2020 MLB Draft: 10 Rising Prospects You Need To Know
Today we take a look at 10 draft prospects who have risen on our draft board this spring you should know about.
Players who have exceptional talent and proved it this spring, players who rebounded from down summers, pop-up players who came out of nowhere and players who are at the fulcrum of interesting demographic and historical debates.
There are plenty of different reasons why these players are interesting, but they’re all worth knowing regardless.
*Top 200 Rank refers to our rankings in late January before the college baseball season got started.
Max Meyer, RHP, Minnesota
Current Rank: 10
Top 200 Rank: 30
Why You Should Know Him: Meyer always had big-time stuff, but one of the questions with him entering the season was how well could the undersized righthander maintain his electric stuff in a starter’s role? While we’ll never know how he could have handled that over a full season, the stuff was plenty good over the first four weeks and he’s got plenty of athleticism, enough to garner comps to Sonny Gray and Marcus Stroman. Where Meyer winds up being drafted will show how the industry values undersized, but explosive and proven arms.
Scouting Report: If you’re looking for the best pure stuff in the 2020 draft class, Max Meyer might be your guy. A two-time member of Team USA’s Collegiate National Team, Meyer is a two-way player for Minnesota with a long track record of excellence on the mound. After posting a 2.06 ERA as a reliever only in 2018, Meyer successfully transitioned to a starting role in 2019, when he posted a 2.11 ERA with 87 strikeouts in 76.2 innings (10.2 strikeouts per nine). He took over the Friday night role this spring and was rapidly ascending draft boards before the season was cut short. Meyer has two 70-grade offerings with a fastball that he runs up to 97-98 and holds in the mid-90s deep into outings, along with the best slider in the 2020 class. The pitch is one of the better amateur sliders that many scouts have seen in years, and for some evaluators it’s the best amateur slider they’ve ever scouted. The pitch is not only hard, getting up to 92 or even 93 mph, but it has tremendous movement and depth. Meyer has excellent command of his slider. He can loosen it for strikes or tighten it for chases out of the zone. Meyer also has a changeup that he tried to improve this season. It is in the mid-80s with slight tailing life and a chance to get to an above-average ceiling. Teams wondered if Meyer would be able to consistently hold his electric stuff in a full-time starting role, and while he didn’t get to prove it over a full season, scouts thought he paced himself well in his four starts. He struck out 46 and walked eight in 27.2 innings and recorded double-digit strikeouts in three of his four outings. While Meyer is undersized at 6-foot, 180 pounds, there’s not a disconcerting amount of effort in his delivery and he also has a strong history of throwing quality strikes. He’s one of the more athletic pitchers in recent years and went from a late-first round arm to a potential top-10 pick thanks to his early-season performance.
Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF, Harvard-Westlake HS, Studio City, Calif.
Current Rank: 17
Top 200 Rank: 24
Why You Should Know Him: While Crow-Armstrong didn’t see a huge jump from our initial top 200 list to now, it’s notable that he improved and looked better for scouts this spring after a down summer. There are a lot of reasons to compare PCA to Brice Turang from the 2018 prep class. Both players entered the summer of their draft year as the top prospects in the class and underwhelmed during the summer before looking like their typical selves back in Southern California in the spring. ‘Prospect fatigue’ seems to be a real bias among evaluators with famous players who have shown elite-level talent as underclassmen. Do those players struggle under the pressure of being No. 1 or do scouts simply expect too much of 17 year olds who, in their minds, should be the best players on the field at all times?
