Image credit: Nick Gonzales (Photo by Bill Mitchell)
This year, Baseball America partnered with Pramana, which built Draftpoint technology. It’s a natural language processing program which compares current scouting reports in our BA 500 to reports written over the past decade.
The idea is the technology allows us to see what scouts and our own writers have written about players in the past, and then correlate it to present-day draft prospects. It brings in scouting reports, attributes and similarities, then spits out comparable players based on the attributes described.
We’ve already taken a look at potential under-the-radar names identified by the software. But what about the premier prospects?
Below, find comparables for Spencer Torkelson, Nick Gonzales, and as a bonus, Arizona catcher Austin Wells.
Spencer Torkelson, 1B, Arizona State
BA Rank: 1
Finding comparables for a player like Torkelson isn’t all that easy, because he’s at the top tier of what he does (slugging first baseman who isn’t a complete stiff). No college first baseman has ever been picked 1-1 overall, but Torkelson may change that. Kris Bryant showing up here is intriguing since Torkelson has a strong argument for being college baseball’s most productive power hitter since Bryant. Lowe also is notable as a hitter with excellent pitch-recognition skills and some latent power he later tapped into.
Spencer Torkelson’s scouting report:
Undrafted after his four-year high school career in Northern California, Torkelson exploded onto the collegiate baseball scene at Arizona State with one of the best freshman seasons ever, leading the nation with 25 home runs. He was just as strong in his sophomore and junior seasons, but the early end to what is expected to be his final season left him three homers short of breaking Bob Horner’s ASU career record. Torkelson’s terrific hitting ability, advanced approach and plate discipline, plus bat speed, and plus-plus power make him one of the favorites for the first overall pick. Hitting with power to all fields, Torkelson showed more of an ability to pull pitches over the middle of the plate during his abbreviated junior season. There are still some tweaks to his swing that can be made, as he at times was too much out on the front side this season, pulling off and taking away the bottom half. He’s an above-average defender now at first base thanks to his agility and good hands, with the strong work ethic to continue improving. Torkelson played some outfield during his time with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, where he ranked as the top prospect last summer. While he has below-average speed, he runs well underway and improved his throwing technique. He could be at least adequate in left field, but most observers want him to stay at first base where he can focus on being a middle-of-the-order masher. Torkelson may be the safest pick among those at the top of the draft thanks to his outstanding hitting ability and the most usable power in the class. He could rise quickly through the minor leagues, and gets compared to Mets first baseman Peter Alonso. If he does go 1-1, Torkelson would be the first ever college first baseman to do so.
Kris Bryant’s draft report:
Bryant has shown huge raw power since his high school days in Las Vegas, and has blossomed into college baseball’s premier slugger. He posted a 1.081 OPS and nine homers as a freshmen, then a 1.154 OPS and 14 long balls as a sophomore, but he has taken his game to new heights as a junior, posting a 1.357 OPS and 25 home runs (seven more than any other Division I player) through 49 games. Opponents have pitched him very carefully, but he has remained patient, posting a 56-31 walk-strikeout mark. Bryant’s best tool is his plus-plus righthanded power, allowing him to launch towering shots over the light standard in left field or hit balls over the fence to the opposite field. He has adopted a wider base and a simpler approach at the plate this year, and he has impressed scouts with his ability to turn on inside fastballs or go the other way with sliders over the outer half. His plate discipline and ability to consistently barrel up a variety of pitches make him a safe bet to be at least an average hitter, and many scouts think he’ll be better than that. Bryant’s arm gives him another above-average tool. His athleticism gives him at least a chance to stick at third, although he’ll need plenty more repetitions to master the position. Some scouts project him as a prototypical right fielder. He has average speed and can be faster under way, and he has shown good instincts in right and center.
Nick Gonzales, 2B, New Mexico State
BA Rank: 5
Gonzales is nearly universally acclaimed as one of the best hitters in the class. There are many more debates about where he ends up defensively. He played shortstop this spring and has plenty of time at second base as well. Kingery was center fielder who moved to second base for his junior season. Since then he’s added shortstop to his resume as a pro. Both Kingery and Gonzales came into the draft with excellent bat-to-ball skills. Kingery drew comps at the time to Ian Kinsler, a comparison that works well for the type of player Gonzales may become as well.
