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The road to Omaha begins today. While the sounds of metal pings aren’t as sweet as the crack of a wood bat, it is nice to have baseball back. Every Division I program will be chasing the defending champion Vanderbilt Commodores who might be featuring two future number one overall draft picks on their roster. While the season is playing out, one common theme will be comparing the upcoming college prospects to the 2011 Draft. That class had Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer, Anthony Rendon, Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez, George Springer, Jose Fernandez, Sonny Gray, Kolten Wong, Jackie Bradley Jr., Trevor Story, and Blake Snell all selected in the first round. Mookie Betts was picked in the fifth round, Marcus Semien in the sixth, and Kyle Hendricks in the eighth round.
This upcoming class is deep with college starting pitching and features a trio of outstanding college position players. Prep starting pitching is not as strong as in recent years, but there are some intriguing prep bats. Too early to say if it will be as strong as 2011’s draft class, but there is more top talent to spread out than the last two years.
The White Sox farm system is going to look a little bare after Luis Robert, Michael Kopech, and Nick Madrigal graduate from prospect status. But there will be an opportunity with the 11th overall pick to help build the next wave of talent. Today begins our coverage at Sox Machine of the 2020 MLB Draft following possible targets for the White Sox.
For those that are new, I won’t be doing a mock draft until the morning of Wednesday, June 10th, which is the first day of the MLB Draft. A change of pace from having the event on Monday at MLB Network HQ in New York. This year, the MLB Draft moved to midweek and hosted in Omaha to coincide with the College World Series, which starts on June 13th. In my opinion, I like this move as it does give teams one more look at prospects in the Regional and Super Regional rounds.
Instead of a mock draft, I’ll be updating my draft board. Consider it a power rankings of prep and college players that will move frequently throughout the season. Every Monday for our Patreon supporters, I will be writing up weekly recaps of how the top prospects performed while trying to provide as much video of them in action as possible. As a member of the National College Baseball Writers Association, I will reveal my voting ballots to our Patreon supporters, which includes All-Americans and the Dick Howser award (Player of the Year).
Let’s get started with the storylines heading into the 2020 season.
Can Vanderbilt Repeat?
After defeating the Michigan Wolverines in three games for the school’s second College World Series title, coach Tim Corbin still has two key cogs on the roster: SS/3B Austin Martin and RHP Kumar Rocker. Both have a chance to be the first overall picks this season and next (Rocker is draft-eligible in 2021). Freshman starting pitcher RHP Jack Leiter (Son of former MLB’er, Al), was ranked #21 in Baseball America’s Top 500 Draft Prospects last year, will also help in the title defense efforts.
Standing in the way of Vanderbilt will be Louisville, lead by their Ace, LHP Reid Detmers. Following Detmers in the rotation will be RHP Bobby Miller, and those two will make it a tough weekend for any of their opponents. Arizona State games will be well attended by scouts to watch 1B Spencer Torkelson. Still, he won’t be alone leading the offense as SS Alika Williams and 3B Gage Workman are considered Day 1 draft prospects.
Then there is Georgia with their dynamic duo of RHP Emerson Hancock and RHP Cole Wilcox. If both take a step forward in their development, they have a chance to duplicate what Cole and Bauer did for UCLA in 2011 by leading the Bulldogs to Omaha and be drafted in the Top 5. Michigan is still the team to beat in the Big Ten as RHP Jeff Criswell and OF’s Jesse Franklin and Jordan Nwogu return. Finally, no one can count out Arkansas with OF Heston Kjerstad and SS Casey Martin returning. Both are preseason-Top 20 draft prospects.
Vanderbilt is still my preseason pick to win it all, but it will be a tough road to repeat.
Who could be the future number one pick?
This question was easy to answer last year as former Oregon State now Baltimore Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman was a clear choice. It’s not so easy to answer this time around, but there are four players I think you can make a good case for being the preseason number one pick.
- Austin Martin: As I wrote earlier, Martin is a crucial cog for Vanderbilt as he handled third base hitting .410/.503/.619 with eight home runs. Martin has flashed the speed stealing 18 bases out of 23 attempts and demonstrated a good eye at the plate with bat control having a 12.8 BB% and a 10.5 K%. There has been word from Nashville that Martin will move to shortstop this season. If he can prove his defensive ability at shortstop, that might be good enough for Detroit to take him first overall.
- Spencer Torkelson: Imagine a first baseman who is a little bit taller, has a little worse batter’s eye, but a more powerful swing than Andrew Vaughn. That would be Arizona State’s, Spencer Torkelson. After leading the country his freshman season hitting 25 home runs, Torkelson belted 23 more last year on his way to a .351/.446/.707 slash line. He still strikes out more than he walked with a 15.6 K% to 14.2 BB% in 2019, but Torkelson is a rare hitter who has 70-grade power. While playing for Team USA over the summer, coaches had him play some left field to help expand his position flexibility.
- Nick Gonzales: Not a lot of people knew about the second baseman from New Mexico State until he posted video-game numbers. Last year, Nick Gonzales hit 16 home runs and a ridiculous slash line of .432/.532/.773 paired with a 15.9 BB% and a 10.6 K%. I chalked it up to him playing most of his games in the high altitude of New Mexico, but Gonzales stole the headlines again during the Cape Cod season. In 185 plate appearances, Gonzales hit .351/.451/.630 with seven home runs (second-most in the league) using the wood bat earning Cape Cod League MVP award.