Scouting Report: Crow-Armstrong has fame and baseball in his blood. His mother, Ashley Crow, is an actress who played the mom of the lead character in the 1994 baseball movie "Little Big League." His father, Matthew Armstrong, is an accomplished television actor as well. Crow-Armstrong starred for USA Baseball’s 18U national team two years in a row and entered last summer as arguably the top high school player in the 2020 draft class. A disappointing summer dropped his stock a bit, but he rebounded with a sensational spring before the season shut down. Crow-Armstrong has a sweet lefthanded swing geared for contact. He hits both lefties and righties, stays balanced in the box and lines the ball to all fields. Evaluators see at least an average hitter and possibly plus, with the potential to hit at the top of a lineup. Scouts differ on Crow-Armstrong’s power projections. Some see below-average power, while others believe he is a good enough hitter that he’ll run into more home runs than his raw power would indicate. Crow-Armstrong should stick in center field as a plus defender with a plus arm and above-average-to-plus speed. He plays fast and hard and has an advanced feel and intellect for the game. Crow-Armstrong’s tools and instincts have teams interested in the first round even with questions about his power. He is committed to Vanderbilt.
Bobby Miller, RHP, Louisville
Current Rank: 28
Top 200 Rank: 89
Why You Should Know Him: Miller was doing a tremendous job improving his draft stock early in the season, but how will scouting departments square big-time pure stuff and physicality with reliever risk? Miller is a fringe first round talent and in the second tier of college arms but has put together a pretty impressive resume in three years at Louisville. While there are some concerns about his delivery, his stuff, track record and size all seem like promising indicators.
Scouting Report: Out of high school in 2017, Miller showed flashes of the pitcher he could become one day, touching 93-94 mph with a frame that indicated more in the tank as well as a breaking ball that showed above-average potential. Three years later and Miller has started to actualize the potential he showed as a teenager with McHenry (Ill.) High. Now standing 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, Miller entered the 2020 season as a full-time starter for the first time, though he did log plenty of innings (146.2) in a hybrid role in 2018 and 2019. Miller now has a fastball that gets up into the upper 90s consistently, with heavy, sinking life. He pairs that pitch with a hard slider in the upper 80s that can touch 90, a pitch that has flashed plus potential. He’s also got a mid-80s changeup that gives him a third solid pitch, and a curveball that’s fringier. For all of his size and the explosive pure stuff that he’s shown, some scouts wonder what his dominant swing-and-miss offering is going to be. There’s also some reliever risk with Miller, as his delivery and arm action aren’t the smoothest or cleanest, but he has done a nice job holding his stuff deep into his outings and improved his strike-throwing this season. After walking more than four batters per nine innings in 2019, some scouts have put above-average command on Miller. He was trending in the right direction prior to the season ending and fits somewhere at the back of the first or early in the second round after posting a 2.31 ERA in 23.1 innings and four starts as a junior.
Jordan Walker, 3B, Decatur (Ga.) HS
Current Rank: 34
Top 200 Rank: 43
Why You Should Know Him: Walker is at the top of a tough draft demographic as a high school corner infielder. Despite the fact that there’s exceptional pressure on his bat, Walker managed to rise up our draft board by impressing offensively in the Atlanta area. There have only been seven prep first baseman drafted in the first round from 2010-2019, and of those only Ke’Bryan Hayes (Pirates, 2015) fits the right-right mold that Walker brings to the table. However, Walker’s power potential is significantly more impressive than Hayes’ at the time.
Scouting Report: The best high school third baseman in the class, Walker is a massive-framed, 6-foot-5, 220-pound slugger committed to Duke. He’s also the top-ranked prep prospect out of Georgia, which has been more pitcher-heavy than bat-heavy in recent years. Walker was one of the high school players who managed to get seen early and often during the shortened 2020 season. He performed at a high level against solid competition while all those eyes were on him. Walker has a solid feel to hit with plus raw power and plenty more projected as he grows into more strength. While there are some questions about his natural feel to hit thanks to the length of his arms and some swing-and-miss concerns, Walker has progressed in the right direction with his hit tool and could be an average or slightly better hitter. He moves remarkably well considering his size, though many scouts don’t think that will be enough to prevent a move to first base or a corner outfield spot in the future. Walker was something of a polarizing player last summer for scouts, largely thanks to questions about his profile, but he performed at the right time this spring and could go off the board at the end of the first round or shortly thereafter. Scouts praise Walker’s heady, cerebral nature and believe he could be a tough sign out of Duke, where he could elevate his draft stock with a few years of ACC performance.
