Image credit: Cade Cavalli (picture by Tom DiPace)
Your dynasty league’s first-year player draft will not be business as usual this year.
For the first time in MLB draft history, not a single draftee appeared in a minor league game in his draft year. Those players’ pro debuts were casualties of the coronavirus pandemic, which wiped away the 2020 minor league season.
The lone exception was White Sox lefthander Garrett Crochet, the 11th overall pick out of Tennessee who made his major league debut in September and even appeared in one postseason game.
The lack of performance data for 2020 draft picks won’t affect much at the top of 2021 dynasty draft boards. Position players drafted in the top half of the first round, such as Spencer Torkelson, Heston Kjerstad, Austin Martin, Nick Gonzales, Robert Hassell, Zac Veen and Austin Hendrick, are going to go good in any dynasty league format.
Finding value beyond that point requires a thorough knowledge of players’ scouting reports, a task made more difficult because the high school and college seasons were halted in March.
That’s where Baseball America can help. BA gathered intel from instructional leagues, where many 2020 draftees saw their first pro action, that can help dynasty players. National writer Kyle Glaser presented 19 instructs standouts last fall, while the rest of the BA staff conducted reporting for the 2021 Prospect Handbook that required placing an emphasis on instructional league scouting reports because of the lack of a minor league season.
In this piece, we highlight a baker’s dozen 2020 draft picks who shined at instructs and have high value potential for dynasty leagues in 2021, especially if drafted after the first round.
Cade Cavalli, RHP, Nationals
Drafted: No. 22 overall out of Oklahoma. Signed for slot value.
Overview: Cavalli combines a sturdy 6-foot-4 frame with a clean, athletic delivery and a promising three-pitch mix. His stuff tended to play down in the Big 12 Conference, where he finished with a career 1.47 WHIP, albeit without a full junior season to course correct. He also has medical red flags—back, forearm—on his résumé.
Evaluation: Cavalli turned heads in instructional league with his mid-90s velocity—he peaked at 98 mph—and feel for his breaking and offspeed stuff. He can unleash power mid-80s curveballs with improving 12-to-6 action and has surprising touch on his changeup for a power-oriented starter. Cavalli throws strikes but has been dinged for below-average deception and command, which will be his developmental focal points.
Slade Cecconi, RHP, D-backs
Drafted: No. 33 overall out of Miami. Signed for $182,700 over slot.
Overview: Cecconi had one of the better arms available in the 2020 draft, buttressed by a 6-foot-4 frame, deep pitch mix and long amateur track record with scouts. He tended to catch too much of the plate in college but was cruising through 2020 when the pandemic hit.
Evaluation: Cecconi shined at instructional league and is regarded by some in the organization as the D-backs’ top pitching prospect. He pitches in the mid 90s, tops 98 mph and has feel for spin. He has added muscle to his frame and power to his curveball and changeup. He is trending toward having four above-average pitches but needs to prove it over an extended stretch.
Tyler Soderstrom, C, Athletics
Drafted: No. 26 overall out of high school in Turlock, Calif. Signed for $646,600 over slot.
Overview: The Northern California prep catcher slipped to the back of the first round but could have gone at least 10 picks higher based on talent. Oakland swooped in to take the polished lefthanded hitter at No. 26 overall and signed him away from a UCLA commitment.
Evaluation: The Athletics have a thin farm system, but it’s fair to say that Soderstrom would have stood out in any organizational context. He is one of the few 2020 high school picks to be invited to an alternate training site, and one of an even smaller number to stand out in that context. Soderstrom faces a potential position shift to third base or corner outfield to speed up his MLB debut timeline, but his bat is potent enough to weather the change. Scouts think he will hit for average, draw walks and deliver power.
Jordan Westburg, SS, Orioles
Drafted: No. 30 overall out of Mississippi State. Signed for slot value.
Overview: Westburg showed plus speed and plus raw power as an amateur and rode a strong summer in the Cape Cod League to a fast start in the Southeastern Conference in 2020. Baltimore snagged him with the first pick of the supplemental first round.
Evaluation: The Orioles were thrilled with what they saw from Westburg at instructional league, believing they got a player who would have played his way up the first round had there been a full college season. The 6-foot-3 righthanded hitter’s athleticism and advanced plate approach really stood out. Scouts see Westburg as a solid shortstop who could grow to be an everyday third baseman if his power manifests.
Bobby Miller, RHP, Dodgers
Drafted: No. 29 overall out of Louisville. Signed for $227,100 under slot.
Overview: The 6-foot-5 Miller is all about power. His fastball hits the high 90s with sink. His slider sits in the mid 80s and approaches 90 mph. Miller moved into the rotation full time as a junior in 2020 and looked good through four starts before the season was canceled.
Evaluation: Scouts say that improvements Miller made to his delivery were apparent at instructional league. He was more compact and more on line to the plate. Miller pitches at 95 mph and throws both a curveball and slider, enabling him to vary velocity and also work horizontally and vertically. His changeup gives him a chance for four above-average pitches.
J.T. Ginn, RHP Mets
Drafted: second round out of Mississippi State. Signed for $1,496,800 over slot.
Overview: Drafted by the Dodgers in the first round out of high school in 2018, Ginn didn’t sign and went to Mississippi State instead. He starred as a freshman but did not reprise his success in 2020, when he had Tommy John surgery after three starts. He fell to the second round as an eligible sophomore, and the Mets signed him for late first-round money.
