Because there are no games, I’ve had to keep in contact with more folks that have seen the top draft prospects for this year’s class, so I thought I’d get back to putting together a board of sports.
The following rankings are based on conversations only. I’ve seen a few of these prospects in small batches, but not enough for my own personal assessment to matter enough for rankings — without outside info.
In the coming weeks, I’ll update expand this to 40.
20. Jordan Walker, 3B — Decatur HS (GA)
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Walker edged Pete Crow-Armstrong, Cole Wilcox, C.J. Van Eyk, Carson Montgomery and Jake Eder here, and you can argue for any of them, but I received slightly better reports on Walker.
For Mariners fans, he might remind you a bit of Kyle Lewis in some of his early video at Mercer. He’s a bit raw and doesn’t run well enough to project well in the outfield, but the power is legit and he has the swing to back it up.
He has a very good arm, and projects to third OK for now, though there are a lot of area guys penciling in a walk across the diamond.
When I asked two checkers to rank Walker, Van Eyk and Crow-Armstrong, Montgomery, Wilcox and Eder, one had Walker No. 1, the other No. 3. Eder received the other No. 1 vote, but was ranked last in the group by the first scout. Crow-Armstrong was ranked No. 2 and No. 3 and would have been No. 21 had the rankings gone that far.
19. Garrett Mitchell, OF — UCLA
There are a lot of folks that have Mitchell going in the Top 10 — I’ve seen him around the interwebs as high as No. 5 — but it’s not a Top 5 profile.
Despite good size at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Mitchell is a hit and run player. He defends well in center and should stick there, but scouts don’t love the swing when it comes to generating power.
“I think he can make an adjustment and get to more,” said an area scout. “We see that happen. But yes, you read my notes on him and you’d think he was 5-11 and 180 pounds.”
He has a good arm, so if had to move to a corner it works fine, and he makes good contact with his line drive swing.
If Mitchell was a prep prospect, clubs might see him as the perfect Top-10 pick, since it’s easy to get value from his speed, defense and ability to make contact and hit for average, while you hope to instruct more power out of his physical tools by helping him make swing adjustments.
He has shown decent power in BP, but one checker sees the swing changes as “pretty big, this isn’t an overnight thing,” so I see why he landed here.
I noticed Keith Law had Mitchell at No. 23 in his first rankings from the middle of March, so it would seem he’s heard the same on the UCLA star.
18. Clayton Beeter, RHP — Texas Tech
I was turned to Beeter by a former scout now coaching in the Big 12.
“Just get a look at Beeter. Nobody’s talking about him out there.”
So I started asking, and sure enough, area scouts like him a lot and a few were trying to keep his name out of the media in hopes they could get him after Round 1.
I don’t know if that’s plausible.
Beeter made four starts before the season was shut down, covering 21 innings and wiping out 33 batters against just four bases on balls.
He’s built like a mid-rotation arm at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, sitting 91-94 mph and touching 96 on occasion. But his knuckle curveball is absolute fire, the best in the class without question, inducing tons of swings and misses, and he commands it well in and out of the zone.
Beeter’s fastball-curveball combo is very good, and despite other college arms having a velocity advantage, the ball explodes out of his hand and with a lot of life up and to his arm side.
17. Ed Howard, SS — Mt. Carmel HS (IL)
I’ve seen Howard ranked as high as the Top 10 and an area scout I spoke to thinks he’s Edgar Renteria, who peaked as a 6-win shortstop and posted four others season over three wins.
He’ll be 19 in August, which is a bit of a ding, but he runs well and has a great shot to stick at shortstop. He keeps it simple at the plate and his current swing isn’t likely to produce more than fringe power, but he has the tool to create more torque and pop enough to warrant everyday work for years– like Renteria.
16. Jared Kelley, RHP — Refugio HS (TX)
Kelley is kind of the tweener between the other two top prep arms in the class. He doesn’t offer the physical projection of Abel or Bitsko and he’ll turn 19 in October, but relatively speaking Kelley offers more probability.
“He might be the safest of the three you’re talking about,” said one crosschecker. Love the fastball, the arm (action) is clean and he’s pretty aggressive with his changeup.”