Dillon Dingler, C, Ohio State
Current Rank: 37
Top 200 Rank: 93
Why You Should Know Him: Dingler fits the perfect mold of a player who jumps up boards. Teams are always looking for catchers, and because of the risk associated with high school catchers, college backstops routinely get pushed up the board. That means Dingler could find himself in the first round to a team who believe he will be above-average on both sides of the ball. He’s trended in the right direction with the bat throughout his Buckeye career and could become the highest-drafted player out of Ohio State since RHP Alex Wimmers, who went with the 21st pick to the Twins in 2010.
Scouting Report: Dingler has been a regular in Ohio State’s lineup since he first set foot on campus in Columbus. As a freshman he showed impressive defensive versatility at two premium positions, playing both catcher and center field. He settled in as the team’s starting catcher during his sophomore season, and scouts believe in his catch-and-throw skills and athleticism behind the plate. A natural leader and a captain for the Buckeyes, Dingler has big league arm strength, and over 115 total games with Ohio State threw out 21 of the 42 (50 percent) runners who attempted to steal against him. He has a strong, 6-foot-3, 222-pound frame that would be durable enough to handle the grind of the position, and he’s more athletic than most backstops with that sort of size. Offensively, Dingler was just starting to tap into his potential, improving year over year. He improved his OPS from .701 as a freshman to .816 as a sophomore, and through 10 games in 2020 upped that mark to 1.164 with five home runs, a triple and four doubles through 35 at-bats. Dingler has always controlled the strike zone well throughout his Big 10 career (12.8 strikeout percentage, 11.6 walk percentage) but never really showed the ability to tap into his above-average raw power consistently in games. Some scouts believe he’s more of an ambush power hitter, who ran into his homers, and now without a full junior season to see if that is true, they’ll have to guess. With a strong offensive 2020 season, Dingler had the potential to go in the first two rounds. As it stands now he could go late on day one or early on day two.
Jared Jones, RHP, La Mirada (Calif.) HS
Current Rank: 39
Top 200 Rank: 54
Why You Should Know Him: Jones is similar in some regards to Pete Crow-Armstrong. One of the more well-known and famous prospects entering the 2020 cycle thanks to his outlandish pure stuff and athleticism as an underclassmen, Jones was at one point thought to be one of the top 3-5 high school players in the class. While he hasn’t settled into quite that role, Jones has been better this spring than he was last summer, and started to improve what was previously erratic control this spring—a good sign for his development moving forward. High school pitchers standing just 6-foot-1 and throwing as hard as Jones does is a bit of a concern, but he could easily be one of the outliers like the previously mentioned Meyer appears to be.
Scouting Report: Scouts pegged Jones as a future first-round pick as a high school sophomore, and he’s done little to dissuade that notion. A three-time member of USA Baseball’s junior national teams, Jones is a twitchy, explosive athlete who stars both on the mound and in the outfield. His tremendous arm speed generates lively mid-to-upper 90s fastballs, and his elite athleticism has helped him make adjustments to his delivery and gradually improve his command and control. Jones dominates with his fastball, but he flashes a sharp, above-average slider in the mid-80s and is developing his changeup. Jones is slightly undersized and has an effortful delivery, leading some evaluators to project him to the bullpen. His improving command and elite competitiveness lead others to believe he can start. Jones is an above-average runner who gets excellent jumps in the outfield and makes jaw-dropping throws, earning 80 grades on his arm. He flashes big power at the plate, but he’s a free swinger who scouts aren’t sure will make enough contact against better pitching. Jones has strong baseball bloodlines in addition to his talent. His father, Keith, was a 1997 draft pick of the Diamondbacks and played two seasons in the minors. His cousins Randy and Ron Flores both pitched in the majors, and Randy is currently the Cardinals' scouting director. Jones made the right strides with his command this spring to remain a first-round talent as a pitcher. He is committed to Texas.
