Image credit: (Photo by Bill Mitchell)
During a normal year, there’s always a balance to strike between how to weigh pre-draft reports with post-draft information.
A player’s physical tools—speed, arm strength, raw power—should be the same before and after the draft, though fatigue from a long season or playing under the heat of the Rookie-level complex leagues can mask that in some cases.
How a player looks that summer in pro ball after signing, though, can change his stock. That’s particularly true for high school players, who are now swinging wood bats and facing significantly better competition than they saw as amateurs. That doesn’t mean we completely disregard our priors, but a hitter who performs like Bo Bichette did in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League or Padres shortstop CJ Abrams did in the Rookie-level Arizona League can force meaningful adjustments in our assessments of their present ability and future projections. The same can be true the other way for a player who shows a red flag like a high swing-and-miss rate once he starts facing pro arms.
Evaluating 2020 draft picks created new challenges. With a limited college baseball season and no high school slate for most players, the certainty of pre-draft reports is lower than usual. But with the minor league season canceled, we also don’t have official pro games to fold in to our evaluations of 2020 draft picks like we normally would.
We do, however, have reports from the alternate training sites and instructional league. The sample sizes of those looks vary by team and player, but there is meaningful signal in those reports to be able to adjust our evaluations.
The showings from some players boosted their stock from how we viewed them before the draft. In other cases, the additional data from how players looked after signing reinforced what we had in our amateur reports with greater certainty.
Setting aside White Sox lefthander Garrett Crochet, who already got to the big leagues last year, these are eight prospects from the 2020 draft who helped themselves based on pro reports from after they signed.
1. Robert Hassell, OF, Padres
Hassell earned a reputation as the best pure hitter in the 2020 high school class before the Padres made him the first high school player off the board with the No. 8 overall pick. Everything Hassell did after signing solidified what scouts saw from him as an amateur. He controls the strike zone, tracks pitches well and stays balanced to drive the ball well the opposite way and to the middle of the field. He’s a potential high on-base threat with a hit-over-power profile, with a chance to grow into more in-game power once he learns which pitches to turn on for damage.
2. Tyler Soderstrom, C, Athletics
The A’s first-round pick (No. 26) last year, Soderstrom was one of the best hitters in the high school class. What he did after signing at Oakland’s alternate training site and instructional league has only led to more glowing reviews. He raked in both assignments, showing the bat speed and compact swing to barrel good velocity on the inner third, with the strike-zone judgment and plus raw power that makes him a potential high on-base slugger who could fit into the middle of the lineup. There are more questions about whether Soderstrom will ultimately stick behind the plate, but his offensive potential may be good enough to be an impact player if he does go to third base or an outfield corner.
3. Evan Carter, OF, Rangers
The Rangers drafting Carter in the second round with the 50th overall pick was one of the bigger surprises of the draft. He was young for his class (he turned 18 in August) with projectable qualities but other clubs saw swing-and-miss risk that would lead him to the college game at Duke before the Rangers signed him for $1.25 million. At instructional league, Carter was one of the club’s top offensive performers and reached base at a high clip. For a young, tall hitter (6-foot-4, 190 pounds), he has a compact, fluid stroke with quiet hands from the left side, helping him cover the inner third of the plate well. He’s a good fastball hitter who had some issues with breaking pitches, but he generally showed feel for the strike zone with the physical projection to grow into more power.
4. AJ Vukovich, 3B, D-backs
A fourth-round pick, Vukovich was a stellar performer at instructional league, both in terms of getting on base and hitting for power. He has a huge frame at 6-foot-5, 210 pounds and outstanding raw power, with the bat speed and strength that makes him a threat to go deep to any part of the park. Vukovich can crush fastballs, but he’s a long-limbed hitter who struggles at times to adjust his swing against breaking stuff, leading to a higher strikeout rate. He’s able to offset those strikeouts by drawing walks at a strong clip, so there’s upside for him to develop into a high-walk, high-power hitter. He’s at third base for now, though between his size and present ability, he could end up in an outfield corner or at first base.
5. Nick Yorke, 2B, Red Sox
After the Orioles made the first surprise pick of the draft with outfielder Heston Kjerstad at No. 2, the Red Sox made an even more unexpected selection at No. 17 when they drafted Yorke, a high school infielder from California. There were scouts who regarded Yorke as the best pure hitter among high schoolers on the West Coast, and the Red Sox had conviction in his bat. He hit well at both the alternate training site and instructional league, showing a keen eye with a patient, disciplined approach. He had trouble with fastballs up—something that will get tested more against better pitching—but he recognized and barreled offspeed stuff for extra-base damage.
6. Jordan Westburg, SS, Orioles
The Orioles used the 30th overall pick to draft Westburg, a 6-foot-3, athletic shortstop with plus speed and plus raw power out of Mississippi State. Swing-and-miss concerns followed Westburg early in his college career, but he improved on that throughout his time in college, including an excellent 2019 summer in the Cape Cod League. That carried over into instructional league, where Westburg didn’t chase much outside the zone and didn’t miss much when he did swing. If Westburg can maintain those quality at-bats and contract frequency this year in his first full season, he could leap up to become one of the Orioles’ top 10 prospects.
7. Reid Detmers, LHP, Angels
Detmers had a 1.23 ERA and a 48-6 strikeout-to-walk mark in 22 innings for Louisville last year before the college season shut down and the Angels drafted him with the 10th overall pick. His polish and pitchability were evident at the alternate training site and instructional league, with Detmers piling up whiffs at both camps. Detmers sits in the low 90s and touches 94-95 mph, so he doesn’t have overpowering velocity, but he has the touch to manipulate his secondary pitches and a knack for keeping hitters off balance by mixing his four-pitch arsenal.
8. Jeff Criswell, RHP, Athletics
A second-round pick out of Michigan, Criswell showed promising stuff but erratic control at times in college. When he got to instructional league, Criswell filled the strike zone, sitting at 93-96 mph in short stints and touching 98 mph to miss bats when he elevates. He has a four-pitch mix of average to plus stuff across the board, including a power curve that misses bats. It’s a starter’s repertoire, but there is effort to Criswell’s delivery, so he will have to show he can keep throwing consistent strikes with it to stay in that role.