Evaluation: Ginn had surgery in March 2020 and is targeting a return this spring. His three-pitch mix, work ethic and competitiveness make the wait worth it. Ginn sits in the mid 90s and touches 99 mph with intense running action. His putaway slider has two-plane life, while his changeup is a good pitch he will develop as a professional.
Jared Kelley, RHP, White Sox
Drafted: second round out of high school in Refugio, Texas. Signed for $1,419,800 over slot.
Overview: Kelley separated himself from the pack of prep pitchers in the 2020 draft with his fastball, his changeup and his control. All three attributes ranked him among the toolsiest players in the high school class. Kelley signed for $3 million in the second round, pulling down more than eight first-round picks.
Evaluation: Kelley has good touch on his fastball for a teen power pitcher. He sits mid 90s and touches 97 mph, seemingly without effort, and can locate the side to both his arm and glove side. His changeup is a plus offering that he sells with the same arm speed and arm slot as his fastball. Kelley’s slider has made great progress and could develop as above-average based on looks at instructional league. He has a mature body but doesn’t require projection on any of his pitches.
Kyle Harrison , LHP, Giants
Drafted: third round out of high school in Concord, Calif. Signed for $1,786,800 over slot.
Overview: An athletic, 6-foot-2 prep lefthander who pitches from a low three-quarters arm slot, Harrison starred for USA Baseball’s 18U National Team in 2019 and required a big commitment from the Giants as a third-rounder to forego a UCLA commitment. He has a developing three-pitch mix and advanced command indicators.
Evaluation: The Giants’ farm system skews heavily toward position players, but still it’s telling that the organization already views the 19-year-old Harrison as its best pitching prospect. He sits in the low 90s and peaks at 96 mph with firm running life and a tough angle. He throws a sweeping, high-70s slider and a changeup that both show promise but require development. Harrison’s worth ethic and clean, repeatable delivery portend good things.
AJ Vukovich, 3B/OF, D-backs
Drafted: fourth round out of high school in East Troy, Wis. Signed for $767,000 over slot.
Overview: Vukovich is a 6-foot-4, long-levered high school power hitter who also starred in basketball. He earns high marks for his work ethic and pro-quality routine that could help him get to his plus raw power.
Evaluation: Vukovich wowed the D-backs at instructional league with his all-fields power and consistency of hard contact. Vukovich did not get scouted heavily in Wisconsin in the spring. The D-backs believe that had he been seen more by scouts, he might have gone a few rounds higher. Vukovich already weighs 230 pounds and faces a possible move to the outfield or first base.
Gage Workman, 3B, Tigers
Drafted: fourth round out of Arizona State. Signed for $428,600 over slot.
Overview: The Tigers’ college-centric draft theme began with Spencer Torkelson at No. 1 overall and continued through the fourth round, where Detroit took Tork’s college teammate Workman. He reclassified in high school to enter Arizona State a year early and was one of the youngest collegians drafted in 2020.
Evaluation: Workman is an athletic, switch-hitting third baseman who is praised for his makeup traits, power potential and glove. His defensive potential at the hot corner draws rave reviews from scouts, and he regularly played shortstop at instructional league. Workman’s ability to hit for average and rein in his strikeout rate remain questions, but his power and defensive skill represent good value in later rounds of dynasty drafts.
Evan Carter, OF, Rangers
Drafted: second round out of high school in Elizabethton, Tenn. Signed for $219,900 under slot.
Overview: Carter is best known to BA readers as the Rangers’ off-the-board selection in the second round of the 2020 draft. The rural Tennessee prep did not rank among the top 500 draft prospects, but Texas believes that would have changed had there been a full high school season.
Evaluation: While the Rangers saved money by drafting Carter, who passed on a Duke commitment, the organization was validated by how well the 6-foot-4 lefthanded hitter looked at instructional league. Carter is a plus runner who projects to stay in center field and has a short, direct swing and the disciplined hitting approach to hit the ground running in pro ball.
Jared Jones, RHP, Pirates
Drafted: second round out of high school in La Mirada, Calif. Signed for $510,500 over slot.
Overview: A standout two-way player in high school, Jones thrice starred for USA Baseball’s junior national teams. He unleashed high-90s fastballs on the mound and also showcased raw power at the plate, albeit with enough swing-and-miss concern to make him a pitching prospect.
Evaluation: Because Jones is 6-foot-1 and throws with effort, he carries a fair amount of reliever risk, but his stuff is unquestioned. He touches 99 mph and sat 97 in short looks at instructional league. Jones’ mid-80s breaking ball is a bat-missing pitch, while his athleticism will help him pick up a changeup and keep him in the rotation at least while he develops.
Zach DeLoach, OF, Mariners
Drafted: second round out of Texas A&M. Signed for slot value.
Overview: DeLoach didn’t hit much as a college underclassmen but burst on the scene as a rising junior, hitting .353 to win the Cape Cod League batting title while flashing power, speed and discipline. He hit .421 through the first 18 games of 2020 before the season was canceled, though he had not been tested against Southeastern Conference pitchers.
Evaluation: DeLoach stood out at instructional league, even in a Mariners system that flows with high-end talent. His plate approach, speed and sound, lefthanded swing make him a good bet to hit, while his power could continue to develop as he gains experience. He will need the power boost because he profiles best on an outfield corner.