Jared Shuster, LHP, Wake Forest
Current Rank: 47
Top 200 Rank: 168
Why You Should Know Him: Teams covet lefthanders, unsurprisingly, thanks to the difficulty of finding a quality lefthanded pitcher. In the last 10 years, teams have taken 47 lefthanded pitchers in the first round, with seven going in the 2014 draft (including Brady Aiken, Carlos Rodon, Kyle Freeland and Sean Newcomb). The fewest number of lefthanders in first round in that span is three, which happened in 2010, 2012 and 2015. Thanks to an injury to LHP Dax Fulton and LHP Nate Savino enrolling early at Virginia, the 2020 class has just three southpaws currently ranked in first round range: Texas A&M’s Asa Lacy, Louisville’s Reid Detmers and Tennessee’s Garrett Crochet. So it wouldn’t be particularly surprising to see Shuster shoot into the first this year given his improvement in stuff and control. His improvement is somewhat reminiscent of Virginia lefthander Daniel Lynch—who was drafted in the first round by the Royals in 2018—though Shuster’s velo gains occurred sooner than Lynch’s and their bodies aren’t particularly similar.
Scouting Report: Shuster is one of the bigger rising pitchers in the 2020 class, and his ascension started with a strong summer in the Cape Cod League. The first thing to improve was his control. After walking more than five batters per nine innings over his first two seasons, Shuster showed dramatically better strike-throwing ability with Orleans, walking just five batters in 32 innings—a 1.41 per nine rate. Next came the fastball velocity. After mostly sitting in the 88-92 mph range, Shuster came out this spring with a fastball that got up to the 96-97 mph range from the left side. The dramatic improvement in both those areas vaulted him up into the second-to-third-round range and it wouldn’t be shocking for some scouts to have first-round grades on him. Lefties who throw 96-97 mph are rare enough, but Shuster has impressive starter traits to go along with that velocity, especially with his improved control. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Wake Forest product has a plus changeup and a developing slider that could become an average pitch as well. The shortened season hurt Shuster’s ascension up draft boards, but after striking out 43 batters in 26.1 innings with just four walks and a 3.76 ERA, he likely already showed enough teams that his improvement was legit.
Michael Harris Is Poised To Rise Quickly
The Braves love what they saw from the athletic outfielder in 2020, giving him a chance to impact games with his bat, speed and glove.
Enrique Bradfield, OF, American Heritage HS, Plantation, Fla.'
Current Rank: 55
Top 200 Rank: 65
Why You Should Know Him: He would be one of the favorites to win a foot race among every member of the 2020 class. Along with UCLA’s Garrett Mitchell, Bradfield is one of the 80-grade runners in the class. While it’s possible to increase speed incrementally, you can’t teach that sort of burner running ability. It will be interesting to see how the industry values that toolset (which also helps provide impact defense in center field) in a shorter draft, as Bradfield also comes with a Vanderbilt commit that could make him a tough sign.
Scouting Report: The best runner in the prep class, Bradfield has posted sub-6.3 60-yard dash times, which are 80-grade times, and incorporates that speed in all phases of the game. A no-doubt center fielder, Bradfield uses his blazing speed to cover huge swaths of outfield grass, getting to balls in the gap that other fielders wouldn’t dream of catching. He’s more than just a fast runner though, as Bradfield consistently shows advanced route-running ability and has an elite first-step when reading balls off the bat. All of those traits combine to give him elite defensive potential at a premium position, and he also has solid arm strength. There are more questions about the offensive side of his game. Bradfield sets up with a wide stance and has impressive bat-to-ball skills, but he has well below-average raw power and there’s little in his frame to suggest he will ever grow into average power in the future. Instead, he should be a slappy, line-drive hitter who succeeds by putting balls into the outfield gaps, bunting and using his speed to collect extra-base hits and put pressure on the defense. His dynamic speed should be an asset on the bases as well, even at a time when stealing has become less of an emphasis in the major leagues. Bradfield could be a tough sign out of a Vanderbilt commitment, but he has the athleticism and game-breaking running ability that every team covets.