Kelley has the best velocity of the three at present, touching 98 mph and living 93-96.
15. Nick Bitsko, RHP — Central Bucks East HS (PA)
Bitsko is intriguing beyond the frame and raw stuff, because he’s also a bit younger than most prep prospects — he won’t turn 18 until June 16.
“I only saw Abel a little bit here and there, but from where we stand, if we want to add a kid with big upside, time to develop and now-stuff, this (Bitsko) is probably where we go.”
Bitsko is up to 97 mph and has a plus curveball. He throws a lot of strikes and there’s promie with the changeup, too.
14. Robert Hassell, OF — Independence HS (TN)
Hassell, a Vanderbilt commit, which is important here because Vandy keeps their commits as well as any elite program in the country, is an athletic outfielder with what might be the best chance to hit among prep prospects.
It’s a sound swing offering above-average bat speed and at least average power down the road. Some see him as an average glove in center field, but I did find two area scouts who see him adding a little more weight to his 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame and developing into more of a corner player in the Nick Markakis mold.
He has a good arm that fits right field and has the highest ceiling among prep position players in the 2020 class. He got some Top 10 thoughts, but going by the profile — risk, reward, timeline, signability — Hassell may not be Top 20 for me. I’d need to erase signability concerns altogether and buy either his chances to stick in center OR his chances to hit for the kind of power that fits in a corner.
13. Garrett Crochet, LHP — Tennessee
Crochet could land in the top 10 and might be the No. 3 college starter in terms of projection, but he made just one start in 2020 and is lasted three-plus innings. He’s battled a bit of a shoulder issue, though a back injury is what kept him out until March. It’s not considered serious enough at this point to knock him too far down clubs’ boards.
But they’re going to want to see him throw, even if it’s via video with radar readings, and if any more concerns pops up, all bets are off for Round 1. When he’s right, Crochet is up to 99 mph, but will need to clean up his command and find more consistency with his slider.
The changeup was plus last season and at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, Crochet fits the bill as a frontline arm from a physical tools standpoint.
Crochet might be an under-slot play in the Top 5 if the back and shoulder concerns and washed away.
12. Heston Kjerstad, OF — Arkansas
Little surprised Kjerstad got this kind of love despite the “ranking” community running with this range from Day 1.
Because college players with hit tool questions should scare everyone, and Kjerstad is not a great athlete, so it’s his bat you’re leaning on for value.
But Kjerstad was off to the kind of start to 2020 you want to see from a prospect entering the year with such questions. He went 30-for-67 with seven walks, five doubles and six homers.
“I think of Kjerstad was a right-handed hitter we wouldn’t hear Top 10 talk about him. He’s not a first-rounder for me,” said one scout tasked with helping put his club’s board together. “Interesting player, yes, but some work to do there, and honestly I’m not certain I see a big enough payoff in the end. What’s the upside here? Ryan Klesko?”
11. Mick Abel, RHP — Jesuit HS (OR)
All along, my preference among the prep arms has been Abel, followed closely by Bitsko and Kelley. But I didn’t get that sense from the industry until now, though Bitsko was a close second.
“I see a lot more to dream on with him,” said one crosschecker. “Better athlete, too. I think it’s a better place to start with him than the other two, because of the room for growth.”
Abel is 6-foot-5 and 195 pounds, offering a fastball consistently into the mid-90s. It’s a four-pitch mix, too, including a slider and changeup that project to plus and a curveball that should be good enough for him to keep for the long haul.
10. Reid Detmers, LHP — Louisville
Detmers improved his stock over the short spring, showing a plus curveball — maybe the best in the class and certainly the best left-handed curveball in the group.
Detmers is athletic, touches 95 mph and the fastball plays up thanks to deception created by the delivery. I’m not as sold on the changeup as some, but if scouts are asked to pick nits, it’s “he is what he is,” not the stuff.
It’s true, Detmers doesn’t bring a lot of physical projection at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, but the floor is high and he might be the first of the 2020 class to get to the majors.
