If college pitching is what you want, then the 2020 Draft class is for you. That’s at least what the consensus seems to be as the scouting industry looks at next year’s crop as MLB Pipeline released its new Draft Top 100 Prospects list.
“I think it’s one of the strongest classes as far as college arms, up and down,” a National League scouting director said. “There might be 15 college pitchers taken in the first round. With Friday night starters, we’re trying to figure out how to see all of them. We’re going to have to split up national looks because we’re going to run out of days.”
“I think that’s realistic,” an AL scouting director said. “I don’t know if the first round will be half college pitchers, but you can make the case that there will be 15-plus guys who could go in the first round, if not the first day, which is a significant change from last year.”
There were only seven college arms taken in the first round (34 picks) a year ago, so this prediction would double the 2020 first-round number. And the makeup of the Top 100 backs that up. There are 11 college pitchers in the top 30 and 17 in the top 50, with an expectation that some of that second-tier group will jump into first-round consideration in the spring.
1. Emerson Hancock, RHP, Georgia
2. Spencer Torkelson, 1B, Arizona State
3. Austin Martin, SS, Vanderbilt
4. Nick Gonzales, 2B, New Mexico State
5. Asa Lacy, LHP, Texas A&M
6. Garrett Mitchell, OF, UCLA
7. Jared Kelley, RHP, Refugio (Texas) HS
8. Mick Abel, RHP, Jesuit (Ore.) HS
9. Garrett Crochet, LHP, Tennessee
10. Austin Hendrick, OF, West Allegheny (Pa.) HS
Complete list »
It all starts at the top with No. 1 prospect Emerson Hancock, the right-hander from Georgia. There are some similarities to Casey Mize, who was the top prospect on MLB Pipeline’s list at this time two years ago and ended up going No. 1 overall to the Detroit Tigers, who just so happen to have the top pick again in 2020. Hancock has four pitches that are all plus at their best and the ability to command all of them. A lat injury knocked him out of action for a chunk of his sophomore season, but if he can avoid the injury bug as a junior, he should be in the conversation at the very top of the Draft.
The next two on the list, both college bats, aren’t too far behind Hancock. Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson, at No. 2, reminds a lot of scouts of last year’s No. 3 overall pick, Andrew Vaughn, as both carry plus hit and power tools with them. Vanderbilt shortstop Austin Martin is the best pure hitter in the class and could follow former Commodores shortstop Dansby Swanson as the No. 1 pick.
The rest of the top 10 does have two more college bats in it, with New Mexico State second baseman Nick Gonzales at No. 4 and UCLA outfielder Garrett Mitchell at No. 6. Some like the group of college prospects, though others aren’t as enthused and most feel it falls short of last year’s bumper crop that led to six of the top 10 picks. After that quartet at the top, there are only four more college hitters in the rest of the top 30.
“What’s going to happen in the spring with the college bats?” the NL scouting director asked. “A lot aren’t in a position now to go in the first round, who are second-tier first-rounders, but they could move up with good performances. I could see that happening.”
“I think the strength in this Draft lies with the college group,” the AL director said. “I think there’s depth with both the college hitters and pitchers.”
Scouts are having a hard time figuring out the high school hitter group. Last year, there were sure-fire top of the round prep bats like Bobby Witt Jr., Riley Greene and CJ Abrams. This year, Austin Hendrick, an outfielder at West Allegheny High School outside of Pittsburgh with plenty of pop, is the first high school bat on the list, at No. 10. Shortstop Ed Howard, from Mount Carmel High School in Chicago is next at No. 11 and there are three more in the top 20. But none seem like absolute slam dunks at this point.
“In any given Draft, you can usually circle the top five best high school hitters on the board in some sort of order,” the AL scouting director said. “You can’t really do that with this group. You can’t say who the first high school hitter is going to be off the board. You might get four or five different answers if you asked 30 people.”
The high school pitching options in the first round might be even lighter. Jared Kelley, the right-hander from Refugio HS in Texas, is the top arm at No. 7 overall, and the one prep arm most agree is a top pick. Right after him is Mick Abel from Jesuit HS in Oregon, but even he tailed off at the end of the summer. After that, there isn’t another high school pitcher on the list until Carson Montgomery (Windermere HS, Fla.) at No. 30. The crop certainly wasn’t helped when lefty Nate Savino opted out of the Draft so he could head to the University of Virginia early and when fellow southpaw Dax Fulton (Mustang HS, Okla.) needed Tommy John surgery, though he’s still in the Top 100.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of college pitchers drafted and a lot of over-drafts of college bats because guys won’t want to take the risk on guys who might not profile as first-round picks,” the NL scouting director said.
“The high school pitching group is fairly small this year in terms of potential first-rounders,” the AL director agreed. “I think there’s a significant drop-off after the first few names.”
All players, as always, are given grades on the 20-to-80 scouting scale for all tools or pitches. These are future grades, a reflection of what the scouting industry thinks each of these amateur players can become in the future. Here are the top grades for each tool and pitch.
Hit: 65 -- Austin Martin, SS, Vanderbilt
Power: 60 -- Spencer Torkelson, 1B, Arizona State; Austin Hendrick, OF, West Allegheny HS (Pa.); Heston Kjerstad, OF, Arkansas; Jordan Walker, 3B, Decatur HS (Ga.); Aaron Sabato, 1B, North Carolina; Blaze Jordan, 1B, DeSoto Central HS (Miss.)
Run: 80 -- Enrique Bradfield Jr., OF, American Heritage Plantation HS (Fla.)
Arm: 60 -- 15 tied
Field: 60 -- Ed Howard, SS, Mount Carmel HS (Ill.); Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF, Harvard-Westlake HS (Calif.); Drew Romo, C, The Woodlands HS (Tex.); Kyle Teel, C, Mahwah HS (N.J.); Milan Tolentino, SS, Santa Margarita Catholic HS (Calif.)
Fastball: 80 -- Joe Boyle, RHP, Notre Dame
Curveball: 65 -- Andrew Abbott, LHP, Virginia
Slider: 65 -- Max Meyer, RHP, Minnesota
Changeup: 65 – Ben Hernandez, RHP, De La Salle Institute (ill.)
Control: 55 – 8 tied
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.