Nick Garcia, RHP, Chapman (Calif.)
Current Rank: 63
Top 200 Rank: Unranked
Why You Should Know Him: You won’t find a bigger popup name than Garcia, and he’ll be interesting because different scouting departments might have wildly different evaluations of him. Teams who put a priority on track record and the history of their looks on players will value him significantly less than a team more concerned with what the tools and stuff looks like right now. Because he’s a converted third baseman without a ton of time on the mound, teams that heavily utilize models that value performance on the mound will have him lower than teams who don’t. You could have an interesting conversation on old school scouting and new school scouting centered directly on Garcia.
Scouting Report: Garcia played third base his freshman year at Chapman before converting to pitching as a sophomore. He served as the closer on Chapman’s 2019 Division III national championship team and was named Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series. Garcia moved to the Panthers rotation this spring and became one of the fastest-rising prospects in the country before the season shut down. A strong 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Garcia has an easy operation and smooth delivery, allowing him to maintain his stuff and pound the strike zone with all three of his pitches. He throws his fastball in the 92-95 mph range, touching 97-98, and backs it up with an upper-80s slider and mid-80s cutter that both have a chance to be above-average. Garcia has a limited track record as a starter and has rarely faced good competition, but he held his own pitching in relief in the Cape Cod League last summer. He is also young for a college junior and will be barely 21 on draft day. Garcia’s stuff, delivery, youth and fresh arm have teams interested on the draft’s first day. He is in line to be the highest Division III player selected since the Nationals drafted Jordan Zimmermann in the second round in 2007 out of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Landon Knack, RHP, East Tennessee State
Current Rank: 113
Top 200 Rank: Unranked
Why You Should Know Him: He’s the highest-ranked senior in the class. Where Knack is drafted and how teams negotiate his signing bonus could be descriptive of how many priority senior signs are treated in this year’s shorter draft class. Or he could be an exception thanks to his talent. Knack’s stuff took a jump from his junior year to what he showed last fall and this spring, and when paired with his lengthy track record of throwing strikes, he becomes an interesting target. Last year Knack would have been an obvious candidate for a team that was targeting the best seniors in the class early (take a look at the Mets), but employing that strategy this year will be more difficult with fewer picks to spread risk and the fact that seniors now have more leverage.
Scouting Report: Knack is the top-ranked senior in the class and a good bet to be the first member of that class selected in 2020. A 6-foot-2, 220-pound righthander, Knack spent two years at Walters State (Tenn) JC, where he showed solid strike-throwing ability and average stuff. The same was the case in 2019 at East Tennessee State, where Knack posted a 2.60 ERA over 15 starts and 97 innings. What changed from the last three seasons in 2020 is the pure stuff. Knack’s fastball velocity made a big jump, going from a pitch in the low 90s to a fastball that bumps 97-98 mph at his best and is 92-95 deep into his outings. His offspeed stuff is more fringy at this point, with all of his secondaries flashing average at times but not in that range consistently. His curveball is his best secondary pitch at the moment, again flashing average at times. There’s some effort in Knack’s delivery and it’s not the loosest or most fluid one you’ll see, but he repeats it well and has a lengthy track record of throwing strikes. His 2020 numbers in 25 innings and four starts are ridiculous, as he racked up 51 strikeouts (the most of any Division I arm) to just one walk. While Knack is right at the top of the list of priority senior signs, his age could limit how high he climbs in the draft. He should go off the board at some point in the third or fourth rounds.