Nick Gonzales scouting report:
Gonzales is the prototypical baseball rat but with more of an innate ability to hit for both average and power than most gritty gamer types. A lightly recruited walk-on as a freshman at New Mexico State, Gonzales has turned himself into one of the top draft prospects in 2020 through sheer hard work. His .432/.532/.773 batting line in his sophomore year led the nation and earned All-America honors. While his video game-like offensive numbers during his three-year career with the Aggies have to be factored downward because of the extreme hitting environments in the state—including the 12 home runs in 82 plate appearances before his junior season ended prematurely—Gonzales proved that the bat is for real with his performance in the Cape Cod League, where he was named league MVP for 2019 and hit seven home runs. A second baseman in his first two college seasons, Gonzales switched to shortstop this year to showcase himself prior to the draft. Opinions are mixed as to whether he can handle the position, with most observers wanting to put him at second base and just let him be an elite hitter at the position. While he has solid arm strength, scouts believe he might be stretched in the hole, and he could lack the short-area quickness that teams prefer in their shortstops. He’s a solid defender at the keystone, with improved footwork and hands and the ability to throw from various arm slots. Gonzales has elite bat-to-ball skills and plate discipline, and his strong hands allow him to make hard contact to all fields. He’s an above-average runner and has good baserunning instincts. Keston Hiura is a frequent comp for Gonzales, though the New Mexico State product has a better defensive profile and less raw power. Dustin Pedroia has been thrown on him as well. With his tremendous track record of hitting and strong Cape performance, Gonzales should go off the board among the first five picks
Scott Kingery draft scouting report:
Converting from center field to second base for his junior year at Arizona, Kingery turned out to be one of the bigger surprises of the 2015 college season. The Phoenix-area product had led the Pacific-12 Conference in batting all year and ranked among the national top 10 with two weeks remaining in the regular season. Kingery is a top-of-the-order line-drive hitter with a short stroke and plus-plus speed. Scouts get times faster than 4.1 seconds on him to first base from the right side, yet Kingery lacks true basestealing instincts. He has a modest 5-foot-11, 175-pound frame but with solid hand strength and a compact short stroke at the plate. After drawing 33 walks as a sophomore, he had just nine as a junior, but his greater aggression had paid off in more power, both to the gaps and at times with some loft in his swing. He’s a solid defender at second base and has an average arm for some, though it’s likely not enough for a consistent role on the left side of the infield. He could wind up back in the outfield as well if he hits enough to be a regular. Undrafted out of high school and a recruited walk-on to Arizona, Kingery is a grinder who drew multiple comparisons to big league veteran and fellow Arizona native Ian Kinsler, albeit with less power.
Austin Wells, C, Arizona
BA Rank: 21
Wells has been an excellent hitter with solid power for Arizona, but he has also faced questions about whether he can catch as a pro. He’s has injury issues with his arm that have sapped his arm strength and he isn’t a smooth receiver. The comparables here are players whose hit tools may be weaker than Wells, so they aren’t perfect comparisons, but they are cautionary tales. Elander was a productive three-year starter for Texas Christian (a career .333/.434/.515 hitter) but his bat wasn’t strong enough to handle his move from catcher to left field in pro ball.
Austin Wells scouting report:
Picked by the Yankees in the 35th round in 2018 out of perennial high school powerhouse Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, Wells instead chose to follow in his father’s footsteps by heading to Arizona. He’s posted outstanding hitting stats in both of his seasons with the Wildcats as well as last summer in the Cape Cod League. Wells has an outstanding approach at the plate with plus raw power, using a simple swing with good bat control. In both of his college seasons, he walked more than he struck out, impressive for any hitter but especially for a power hitter like Wells. A hole in his swing gives him problems with pitches away, but that’s a fixable problem. The bat is impressive enough that most teams view him as a first-round player, but questions remain as to where he fits best on the field. If he could stay behind the plate, he’d be a certain first-round pick, but there are more scouts who are skeptical of Wells’ receiving ability than think he can make it as a catcher. He has trouble blocking and receiving pitches, especially knee to knee on the glove side, and there’s a record of elbow issues dating back to high school. An arm that once earned plus grades is now too frequently below-average. He focused heavily on improving his defensive reputation over the offseason but didn’t have much opportunity to showcase the results in a shortened 2020 season. He’s seen time at both first base and all three outfield positions since leaving high school. Some observers believe Wells is athletic enough to handle the outfield and that the range and instincts can be developed, while others think he’s not twitchy enough for the outfield and doesn’t have the footwork for first base. He’s an average runner. If concerns with his defense cause Wells’ draft position to drop more than expected, he’s got the leverage to return to Arizona for his junior year but lefthanded bats of his quality are typically highly sought after.
Stryker Trahan draft scouting report:
Trahan once told Baseball America he comes “from a long line of catchers,” as both his parents played the position. One scout lauded his “Cajun makeup,” referencing his toughness and genial demeanor, fitting for a player named after a character in a Burt Reynolds film. He could be a first-round pick for a team that believes he can catch, but the consensus is that he’ll need to shift to an outfield corner. At 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, Trahan has an ideal build for catching and an athletic frame with strong hands and forearms that allow scouts to put good grades on his power. His swing has lacked fluidity this spring and is more strength-oriented, but he may loosen up as he puts more distance between baseball and his football career; he was Acadiana’s starting quarterback last fall. Trahan has above-average arm strength, which will play behind the plate or in right field, and he’s an excellent runner for his size, often turning in above-average times to first base from the left side. His obstacle at catcher is his receiving ability, which is below-average, and scouts hoped to see more progress in an inconsistent senior season. A Mississippi commitment, Trahan has too many tools to fall far.