The Strangest Draft Preview Yet: MLB 2020 Amateur Draft

marc w · June 10, 2020 at 10:46 am · Filed Under Mariners 

It’s not really a full draft, more of a draftlet, a somewhat immoral amuse bouche, a well-produced spectacle and haphazard “we’re making this up as we go” event. Instead of 40 rounds, this year’s draft will span just 5, with 160 picks in total. Still, this is an influx of new talent to the league, and as we’ve done since 2012, I’ll preview the draft at a high level with old friend Chris Crawford of NBC Sports and Rotoworld (follow him on Twitter for draft info, Sonics nostalgia, and more). The world is on fire, there’s no baseball season, many of these draft prospects had their seasons wiped away. This is uncharted territory, but it feels almost comforting to ask draft questions in June, so let’s get to it:

1: What was the thinking on the depth/quality of this draft class back in the before-times before the pandemic?

On paper, it looked good. I still think it looks good. This is one of the better groups of collegians I can remember; maybe the best since 2011. The prep side is considerably weaker, and unfortunately, those preps didn’t really get a chance to prove much because of the pandemic. That’s not to say it is barren, but it’s definitely one of the weaker groups I can remember — particularly in terms of pitching. Having said that, this is still a strong group because the college side is good enough to make up for the lake of high school upside.

Is this a case of star-power at the top, or just depth from 1 through, uh, pick 160? And this relates to the prep weakness: would we expect very few preps to sign?

A combination of both. Spencer Torkelson and Austin Martin are both legit 1.1 guys and there are several college hurlers not far from that. And yes: I’d expect very few preps to sign.

2: If you were working for a team, how do you even approach this? You’ve had scouts not scouting for a while. I assume this tilts things towards college players, where at least there are a few years of stats? Or not really?

It’s a tough question to answer. I’d definitely lean heavier on college with a track record, but it would probably depend on where I’m picking. It could be a chance for teams picking later to procure those prep talents that would have gone higher if there were more looks. Ultimately I’m still going to take best player available — goodness knows how many times I’ve used that phrase in these previews — but there’s a good chance that my BPA might be a college guy if only because I know more. Sometimes mystery is overrated.

You’ve probably seen the report from RJ Anderson who said some teams may punt the draft, and pick a HS player they have no intention of signing. Is that one response to the uncertainty around this draft, or does that have more to do with teams suddenly crying poverty ahead of CBA negotiations?

It’s probably a combination of both. Owners have a hard enough time paying players who won’t contribute a couple years from now; paying them with this much uncertainty probably ruffles some feathers. Ultimately I don’t think we’ll see any team actually punt, but, it can’t be completely ruled out.

3: There are a few players whose stature has risen due to social media, especially Pitching Ninja. How has his viral fame boosted Luke Little’s draft stock, and how do teams deal with pop-up guys who get internet famous like this?

I haven’t heard much about Little in this last month. As to your larger question, I think there aren’t as many “pop-up” guys on the internet anymore, just because these area guys are able to see most of the prospects. Not saying it doesn’t happen, but these men/woman are really good, and they generally find what is out there with a few exceptions. The pop-ups are really for us common folk, but the area scouts usually know who is out there.

4: We’ve talked a bit about sports tech like Rapsodo, but how is it changing the draft? Is sharing data from wearable tech or other devices helping teams discover talent, or is it just providing more detailed info on the players teams were already following?

Probably closer to the latter, but it’s certainly playing a part. Spin rate is becoming more and more important with pitchers, and of course being able to more easily quantify stuff like bat speed and angle all matter, too. It’s still mostly about if a kid can play or not, but having some data to back up an opinion certainly doesn’t hurt; especially with kids facing off against lesser competition.

5: What will be the impact on college baseball of this draft? We’ve seen some programs eliminated, but there should be a lot of seniors (hopefully) playing next year.

It’s hard to answer that question, but it’s going to be fascinating — for lack of a better term — to see what happens here. There are only so many spots in the draft, and those who aren’t drafted can only sign for $20,000 this summer. There’s also only so many spots for these players to come back as you mention because of scholarship limitations and just the flat-out elimination of programs. Simply put, this is going to be rough, and it’s not just the pandemic that created this situation.

6: Showcase events for high schoolers have been proliferating, another thing we’ve talked about in the past. Those, too, have been shelved this year. What can scouts do to find or evaluate HS talent in the absence of these high-profile tournaments/showcases? What sorts of networks (coaches? training facilities?) can scouts rely on this year?

It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be based a lot on the small amount of information they have, and a lot of networking, as you mention. It just can’t replace the feeling of seeing a player participate in a “real” situation, however, and it’s why several prep players that likely would have been first-round picks end up going the junior college route or signing with four-year schools. It’s hard to get a feel for a 17-18 year old player anyway. With this little of a look? Best of luck.

7: The Mariners pick 6th, and have about $10 million to spend. Who do they target in the first round?

