2020 MLB Draft First Round Analysis: Four Storylines That Stood Out
With the first day of the draft in the books, here are four storylines that stood out.
Baltimore Throws A Curve At Pick No. 2
We had been hearing plenty of rumors about the Orioles exploring a non-Austin Martin selection with the second pick of the draft. Teams behind them were uncertain what Baltimore would do with their pick up until the moment they made it happen.
But the team liked Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad enough to make it happen, and while we’re assuming Kjerstad will save the Orioles money that they can push to another player later in the draft (Texas righthander Jared Kelley and Oklahoma lefthander Daxton Fulton are two overslot candidates available) it was still a risk.
While Kjerstad’s power is significant, and his college performance in the Southeastern Conference and with Team USA is among the best in the class, we had him ranked as the No. 13 player on the BA 500.
The decision-making group with the Orioles has made moves like this before, back when Mike Elias was calling the shots for the Astros. The team moved away from the consensus top talent at the No. 1 spot (Byron Buxton) and instead signed shortstop Carlos Correa to a $4,800,000 bonus, sending money down their draft to get righthander Lance McCullers at pick No. 41 for $2,500,000—the highest bonus in the supplemental first round that year.
That decision paid off for the Astros, and now the Orioles will hope the same is true for them. They should be big players for some of the top talent remaining as we move into day two.
Royals And Blue Jays—Winners Of Day One?
If you told the Royals they would be able to pick between Martin and Texas A&M lefthander Asa Lacy with the fourth pick of the draft, they probably wouldn’t have believed you. Most in the industry—including us at Baseball America—expected both players to be gone among the first three picks.
It would have seemed even crazier for the Blue Jays to be sitting at pick No. 5 with Martin, the second-ranked player in the class, sitting there waiting to be picked. Toronto scouting director Shane Farrell admitted as much Wednesday night.
“I think we were a little surprised. Obviously we’re keeping an eye on the mock drafts as they come out throughout the week and we’re aware of industry consensus, but I think it really started to shake up at picks two and three,” Farrell said on a call with media members following the selection. “We were surprised a little bit, but certainly prepared to make that selection and we’re ecstatic to have the chance to pick Austin.”
We believe the Royals and Blue Jays both stumbled into exceptional value because of the Orioles and Marlins going with Kjerstad and Minnesota righthander Max Meyer in front of them and it’s difficult not to see them as winners of day one as a result.
The Royals continued to grab value with their compensation pick at No. 32, grabbing Baylor shortstop Nick Loftin, who was ranked No. 29 on the BA 500 and was thought to be a factor as high as the middle of the first round.
The Blue Jays may have gotten the best one-pick value in Martin at No. 5, but Royals fans should be ecstatic with the two college prospects added to their rapidly rising system.
Why Boston’s Nick Yorke Pick Isn’t As Crazy As You Think
According to the BA 500, Yorke was the biggest off-the-board pick on day one, as he ranked as the No. 96 prospect in the class. However, with no second-round pick due to penalties related to the team’s sign-stealing scandal, the Red Sox had to get a bit aggressive with a bat they really liked.
“From 17 to 89 is a long way. It felt like an eternity. I think that our perception of the industry's interests didn’t match the public perception,” Red Sox scouting director Paul Toboni said.
But while the pick was surprising, and it is rare to see a high school second baseman drafted this high, the pick might not be as crazy as you think. Yorke’s bat is legit, and in our scouting report we note that “some evaluators believe Yorke is the best pure hitter on the West Coast, among high schoolers.”
That means there were at least some scouts who liked Yorke's bat better than other first-round West Coast preps like Pete Crow-Armstrong, Carson Tucker and Tyler Soderstrom. The Red Sox could certainly be one of those teams. Yorke is far from the biggest “reach” that teams have made on the first day of the draft in recent years.
The Cubs took RHP Ryan Jensen at pick No. 27 last year and Jensen was ranked outside of the top 100 in the 2019 class, at No. 109. A few picks later the Astros selected C Korey Lee at No. 32—Lee was rated as the No. 173 player in the class.
Go back to the 2018 draft and you see the Twins second round pick of C Ryan Jeffers as a notable “reach.” Jeffers ranked all the way down at No. 295 at the time. And to the Twins credit, the Jeffers selection has so far looked pretty good.
So it isn’t crazy to see the Red Sox jumping on a bat they liked in Yorke at No. 18. With no second-round pick there could have been a real shot he didn’t make it to their next pick at 89. With a full season, who knows, Yorke could have hit enough to rise up boards and get more public attention, similar to Carson Tucker—another high school middle infielder who showed off a good bat this spring and got taken by the Indians at pick No. 23.
There’s certainly some risk with Yorke, but we’ll have to wait and see if it pays off.
Outside of Yorke, the first round was fairly chalky.
The lowest-ranked non-Yorke player to be selected among the first 37 picks Wednesday night was Tucker, who checked in at No. 61.
While we didn’t hit for a great average in our final mock draft, all of the names that were taken Wednesday night made sense in terms of talent and in regard to what we were hearing leading up to the draft.
Perhaps that’s a function of the shortened spring, which could have led many teams toward the consensus top talent and provided less time for some players to separate themselves between different scouting departments.
Orioles Surprise Heston Kjerstad Selection Sets Up An Intriguing Day 2 Of MLB Draft
The Orioles surprised most observers by selecting Kjerstad No. 2. The move should help the club be aggressive on day two of the draft.
College Record Up Top
We entered the draft thinking the strength of the class at the very top was on the college side and that’s how it played out, with a record seven consecutive college players coming off the board to start things.
Robert Hassell and Zac Veen both were selected among the top 10 picks, but nine of the first 11 selections came from the college ranks—which makes plenty of sense for this year's class.
That’s not to say that this year’s first round was tremendously college-heavy. The strength of the high school class made its impact felt as we progressed through the middle and back of the first round, and the percentages for the first-round source demographics align with the 2019 first round.
In total, 18 college players were selected (62.07 percent) in the first round compared to 11 high school players (37.93 percent). Those numbers aren’t quite as college-heavy as 2019, but close. The 2019 first round had 22 college players selected (64.71 percent) and 11 high school players (32.35 percent).
Both the 2019 and 2020 first rounds are a bit more skewed toward the college ranks than most of the first rounds throughout the last decade, though, as the 2010-2018 drafts ranged from 43 to 54 percent from four-year universities.
It will be interesting to see if teams start to target more college players in the 2-5 round range, which has been one of our assumptions given the shortened five-round draft.