- Emerson Hancock: Emerson Hancock was Georgia’s Friday starter last year, and he dominated with a 1.99 ERA. TV guns are hard to trust, but Hancock has a plus-fastball that’s around 96-mph but has ticked up close to 100 mph. While his fastball is most certainly impressive, other draft scouts and analysts think his changeup is a better pitch. Hancock, like many college pitchers, does throw both a slider and curveball but the former is better than the hook. Hancock has an ideal pitcher’s frame standing at 6’4″, and does an excellent job of repeating his delivery. If Detroit wanted to continue stockpiling starting pitchers, Hancock would be another great addition to their farm.
Who could be available for the White Sox at pick 11?
A lot will happen between now and when the White Sox pick 11th overall mid-June so it’s hard to peg on what direction they could go, and which player they could take. Especially with Mike Shirley taking over for Nick Hostetler running draft operations for the front office. I’m not expecting significant deviations from what the team has done in the last five seasons. Still, we don’t know Shirley’s preferences yet.
With that said, I’ve picked a player from the four groups (Prep/College Starting Pitcher and Prep/College Position Player) in no particular order of preference.
College Starting Pitcher: Reid Detmers
D1Baseball.com’s David Seifert is a former Philadelphia Phillies cross-checker who has developed methods on ranking the best college players from an analytic standpoint. He grades pitchers based on three categories: Zone Control, Pitch Ability, and Durability.
“Zone Control (ZC) is how well the pitcher controls the strike zone with strikeouts, walks, wild pitches and hit by pitch. Pitch Ability (PA) refers to a pitcher’s ability to pitch using statistics like WHIP, FIP and OppSLG. Durability (DR) is largely based on innings pitched as college starting pitchers have shown greater success in professional baseball than college relievers.”
Based on Seifert’s findings, the top-ranked college starting pitcher entering the season is Louisville’s, Reid Detmers.
For a league that is pushing more technology and advanced development methods, why isn’t Detmers a consideration for the top pick? To start, he has a 50-grade fastball that sits at 92-93 mph. He also doesn’t have a four-pitch mix like Emerson Hancock.
What Detmers does have is excellent command. His curveball might be his only plus-pitch, but Detmers had a 37.6 K% last year striking out 167 batters in 113.1 innings by just pounding the strike zone. When it comes to durability, Detmers had eight starts pitching more than seven innings and averaged 96 pitches thrown per start. He took a big step forward from his freshman to sophomore year, reducing his walk rate from 13.4 BB% to 7.4 BB%.
If Detmers duplicates his 2019 season this year, he’ll be a Top-15 pick. Any ticks added to his fastball could push him to the Top-10 as I think he’s the type of starting pitcher who could be fast-tracked through the minors and reach the majors sometime in late 2022.
Prep Starting Pitcher: Jared Kelley
Jared Kelley was the most impressive prep player at the Under Armour showcase at Wrigley Field this past summer. He is routinely hitting 95 and 96 mph with his fastball that pairs nicely with his changeup and slider. Kelley is committed to Texas, but I think he has the potential to be a Top-10 pick. Teams like Seattle (6th pick), Pittsburgh (7th pick), or Colorado (9th pick) could take him as they don’t need to rush players during their reload/rebuild period.
If Kelley is not as impressive this spring, or the college starting pitching class gets stronger, there is a chance he could fall to the White Sox at pick 11. Early rumors are that the White Sox were impressed by Kelley’s showcase performances and have him high on their draft board.
College Position Player: Garrett Mitchell
Outside of Austin Martin, Spencer Torkelson, and Nick Gonzales, the college position player class is filled with 50-grade and below prospects. The best after those three is UCLA outfielder, Garrett Mitchell. An outstanding defender with 70-grade speed, Mitchell covers a lot of ground in the outfield and has a strong arm to man center field.
I’m not as crazy about his bat as other draft analysts are. I think he has average contact skills, but it’s not 60-grade, and thanks to his speed, he led the nation last year with 12 triples. Word has it that Mitchell has been tweaking his swing to generate more in-game power. If he can convert some of those triples to home runs, I think he’s a for sure Top-10 pick. If not, he could be available for the White Sox at pick 11.
Prep Position Player: Ed Howard IV
When looking at the White Sox prospect rankings last week, something that stuck out was the lack of depth at shortstop. I don’t see anyone currently in the farm system that is Tim Anderson’s future replacement. Not that it’s too big of a worry as the White Sox have Anderson under contract for the next five seasons.
However, every front office needs to keep an eye on the future, and the White Sox may have an opportunity to draft Ed Howard IV, who is the top prep shortstop in this class. Someone that the White Sox scouting department knows very well from him participating in their ACE program and is attending Mount Carmel High School. Howard performed well at the Under Armour Showcase, and I came away impressed with how fluid he was fielding grounders. Very athletic with excellent body control and soft hands, something I didn’t see from CJ Abrams a year before, and Howard has the arm strength to stick at shortstop.
Speaking with scouts and analysts at Wrigley this past summer, they believe he can grow more into his power profile. The bat speed continues to get better from showcase to showcase. But it’s not at the level that Bobby Witt Jr. or Abrams was last year. Howard may only be a future 50-grade bat, but he’s got a chance to be a plus defender at shortstop (60-grade).
Top 15 MLB Draft Board 1.0
|2||Spencer Torkelson||1B||Arizona State|
|3||Nick Gonzales||2B||New Mexico State|
|5||Asa Lacy||LHP||Texas A&M|
|6||JT Ginn||RHP||Mississippi State|
|7||Jared Kelley||RHP||Refugio HS (TX)|
|8||Mick Abel||RHP||Jesuit HS (OR)|
|10||Ed Howard IV||SS||Mount Carmel HS (IL)|
|11||Austin Hendrick||OF||West Allegheny HS (PA)|
|13||CJ Van Eyk||RHP||Florida State|