a high level to position himself as a top prospect in this year’s draft class. Pro scouts considered Cantrelle as a likely top-five-round-pick in this year’s draft.
Although he’s eager for what’s ahead, Cantrelle didn’t expect his junior season to go the way it has after it ended prematurely due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s crazy to be going through it because I still expected to be playing ball at this time,” Cantrelle said. “This draft is still going to feel different than any other draft because of the coronavirus. It’s just a blessed situation to be in. It’s an honor, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
Cantrelle played immediately as a freshman in 2018. In 59 games, he hit .287 with four home runs and 22 RBIs in 266 plate appearances. He also swiped 18 bases.
He showed an even better feel at the plate 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.
Although he was a consistent performer in his first two years for the Ragin’ Cajuns, he 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.
“I was slow out of the gate and it just seemed like I was just hitting balls hard at people,” Cantrelle said. “As far as my approach, I knew I was about to break out and that they were going to fall sooner or later. I didn’t feel any pressure or anything. It’s just unfortunate that they didn’t fall, I guess.”
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.
“I think my strength is my immunity to failure,” Cantrelle said. “I think that’s one thing about me that may consume other players is becoming result oriented. I’ve failed at different times in my life, like this year when I struggled, but I’ve been there before and don’t let that define me.
“I can also really run. I think my knowledge of the game is in the highest percentage of at least all college players and I think I use that on the base pads and in different situations on defense. I attribute a lot of my success in this game to my instincts.”
As he prepares for his next step in his baseball future whether that’s pro ball this summer or returning to the Ragin’ Cajuns in the fall, Cantrelle hopes to improve his consistency in all aspects of his game, especially defensively, he said.
Cantrelle has average arm strength at shortstop and struggled at times defensively with the Ragin’ Cajuns, committing 28 errors in 135 games over three seasons.
He primarily played second base in the Cape Cod League while also receiving time in the outfield and at shortstop. He doesn’t have a preference for his future defensive home and believes his versatility will be a valuable asset for a major league team in the future.
“I think younger me would have said shortstop because I would’ve been ignorant,” Cantrelle said. “But I think one thing about my skills is that I can play high-level shortstop but also high-level center field and second base at the same time. I want to be known as the guy that can play any position at any time if the organization finds a need there.”
Read more stories on top 2020 MLB draft prospects here.
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for five years. He’s interviewed 191 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today 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.