Reviewing The 2020 MLB Draft First Round Two Years Later

Image credit: (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)

Evaluators have long said that you can’t fully evaluate a draft class until many years have passed. There’s plenty of logic to that, because players do develop at different rates. A look at the 2012 first round seven years later in 2019 would have seen Kevin Gausman viewed as a well-traveled league-average starter. Now, he’s viewed as a front-of-the-rotation ace.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t get clues relatively quickly. Some players struggle to adapt to pro ball. Others seem even better than expected right away. When Mark Appel hit the minors, pro scouts quickly saw that he didn’t look like the No. 1 pick in a draft class. It wasn’t very long before evaluators were asking how Walker Buehler slipped to the back third of the 2015 first round.

So with that in mind, we’re taking a look at the past four first rounds this week. We’re not writing off any first-rounder’s potential completely this quickly (except for Kyler Murray since he’s playing football), but we can slot players into five categories: Better Than Expected, Do It All Over Again, Too Soon To Tell, Slight Concerns and Reasons To Worry.

We began our look with the 2018 first round and looked at the 2019 first round yesterday. Today we’re examining 2020. We’ll look at 2021 tomorrow, and then we’ll look at what we see from the totality of the past four first rounds in a wrap-up post.

Better Than Expected

Have performed at a level exceeding their draft slot/signing bonus. If the draft were done again, they would be picked significantly higher.

Jordan Walker, 3B, Cardinals (AA) – Walker is now considered one of the top 10 prospects in baseball. Considering he was picked 21st overall, the Cardinals got exceptional value. 

Bobby Miller, RHP, Dodgers (AA) – To get one of the best pitching prospects plucked from the 2020 draft with the 29th pick in the first round is quite the coup. 

Do It All Over Again

These players have lived up to expectations. If a team had it to do all over again, they’d consider picking them again.

Spencer Torkelson, 1B, Tigers (Majors) – His MLB debut has been a rocky one, but there’s every reason to think the 22-year-old will be a fixture in Detroit’s lineup for years to come.

Max Meyer, RHP, Marlins – The third overall pick had an excellent 2021 debut across Double-A and Triple-A, showing a pair of plus pitches in his upper-90s fastball and hard slider. If he can improve his changeup, he should slot in the middle of the Marlins’ rotation.

Robert Hassell, OF, Padres (HiA) – Hassell is one of the better hitters in High-A right now, which means he’s right on schedule.

Zac Veen, OF, Rockies (HiA) – Veen has shown solid power and impressive basestealing savvy. Like Hassell’s he’s rolling along as one of the better young outfield prospects in the game.

Reid Detmers, LHP, Angels (Majors) – Detmer has earned a spot in the Angels rotation while showing improved stuff from what he showed in college. 

Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF, Mets (High-A) – Since traded to the Cubs, Crow-Armstrong has bounced back from a labrum injury to establish himself as one of the better center fielders in the minors.

Garrett Crochet, LHP, White Sox (Majors) – He’s already given the White Sox a solid year in the big league bullpen. His Tommy John surgery this year is unfortunate, but he has been what the White Sox have hoped for so far.

Nick Yorke, 2B, Red Sox (HiA) – Yorke was a breakout star in 2021, but has struggled to match that production this year. Even so, he’s looking like an astute pick, especially at the reduced bonus amount that allowed the Red Sox to draft some later picks with big asking prices.

Justin Foscue, 2B, Rangers (AA) – Since getting to Frisco, Foscue hasn’t shown the home run power that was notable early in 2021, but he is hitting plenty of doubles and is on the path to being an everyday regular.

Mick Abel, RHP, Phillies (HiA) – Abel has not moved as quickly as Phillies 2021 first-round pick Andrew Painter, but he’s on a very steady and solid development path.

Cade Cavalli, RHP, Nationals (AAA) – Cavalli has looked absolutely dominant at times and has had some struggles. But overall, he’s on pace to be a solid starter for the Nationals.

Tyler Soderstrom, C, Athletics (HiA) – Soderstrom has been banged up at times this year and he still faces questions about whether he’ll stick at catcher long term. But he has hit enough that his eventual position isn’t as much of a concern.

Jared Shuster, LHP, Braves (AA) – Shuster has shown every indication that he could be a reliable back-of-the-rotation starter. He’s been solid for Double-A Mississippi.

Austin Wells, C, Yankees (AA) – Injuries have slowed Wells this year, but he seems on pace to be the plus-hitting, fringy defensive catcher he was viewed as coming out of the draft.


