Seven Burning 2020 MLB Draft Questions Ahead Of Round 1
Who Is The Surprise First-Round Pick?
Every year there is a player or two who goes higher than we initially expected heading into the day. It took a few picks last year, but we certainly didn’t expect to see RHP Ryan Jensen (Cubs, 27) and C Korey Lee (Astros, 32) go in the spots they went.
In the 2018 draft, OF Kyler Murray snuck into the top 10, which was a bit of a surprise, and two high-profile pitchers—LHP Matthew Liberatore and RHP Brady Singer—fell into the middle of the first round.
The circumstances that have led to the 2020 draft could mean we see more surprising picks than ever, with less hard information on how the back of the first round could unfold, and less clarity on how the college pitchers line up for teams in the hours before the draft.
We’re guessing that a college arm could jump up and surprise us, just due to the quantity and quality of the class, but the nature of a surprise first-round pick is that … well, we don’t know who the player is going to be. But there’s bound to be a surprise or two, and that’s one of the reasons why the draft is so exciting.
Where Does First-Round Wild Card Garrett Mitchell Wind Up?
Our No. 6 overall player continues to be a bit of a wild card for teams, and we’ve heard rumors that he could be slipping into the 20s and also rumors that he could be involved with teams as high as the ninth pick in the draft.
Mitchell is perhaps one of the most intriguing players in the class because his pure tools absolutely make him a fit among the top 10 picks. He’s one of the best pure runners in the class, with legitimate 80-grade speed, he has well above-average raw power, he projects to be a plus defender in center field with plus arm strength and he also has above-average hitting potential.
A college player with that toolset and the college performance (.327/.393/.478 over three years) he’s managed with UCLA would typically never be available outside of the top 10 picks. But Mitchell’s Type I Diabetes and questions about his swing have led to more questions and added risk on his profile for many teams.
It sounds like teams could be in split-camps as to how much the diabetes factor adds to Mitchell’s risk, with some penalizing him fairly significantly for it and others dinging him only slightly.
How Many High School Catchers Get Drafted?
For all the talk about the risky demographic of the high school righthander, it has nothing on high school catchers. There have been plenty of busts among prep righthanders taken in the first round, but there have been success stories like Jack Flaherty, Mike Soroka and Lucas Giolito.
The track record of prep catchers has been much more dire in the first few rounds of the draft. Anthony Siegler and Bo Naylor are the only two prep backstops to be selected in the first round in the past four drafts. Of the eight catchers taken in the first round from 2010-2015, Blake Swihart was the only one to catch 20 games in the majors with the team that drafted him.
Looking at all prep catchers taken in the top five rounds adds one more starter (Austin Hedges), a couple of backups (Cam Gallagher and Chance Sisco) and Greg Bird (who moved off the position) but that’s out of 29 catchers.
Teams have noticed. No high school catcher was selected in the top five rounds last year. There are several candidates to break that drought this year even if Tyler Soderstrom and Kevin Parada have a decent chance of being picked to play positions other than catcher. Drew Romo, Jackson Miller, Daniel Susac and Carlos Perez are among the backstops who could hear their names announced, but it wouldn’t be surprising if many teams had prep catchers off their boards entirely in the shortened draft environment and given the risks associated with prep backstops.
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Does Spencer Torkelson Set A Record?
First basemen are not usually in consideration at the top of the draft. Since the MLB draft began in 1965 only two first baseman have been picked at 1-1: Adrian Gonzalez in 2000 and Harold Baines in 1977. Both were high school first baseman (and in Baines’ case he also played in the outfield). If Torkelson goes first overall to the Tigers, he will be the first college first baseman ever selected with the first pick.
Even if you expand the definition of “college first baseman” to include any college slugger who was projected as a possible first baseman, you could add Miami’s Pat Burrell, the first pick in 1998, but that’s a stretch.
Burrell was a third baseman at Miami. He immediately moved to first base as a Phillies minor leaguer, and he played first base in his MLB debut in 2000. But Burrell played 58 games at first as a rookie and 48 games in the outfield. He never played another game in the infield, staying in the outfield for the remainder of his 12-year MLB career.
When Does A Juco Player Come Off The Board?
There have been three junior college first-round picks in the past three years—Jackson Rutledge last year and Brendon Little and Nate Pearson in 2017. There has been at least one juco player picked in the second round in each of the past four drafts as well.
But this year, it’s likely that we’ll have to wait a while into day two of the draft to see the first juco player come off the board. RHPs Beck Way and Connor Phillips and LHP Luke Little are the top three Juco players on the BA 500, all of whom fit more in the second-to-fourth round range. A pair of Mississippi shortstops—Joshua Day and Bryson Ware—are the only two juco position players to rank in the top 400 on the BA 500.
That means this year will likely continue a trend—it’s much easier to get drafted out of junior colleges as a pitcher than a hitter. Since 2015, there have been 25 juco pitchers and only seven position players taken in the top five rounds.
Which Player Is The Quickest To The Big Leagues?
Who makes it to the big leagues the quickest is always a difficult question to answer. Generally the players most equipped to move through a minor league system quickly are drafted by the teams who aren’t in a competitive major league position that would incentivize pushing them.
Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson is likely the most big league ready player in the draft thanks to his polished bat and present power. There aren’t questions about his defensive home that will need to be worked out—like with Vanderbilt’s Austin Martin—but would the Tigers want to get aggressive with his Torkelson’s service time before they are ready to compete? It’s unlikely.
Louisville lefthander Reid Detmers could be a quick-moving college arm, and he’s more likely to be drafted to a team that could use his help right away. He’s one of the most polished pitchers in the class and because of his deep pitch mix, could move quickly. Baylor shortstop Nick Loftin has the college production, and all-around toolset to be a fast-mover as well.
Every year there are college relievers who teams think could impact a big league bullpen with only a few tweaks (although many of the best college relievers struggle to adapt to pro ball). Dallas Baptist LHP Burl Carraway tops that list, with pure stuff that fits in the back of a bullpen, but spotty strike throwing in the past could slow him down. UCLA RHP Holden Powell is a similar candidate.
Does A Team Decide To Go Cheap?
We discussed yesterday the plusses and many minuses of a team deciding to skip out on taking a signable player in the first round, hoping to push the pick to the 2021 draft. That’s not what we’re talking about here. What is more likely is a team will fail to spend its full bonus allotment.
And that in itself would be unusual. Last year 19 of the 30 MLB teams spent more than their full bonus allotment. Teams can go up to five percent over their allotment without losing future draft picks as long as they pay a tax on the overage (usually between $100,000 and $300,000).
Of the 11 teams that didn’t go over their pool, the Twins ($368,000 under) and Rays ($262,000 under) were the only teams that didn’t come within $200,000 of spending their total pool--both teams had roughly $10 million to spend, so in both cases their spending was over 96 percent of their allotment.
This year, there are rumblings that some teams may opt to cut underslot deals with their fourth and fifth round picks (or maybe even third through fifth round picks) without shifting that money to overslot deals in the earlier rounds. Such a move could lead to a team spending less than 90 percent of its bonus allotment in 2020. We haven’t seen teams do something like that since the slotting system was put into place for the 2012 draft.
Such a move would save virtually nothing in 2020--draftees are limited to receiving $100,000 of their signing bonuses this year with the remainder being divided into equal payments in 2021 and 2022. But it would lower a team’s expenses marginally in 2021.