College, college, college. The Mariners are college-heavy early on, anyway. That’s certainly not going to change. The name I hear most often talked about is Nick Gonzales; a middle-infielder who has put up monster numbers at New Mexico State that probably needs to move to second base at the highest level. Max Meyer and Reid Detmers are also strong possibilities; Meyer is a right-hander out of Minnesota who has outstanding stuff but size concerns, while Detmers is your atypical left-hander who shouldn’t need much time to develop. If someone like Emerson Hancock or Asa Lacy slipped, those are possibilities, as well. One way or another, Seattle should get a good one.

How do guys like Lacy and Meyer compare to the top college arms of recent years, like Casey Mize, Alek Manoah, Nick Lodolo, and maybe Logan Gilbert?

I don’t think any arm in this class is as good as Mize. but I would take those arms along with Hancock over the arms you mentioned. At least without the benefit of hindsight. I may be overselling it, but I am a big fan of this group of pitchers.

8: The M’s have preferred pitching in recent drafts. Do you expect that to continue?

Yep. I think part of that has to do with it being the strength of this draft? But also I just think it’s the organizational mantra right now. Even if they do take Gonzales in the first round, I would imagine it won’t take them long to add a pitcher or three to this limited class.

9: Forget this year’s draft class: the suspension of the season seems like it’d have a big impact on young players for many years. Everyone, from HS underclassmen to young players at the big league level are losing out on important development due to Covid-19. What does this do to a player 5-6 years down the road? Are these worries overblown – is playing actual games less important than other aspects of training/preparation?

I don’t think it can be overstated, to be honest. Look, there’s a lot of things you can simulate now, and training regiments get better and better. You cannot replace the experience that comes from games. You just can’t. It’s not a death sentence, but prospects are going to be behind the eight ball because of this, I don’t think there’s any question. Allow me to be unprofessional for a moment: This all sucks. It really, really sucks.

10: Any local players who figure to hear their name called this year?

I can’t see any preps from this year going in the first five rounds, but could see a couple of local college arms. Stevie Emmanuel from UW is a 6-foot-5 right-hander who can get his fastball into the mid 90s and shows a pretty good breaking-ball when he’s at his best. The guy I’d target from the Huskies, however, is Braiden Ward. Some questions about how much offensive upside he has, but think of a faster Braden Bishop. A much faster Braden Bishop, in fact. Scouts are mixed on him as a pro prospect, but I could see him being a very solid fourth outfielder — maybe a starter if the hit tool can be even average.

The MLB draft kicks off today at 4pm, with the first round (including the first Competitive Balance round) today on MLB Network, and the balance coming tomorrow. The M’s have one pick today, the #6 overall pick (you could, if you wanted, say that the M’s are the #6 org today), and then the #43 pick tomorrow along with pick #64 in the second Competitive Balance round, compensation from their trade of Omar Narvaez.

Finally, Black Lives Matter.

[Edit to add: the M’s first pick, and #6 overall, is U. of Georgia right-hander Emerson Hancock.
Check out the FB/CH combo here. Touches high-90s. Great sophomore season last year, and had 34 Ks to 3 BB in 24 IP this year.]


9 Responses to “The Strangest Draft Preview Yet: MLB 2020 Amateur Draft”

  1. Stevemotivateir on June 10th, 2020 12:22 pm

    Good stuff. Thanks, Marc!

    This short draft kind of bums me out knowing that there’s going to be damage to the game with so little opportunity for so many players. But I’m still looking forward to seeing who Seattle drafts and which undrafted players get signed in the coming weeks.

  2. marc w on June 10th, 2020 4:34 pm

    Thanks Steve! Let’s see how this goes..

    Seemed like an easy call at #1 overall; every mock had the Tigers taking Spencer Torkelson, and they did. M’s coming up pretty soon.

  3. Stevemotivateir on June 10th, 2020 4:39 pm

    Hancock? What a strange start!

  4. Stevemotivateir on June 10th, 2020 4:46 pm

    And Hancock it is.

  5. marc w on June 10th, 2020 4:48 pm

    Hancock it is, another college pitcher with a sterling K:BB ratio. Can’t complain about the pick; pretty much every mock draft had the M’s taking him.
    Seems like a very solid pick, and you have to like the M’s pitching depth in the minors. They may need it, but this is depth they haven’t had since the days of Walker/Paxton/Hultzen.

  6. Westside guy on June 10th, 2020 4:52 pm

    Thank you for doing this, Marc.

    An odd draft for an odd year.

  7. Stevemotivateir on June 10th, 2020 5:46 pm

    I second Westy’s comment.

  8. Westside guy on June 10th, 2020 8:41 pm

    Haha I just now noticed Marc’s “#6 org” comment.

  9. marc w on June 10th, 2020 9:21 pm

    Felt a little bad, but not bad enough, Westside Guy.

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