'Loaded' 2020 College Pitching Class One Of The Best Scouts Can Remember Seeing
Even before anyone had heard of the term “novel coronavirus,” this year’s draft was going to be college-heavy.
Productive college bats with track records and tools abound, and that combination is always in demand. More than anything, though, there are arms.
So many arms.
Now, with a 2020 amateur season that shut down in mid-March, just as it was getting good, and a dramatically shortened draft, scouts predict the 2020 draft may set records for the percentage of college players picked.
If that’s going to happen, at least it is happening in a good year to lean into the college class. No one disputes whether this is a good crop of college arms, the question is whether this is the best group of college pitchers scouts can remember seeing.
“I’d lean toward great,” one longtime scouting director said. “The depth and the amount of really good arms, I don’t know if I’ve seen one like this in my lifetime.”
Texas A&M lefthander Asa Lacy has an outside shot of going No. 1 overall. If it happened, he would be just the third college lefty to go 1-1, joining David Price in 2007 and Floyd Bannister in 1976. Lacy is highly likely to go in the top three, something that has happened just 10 times in 55 drafts.
The second-best college pitcher in this class, Georgia righthander Emerson Hancock, went 8-3, 1.99 as a sophomore while featuring three pitches that have earned plus grades at times. In many years, he’d be an easy choice to be the best pitcher in the class.
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“He doesn’t need to be pitching in college baseball. I’ve never seen a college pitcher be able to throw three pitches at any time he wants with as much velo as he has,” one area scout said. “He’s flat-out way better than the competition. It’s not fair.”
Louisville lefthander Reid Detmers, the third-best pitcher in this year’s class, may be better than Texas Christian lefty Nick Lodolo, who went seventh overall last year. Minnesota righthander Max Meyer, who ranks No. 10 this year, has a slider that compares favorably with any pitcher in the last four or five draft classes.
This year’s draft class really stands out because of its depth. In the second round, there are more interesting pitching prospects than average. The same will be true in the third, fourth and fifth rounds. This year, with a five-round draft, there will be a number of college pitchers with plausible major league upside who will go undrafted.
“It’s just remarkable how loaded this class is in terms of arms,” another area scout said.
There are a lot of explanations for why this year’s class is so good.
Colleges do a better job of tailoring specialized training for each pitcher, allowing pitchers to better reach their potential. Use of radar/optical systems like Rapsodo allow instant feedback during bullpen sessions. With a quicker feedback loop, pitchers are better able to tweak their pitches to get to a better breaking ball, or to find out why their changeup isn’t as effective as it should be.
And pitching coaches themselves are taking advantage of a wide array of resources, speeding up their ability to blend acquired knowledge with their coaching experience.
All of it is very logical. Baseball has reached a new threshold in pitching development, and the industry as a whole is reaping the rewards.
Sounds great, right? Well, as plausible as those explanations may sound, they don’t actually make sense. Because at this time last year, we were writing about a draft class that was considered to be one of the worst crops of college pitchers teams had ever seen.
Lodolo, drafted seventh overall by the Reds, was the first pitcher taken last year, but never before had the first pitcher drafted gone that low. Usually, a team will reach to draft a pitcher within the top six picks.
Only one other pitcher, West Virginia righthander Alek Manoah, joined Lodolo among the top 16 picks in the 2019 draft.
Pitching development is improving, but not at anywhere near the rate needed to explain why last year’s class was so poor and this year’s class is so good.
The reality seems to be that, like a farmer sowing his field, there are good crops and poor ones. Last year there was a drought. This year is a bountiful harvest.