9. Patrick Bailey, C — North Carolina State
Bailey might be the only catcher to go in Round 1, though positional scarcity could punch a Round-1 grade for Arizona’s Austin Wells and prep star Drew Romo. Also, I’m a big fan of Ohio State’s Dillon Dingler, but not in Round 1.
Bailey is a sound performer with no significant weaknesses, led by above-average defense and arm strength and no issues with contact or swing mechanics. He’s a switch hitter with some power upside from both sides.
Bailey’s unlikely to be a star, but the value of an average player at catcher is markedly more valuable than the description suggests. Plus, I think he’s a better player than Shea Langeliers, who went No. 9 a year ago, illustrating the dearth of catching in baseball.
Scouts seem to love the idea Bailey leads with instincts and isn’t afraid to take charge. He gives up his body and has an accurate throwing arm.
8. Cade Cavalli, RHP –Oklahoma
If you’re a Baseball Things subscriber you got the full deal on Cavalli when I mocked him in the Top 10 last week.
He’s a strong, sturdy, 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds and is 92-96 mph with an above-average slider, average curveball and a changeup that flashes. He’s a very good athlete — he was a two-way player until this season at Oklahoma and hasn’t take on a big workload since he didn’t pitch full-time before 2020 and didn’t start pitching until high school.
The delivery is clean and allows for easy velocity and some deception. He lacks ideal control and command grades at present time, which could hold some clubs back, and he’s had a few injuries — albeit not as a full-time pitcher, and he hasn’t had any ‘pitcher’ type injuries — but everything else suggests a Top-10 talent with No. 2 upside.
He reminds me a little bit of Kevin Gausman, who went No. 4 overall to the Orioles in 2012.
7. Max Meyer, RHP — Minnesota
Meyer is listed at 6-feet but scouts believe he’s 5-11 at best. But pay no attention to that.
Meyer has terrific arm speed and hit triple digits this spring to set up a power slider. It’s a clean delivery, and not one that uses tons of effort to the point of significant concern. He’s more Sonny Gray here than Tim Lincecum.
There’s arm side run to the fastball and he’s flashed a solid-average changeup.
I wouldn’t be shocked in Meyer went Top 5, possibly for a little under slot, since there are enough questions surrounding power arms of his stature he may take $5.5 million as, say, the No. 3 pick ,over full slot 4-8 picks later (all under $5.5M).
6. Zac Veen, OF — Spruce Creek HS (FL)
While this may seem, to me, too, like a ‘Churchill’ ranking — I love Veen and think he’s easily a top 8 player in the class; if I’m KC at No. 4, he doesn’t get past me, no way — I was surprised to see him get this kind of support in my conversations this month.
He’s likely to end up in left field, rather than center, thanks to his physical projection (6-4, 190) and the fact his arm gets average grades. but beyond the plus power, scouts believe in the hit tool and that’s generally the toughest tool to trust in prep players.
He creates leverage with good bat speed and sound swing mechanics. There’s very little wasted movements and he does a good job maintaining balance in his weight transfer. One thing I like watching game video of Veen is the swing is the same as in BP; he gets his hands in good position early in the process and triggers without loading up aggressively.
He’ll need to work on getting his front foot down early enough and it’s likely he’ll have to work on shortening up a bit if he wants to hit for average, but we all said that about Cody Bellinger, too, and he’s the best player in the National League right now.
5. Austin Martin, CF — Vanderbilt
For me, Martin is probably a Top-3 prospect, despite the fact it appears his move to center is sticking with scouts.
He’s a very good athlete who could easily handle third base, and his arm and speed play well anywhere. I’m not sure he’d be bad shortstop, but like Alex Bregman, he can be plus somewhere else.
“For me he’s the best player in the class,” said one crosschecker. “Take the better athlete that also has a pretty high floor. That’s Martin this year.”
Scouts love the projectable bat and the fact Martin controls at-bats well, rarely chasing and handling pitches in all areas of the strike zone.
4. Emerson Hancock, RHP — Georgia
I was pleasantly surprised to hear Hancock get top-5 grades from checkers, because the small-sample that is the 2020 season shouldn’t rip the projection OR previous production from a prospect’s profile.