Too Soon To Tell

Players who because of injuries or workload concerns have not had a chance to demonstrate enough to make a significant evaluation.

Heston Kjerstad, OF, Orioles (HiA) – Myocarditis forced Kjerstad to miss the entire 2021 season. A hamstring injury then delayed his pro debut even further. He played his first official pro game on June 10, and he’s trying to make up for lost time. He just was promoted to High-A. 

Emerson Hancock, RHP, Mariners (AA) – Hancock has returned to the mound for Double-A Arkansas after missing significant time with shoulder soreness. He’s been limited to less than 75 innings since he was drafted in 2020.

Ed Howard, SS, Cubs (HiA) – Howard’s early pro career has not gone smoothly. He hit .225/.277/.315 at Low-A Myrtle Beach last year. A hip injury has cost him almost all of the 2022 season, so the Cubs won’t be able to see if he can bounce back from a rough debut until 2023.

Carson Tucker, SS, Guardians (LoA) – A 2021 hand injury and a 2022 forearm strain mean that Tucker has played less than 20 games since signing in 2020. He hasn’t hit at all yet, but he’s never had a month-long stretch of regular at-bats to show what he can do.

Slight Concerns

The initial returns are somewhat concerning, but it’s still early enough that you want to see how they make adjustments and respond to their struggles.

Austin Martin, SS/OF, Twins (AA) – Already traded from the Blue Jays to the Twins, Martin has shown the ability to get on base and steal bases. But so far, he’s yet to show any in-game power and his throwing issues limit his ability to play shortstop.

Asa Lacy, LHP, Royals (AA) – Lacy has shown swing-and-miss stuff when healthy, but he’s missed most of this year with a back injury, and when he has pitched, he’s having the same control problems that plagued him in 2021.

Patrick Bailey, C, Giants (HiA) – Scouts love Bailey’s defense, but his bat hasn’t kept up with his glove so far. For a player picked in the middle of the first round, that’s a pretty significant concern.

Nick Gonzales, 2B, Pirates (AA) – If Gonzales had been picked later in the first round, he would have slotted in the “Do It All Over Again” category, but as the seventh pick in the draft, his lack of impact since reaching Double-A Altoona is worth keeping an eye on. Gonzales looks like at least a useful big leaguer and has a good shot to be a potential regular, the concern from scouts is just how good he will be.


Reasons To Worry

Players whose performance and tools had not lived up to their pre-draft expectations. Are not currently projected to have a significant big league role.

Austin Hendrick, OF, Reds (HiA) – Hendrick has flashed the power potential that made him the 12th pick in the 2020 draft, but he’s so far been unable to make enough contact for it to matter. It’s quite hard to find an example of a successful big leaguer who struck out 40% of the time in the minors, which is what Hendrick is doing this year.

Nick Bitsko, RHP, Rays (R) – Due to a shoulder injury that required surgery and the pandemic, Bitsko didn’t make his official pro debut until this spring. He’s thrown a few ineffective innings in the Florida Complex League (11.25 ERA, 11 walks in eight innings). There are concerns he may never return to his pre-injury form.

Aaron Sabato, 1B, Twins (HiA) – A team picking a first baseman who can only play there or at DH is counting on him being a middle-of-the-order masher. In a return to High-A, Sabato is hitting .214/.340/.386. He’s hitting .207/.361/.401 for his pro career.

Garrett Mitchell, OF, Brewers (AA) – There were concerns that Mitchell didn’t get to his seemingly significant power potential at UCLA. Two years into his pro career, the same is true in pro ball. He’s hitting .224/.331/.346 with two home runs and just seven extra-base hits this year. For a speedster, Mitchell hasn’t taken advantage of the new liberalized stolen base rules either, with just six steals in 30 games. The hope is his issues this year stem from an oblique injury that has slowed him down, but so far, he’s struggled in two separate tries at Double-A.

Bryce Jarvis, RHP, D-backs (AA) – Amarillo is a very difficult place to pitch, but Jarvis’ struggles there are exceptionally notable. Over 22 starts and 92 innings at Double-A, he’s 3-5, 7.14 with a 1.74 WHIP and a .298 opponent average. He’s been significantly worse this year in his return to Amarillo. The concerns with Jarvis are that his results rarely match his impressive stuff.


Comments are closed.

Download our app

Read the newest magazine issue right on your phone