One common theme building around the ‘sphere is the Seattle Mariners should prefer the player with the most upside at No. 6 overall in the 2020 MLB Draft, and that Louisville left-hander Reid Detmers doesn’t meet the standard, particularly when compared to other prospects that may be available, such as Minnesota right-hander Max Meyer, New Mexico State infielder Nick Gonzales and Oklahoma right-hander Cade Cavalli.
From recent conversations, I’m starting to believe otherwise.
I think it goes without saying — but I’ll say it anyway — there is at least a semi-consensus Top 5 in this class, in some order: Spencer Torkelson, Austin Martin, Asa Lacy, Emerson Hancock, and Zac Veen. After that, a group including Gonzales, Detmers, Gonzales, Cavalli, and rep righties Mick Abel and Jared Kelly seems to be the harmonious consent.
I’m creating my personal board from a Seattle Mariners standpoint — I shared the first draft on Zoom Wednesday night — but a discussion Thursday morning with an area scout and a check session with another has changed my mind on where Detmers fits.
First, let’s discuss the upside and risk of the other prospects generally considered in this range, using rankings and mock drafts.
Nick Gonzales, 2B — New Mexico State
Gonzales, a college shortstop, likely slides to second base — or even left field for some clubs — but has a quick-moving hit tool and some scouts see at least average power, even if he’s limited after that. We could be talking about a .300/.375/.450 hitter with solid-average defense and base value. The downside is the power, but more and more clubs are convinced he’s a 30-40 double, 12-15 home run bat, where the over-the-fence pop could spill over in an environment similar to 2019.
The most common comp for Gonzales is Milwaukee Brewers first-rounder Keston Hiura, but I’ve heard some Ian Kinsler and Aaron Hill comps, too, and both had multiple 4-fWAR seasons. I don’t think Gonzales ends up as good defensively, but that’s what a handful of scouts thinks of Gonzales’ hit tool and potential for meaningful power.
Gonzales’ upside probably looks something like that — a 4-5 win player in his prime.
Cade Cavalli, RHP — Oklahoma
Cavalli was a two-way talent until this spring when he focused solely on pitching. He’s up to 98 mph and firmly sits 93-95 with the fastball, and complements with two breaking balls, both of which flash big-league average or better. Scouts tend to favor the slider, an upper-80 out pitch, but the curveball is a hard, tight-spinning version, which Cavalli can bury or throw for strikes.
Cavalli doesn’t have a lot of miles on the arm, which is a plus, but his fastball movement is inconsistent. An adjustment may be necessary to get enough fastball value to use his other three pitches, including an improving changeup.
I’m a huge fan of Cavalli, who is a very good athlete, but there have been some ongoing back issues that will understandably concern clubs. He comes with a clean delivery and some projection left, too.
Cavalli brings No. 2 upside.
The Prep Arms
Kelly has the best velocity in the prep class, touching triple digits and living in the 94-97 mph range, while Abel may have the most projectable profile of any arm in the class, starting with very good athleticism and comparable present stuff.
Kelly’s changeup is more advanced than Abel’s, which in some draft rooms will give him the nod — especially this year as clubs look to mitigate risk more than ever. The questions on Abel include where his fastball sits right now — he was 91-94 mph last spring, reached 97 over the summer in short stints, but didn’t get a chance to pitch in 2020 to put on a display.
For me, neither player makes a lot of sense at No. 6, even if the pool savings exceed $1 million, but each brings No. 2 upside with a chance at even more than that. Of course, they come with more risk, too, and are inherently further away from the majors.
Max Meyer, RHP — Minnesota
Meyer is an athletic sub-6-foot right-hander with the best two-pitch combo in the class — an exploding fastball into the triple digits, holding mid-90s deep into games, and a hard, 89-93 mph slider that received a few 75 grades.
He commands both pitches well enough to pitch out of the bullpen in the majors right now. His changeup remains a work-in-progress, but shows promise as he develops command of it.
Size is a factor here, and while it doesn’t scare me, the Mariners, and other clubs, may put a higher premium on that risk, especially with their top pick. I’m more concerned with the development of a third pitch so he doesn’t experience issues finishing off batters and end up building deep pitch counts.
Meyer’s upside may include some No. 1 starter profiles.
Now, Detmers, contrary to every pitcher noted above that projects into the conversations — and we can add Tennessee lefty Garrett Crochet and Llano High School right-hander Justin Lange to this convo, too — doesn’t exceed mid-90s heat, nor does he bring much physical projection.
So how in the world can he make as much sense for Seattle at No. 6?
For one, there’s not a lot of risk in taking Detmers. He’s going to pitch in the majors, as a starter, and probably somewhere in front of the No. 5 starter. Relatively speaking, because he’s a pitcher, he carries more risk than Gonzales, but far less than the other arms noted above.
His upside is being slept on, however, and it seems the reason is because many want the big fastball and physical tools that suggest the prototypical frontline starting pitcher.
Side Note: Folks using size to curb a college player’s upside always burns me, especially with pitchers. We’ve learned this lesson, over and over, so I’m not sure why it exists in conversation anymore. Either the stuff and projected performance carry big upside or they don’t. A player lacking certain size doesn’t dictate the upside, it presents reasonable concerns of risk of injury and durability, and factors in heavily to projections, but not upside. Meyer is an example right here in this class.
Look at last year’s fWAR leaders among starting pitchers. In the top 25 are Jacob deGRom, Zack Greinke, Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, Marcus Stroman, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Marco Gonzales, all 6-foot-2 and under.
Reid Detmers, LHP — Louisville
Guess who else is 6-foot-2? Detmers.
Detmers owns the draft’s best curveball, a shapely hammer in the 71-74 mph range. The velocity is what generally pushes away the doubters. Detmers sits 90-92 mph and is up to 94. His fastball, however, plays up thanks to deception and the consistency and value of his secondaries, which also includes an average changeup with a chance to be plus, and a slider he could use more in pro ball to get inside to right-handed batters.
He also shows a bulldog mentality, ultra pitchability, and leadership.
He profiles as a No. 3 starter. Don’t let anyone suggest mid-rotation is bad. That is, by definition, a No. 3 starter, and they’re typically worth 3.5-4.5 wins a year, not surprisingly very similar to the projection on Nick Gonzales.
But what separates Detmers and gives him a chance to be more than a No. 3 is his command. Some scouts easily hand Detmers 60 command overall, 65 of the fastball, and a few others suggest by the time he reaches the majors we could be watching 70-grade command from a lefty into the 93-95 mph range with two above-average secondaries, including a plus curveball.
That is why Detmers is worthy of consideration over Gonzales.
He has risk and ETA advantages over Cavalli, Meyer and the prep arms, and while he’s unlikely to be signable at a significant discount like some, including the prep pitchers, Garrett Mitchell, Crochet, Tyler Soderstrom, Pete Crow-Armstrong, he’s also not going to take over-slot money.
I wouldn’t say I’m off Gonzales at No. 6, but it’s not as easy a decision as it seemed a month ago, and I’m leaning Meyer, Cavalli or Detmers at No. 6, assuming similar signability and cost in all cases.