Baseball fans anxious for intrigue from their favourite sport got a small dose of it Wednesday night during an unpredictable first round of the 2020 MLB Draft. While the Toronto Blue Jays added to an already-strong position player core by selecting highly-regarded infielder Austin Martin, here’s how things played out around the rest of the league.
Spencer Torkelson and his power bat were always going to go first overall to the Detroit Tigers, but pre-draft expectations went out the window when the Baltimore Orioles selected outfielder Heston Kjerstad with the second-overall pick. It could prove to be a shrewd bit of maneuvering, as the Orioles also held the No. 30 and 39 selections. Now, they can redirect the bonus pool money they presumably save cutting an under-slot deal with Kjerstad towards higher-upside talent later in the draft.
By the third pick of the night, every mock draft across the internet was blown up as the Miami Marlins took right-hander Max Meyer off the board. Industry consensus was that the Marlins were all over big left-hander Asa Lacy and would make him the first pitcher selected. But they went with Meyer’s electric two-pitch mix instead, which dropped Lacy into Kansas City’s lap at No. 4.
The Blue Jays were more than happy to take advantage of all the commotion up top and select the versatile, polished Martin at No. 5. Baseball America graded Martin as the best college hitter in the draft. FanGraphs ranked him as the second-best position player behind Torkelson. The majority of mock drafts had him going second overall and no later than third. Really, the draft couldn’t have broken any better for the Blue Jays.
“Obviously we’re keeping an eye on the mock drafts as they come out throughout the week and aware of industry consensus. But I think it really started to shake up at picks two and three,” said Blue Jays amateur scouting director Shane Ferrell. “We were surprised a little bit. But certainly prepared to make that selection. And we’re ecstatic to have the chance to pick Austin.”
Similarly, the Pittsburgh Pirates had to be thrilled to scoop up Nick Gonzales’ contact and power combination at No. 7, while the Colorado Rockies have to love the huge upside they acquired at No. 9 in Zac Veen, who was widely considered the top high school hitter in the draft. The Philadelphia Phillies may have also come away with a steal, selecting the hard-throwing, immensely projectable prep right-hander Mick Abel at No. 15. And the Brewers were likely ecstatic to see toolsy outfielder Garrett Mitchell still available at No. 20.
Prospect analysts across the industry have a strong track record of accurately predicting how things will play out on draft night. Their mock boards are very well-sourced, as club executives have little to gain from being coy with their intentions under a system in which teams can’t trade picks and bonus deals are often agreed to well in advance. But 2020’s widely inaccurate mock drafts have provided the exception to the rule.
“I don’t know if that’s to say that the industry was off the mark. There’s a lot that goes into making these selections, that factor into this. Like signability and things like that,” Farrell said. “So, we monitor [mock drafts] just for public opinion. But, ultimately, we’re relying on our own internal rankings and our internal scouts to build our lists and go from there.”
Around the AL East
The Orioles certainly threw a curveball into the draft by selecting Kjerstad second overall, and will presumably use the money they’re positioned to save there to add more high upside talent to the organization’s early-stages rebuild. But it’s unlikely that Jordan Westburg, the college shortstop the Orioles selected with the No. 30 overall pick, will be the beneficiary. There should be some high-ceiling pitchers available when the draft’s second night begins on Thursday, and it’ll be interesting to monitor whether Baltimore takes a flier at signing one to an above-slot deal.
And what about Toronto’s other rivals around the American League East? The Boston Red Sox had the next highest pick at No. 17 and went way off the board selecting high school infielder Nick Yorke, who was somewhere in the mid-100s on most draft boards. The Red Sox have only four picks in the draft, having lost their second-round selection as part of MLB’s punishment for sign stealing during the 2018 season.
Evidently, the Red Sox are high on Yorke’s bat and feel he was undervalued. “We feel if the spring had gotten a chance to play out, the public perception of him would be a lot different,” GM Chaim Bloom told reporters. Of course, it’s also possible Yorke is a pick Boston believes it can sign for well below slot value, saving money to take big swings on tough signs with their three remaining picks later in the draft.
Don’t forget, Bloom came to Boston from the Tampa Bay Rays, one of the leagues shrewdest organizations on draft day and one with an excellent track record of selecting and developing big league talent. It’s safe to say Bloom has a plan.
Speaking of the Rays, one must always pay close attention to their draft-day decisions — particularly when they select a big-armed high school pitcher scouts haven’t been closely following. That describes Nick Bitsko, a 17-year-old who was originally eligible for the 2021 draft but graduated high school early and entered this year’s instead only to have his senior season wiped out by a pandemic.
It is a classic Rays pick. Bitsko is super projectable at six-foot-four, 225 pounds and already throws a fastball in the mid-to-high 90s with a solid curveball and a developing change-up. He could’ve been one of the first names off the board next June, but a combination of clubs not being honed in on him ahead of this year’s draft and COVID-19 shutting down high school baseball this spring let him fall into Tampa’s lap towards the back of the first round a year earlier.
Profiles like Bitsko’s out of high school are inherently risky. But if you had to bet on any club’s development system maximizing his potential, wouldn’t it be the Rays? The organization also selected college shortstop Alika Williams with the No. 37 overall pick in the first competitive balance round.
Meanwhile, the New York Yankees used the No. 28 selection on Austin Wells, a college catcher with a promising left-handed bat. The organization clearly feels highly about him as this is the second time they’ve drafted Wells, and even if his so-so defence moves him out from behind the plate someday, it appears the Yankees have added another potent offensive player to their system.
Source: – Sportsnet.ca