Hancock did look a little off in his early-spring starts, showing less polish on the mechanics than late last season and lacking a feel for his changeup, an important aspect to his projection.
These are all fixable and not necessarily significant concerns, however. Hancock, in four starts, threw a lot of strikes, posted a 34-3 K/BB ratio and at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds of athleticism brings a frontlin physical profile with the mid-90s heat.
I wouldn’t hesitate with Hancock at around slot anywhere in the Top 10, and I don’t think he gets past Seattle at No. 6.
3. Nick Gonzalez, 2B — New Mexico State
If I trust the profile entirely of both players, personally I’d have Martin here and Gonzalez at No. 5, but that’s not the slightly-prevailing word from scouts. I do think GMs and scouting directors will swap the two enough to justify my preference, but both players could go as high as No. 1, each with a very solid shot at being the Orioles’ pick at No. 2.
Gonzalez is the better bet to hit, and I think that’s the big draw to area scouts and checkers; its a very high floor.
He’s a good athlete, but not a great one, but I think his defensive profile has been picked on too much by some; There’s no reason he can’t be Martin Prado defensively, with Paul Molitor offensive upside.
Most public reports have Gonzalez’s power grade in the 45-50 range, which is probably spot-on, but don’t be scared away by his 5-foot-10, 190-pound frame. We’ve learned that lesson.
Hitters who can square up good pitching consistently can learn to generate more loft and exceed their original power expectations. Jose Altuve did just that. Ketel Marte in 2019, too. Mookie Betts is 5-foot-10 and under 200 pounds and he hits for big power. I’m not comping Gonzalez to Betts, but let’s not sleep on the power. He’s got big bat speed and terrific hand-eye.
2. Asa Lacy, LHP — Texas A&M
Lacy not only held up his pre-season ranking but seems to have hopped over Hancock as the best of good group of college arms.
In the abbreviated 2020 season, Lacy was up to 98 mph with an average slider and changeup, both of which flash, and the breaking ball projects as a swing-and-miss pitch. He throws enough strikes, but fastball command is inconsistent.
The Athletic’s Keith Law suggested he might be fine if he worked 92-94 mph, easing off the effort in order to finish with better and locate his pitches with more consistency.
Perhaps that’s true, but there’s a No. 2 starter here and 93-98 with a plus slider and average command might be a No. 1.
Lacy punched out 46 versus eight walks in his 24 innings of work this spring, allowing just nine hits. It’s a prototypical build at 6-foot-4 and 217 pounds, the delivery carries no red flags or significant concerns and he uses his lower half well.
He creates some deception by staying closed from an angle, and stays in line to the plate well. He’ll work mostly from the third-base side of the rubber,
If I’m the Orioles at No. 2 and Lacy is available for around slot, this is my pick, even if Torkelson is on the board.
1. Spencer Torkelson, 1B — Arizona State
If Torkelson ends up going No. 1 he’ll be the first first baseman to do so since Adrian Gonzalez went No. 1 to the Florida Marlins in 2000. Before that, we have to go all the way back to 1977 when Harold Baines was the top pick of the Chicago White Sox. Ron Bloomberg was the No. 1 overall selection in 1967 by the New York Yankees. That’s the entire list of first basemen to go 1-1.
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Torkelson, however, would the first college first sacker to be the first pick.
But Torkelson, while likely restricted to first base with the glove — he’s played a little left field, but is fringey there — he’s strong at first with a good arm, hands and feet, and is great bet to hit and move quickly through the minors.
The power is plenty adequate to profile in a corner, but Torkelson’s ability to work counts, force pitchers to throw strikes and maximize his opportunities to fat-part the baseball is second to none in recent draft classes.
“I’ve seen him take 10-12 pitches in three at-bats, then hit a rocket out to straight-away left, and a screamer out to straight-away right. Impressive.”
There are scouts that think he’s Paul Goldschmidt. There’s a few that think he’s better.
For the record, I’d rank Lacy No. 1, Martin 2, Torkelson 3, and Gonzalez 4 without outside influence.