We knew going in that this would not be an ordinary first round of the MLB Draft, with front-office executives and scouts on Zoom calls instead of in war rooms. We also were -- and are -- curious to see how a shortened Draft, with only five rounds, will affect selections and signings.
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But Wednesday’s first round and Competitive Balance Round A, broadcast by MLB Network, ESPN and ESPN Deportes to a sports-starved audience, offered plenty of intrigue that extended beyond even the unusual format.
The most poignant moment came before any picks were made when the heads of baseball operations for all 30 clubs made a powerful statement, standing in unison over video conference and holding placards reading: “Black Lives Matter: United for Change.”
“We share in the sadness and outrage that has resulted from the national tragedies that include the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said. “Tonight I join our 30 club baseball operation officials as they recognize, on behalf of our entire industry, that systemic racism and inequality are devastating problems, that we can each do more to help, that baseball can do more as an institution, that black lives matter and that we are united for change.”
The club officials were joined by MLB and team owners in making donations to organizations that support and fight for racial justice, including the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Equal Justice Initiative, Color Of Change, Campaign Zero and the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
In terms of the players taken and trends that emerged, here are seven key takeaways from the first night of the Draft.
1) Mocking the mocks
While the top 10 picks did stay true to what many of the experts – including MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis – had predicted, the exact order after No. 1 overall pick Spencer Torkelson was a surprise.
Vanderbilt’s Austin Martin, generally regarded as the Draft’s best pure hitter, fell to the Blue Jays at No. 5, with the Orioles surprisingly going with power-hitting Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad at No. 2 and the Marlins making Minnesota right-hander Max Meyer the first pitcher selected at No. 3.
Per MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, Meyer already reached agreement (pending a physical) with the Marlins on a deal a bit below the No. 3 slot value of $7,221,200 million, and Kjerstad could also potentially sign below the No. 2 slot value of $7,789,900. Value plays allow teams with large signing pools to potentially make impact acquisitions in later rounds.
2) Hot prospect, hot corner
The Tigers calling Torkelson’s name at No. 1 overall was no surprise whatsoever.
What was surprising was the position – third base. Torkelson, an Arizona State product, played his entire collegiate career at first base. He’s the first player selected as a third baseman at No. 1 overall since Pat Burrell in 1998 (and Burrell wound up never playing a game at third in the big leagues).
“It shows the amount of respect they have for me as an athlete,” a smiling Torkelson said of the Tigers on the MLB Network broadcast. “I’ll take it and run with it. I like to label myself a baseball player, and you give me a bat, a ball and a glove, and you know what? I’m just going to want to win.”
Torkelson has power that can play at any position.
3) College clout
For the first time in Draft history, the first high school player wasn’t taken until eighth overall, when the Padres selected Tennessee high school outfielder Robert Hassell III. The previous record was seventh overall (Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers) in 2006.
With precious few 2020 scouting opportunities, teams unsurprisingly leaned on the more known quantities early in the Draft. College players are considered the “safer” selections even in ordinary times, and that’s especially true when relying on limited (or zero) game statistics and video.
But actually, even in ordinary conditions a year ago, 20 of the first 30 players selected, or 66.7%, were college guys. This year, 65% of the 37 picks in the first round and the compensation round were college guys. So perhaps we would have seen something similar Wednesday even if the Coronavirus pandemic hadn’t affected scouting.
4) Southpaw surge
Mike Petriello wrote recently about the disappearance of left-handed pitchers in MLB, but you wouldn’t have known that if you watched the Draft. Three of the first 11 picks were college lefties, with Texas A&M’s Asa Lacy going to the Royals at No. 4, Louisville’s Reid Detmers going to the Angels at No. 10 and Tennessee’s Garrett Crochet going to the White Sox at No. 11.
Only once before in Draft history had three college southpaws been swept up that early, according to Baseball America’s Matt Eddy.
5) Bold move by Boston
With the 17th overall pick, the Red Sox selected ... the 139th-ranked Draft prospect by MLB Pipeline. That was Archbishop Mitty (Calif.) High School second baseman Nick Yorke, one of the more stunning selections of the evening.
If Yorke honors his commitment to the Arizona Wildcats, the Red Sox would receive a compensation pick a year from now. But chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom made it clear that the Red Sox value Yorke. Because the Red Sox do not have a second-round selection as punishment for sign-stealing, they didn’t feel confident he would still be available to them for their next pick at No. 89 overall.
“We feel if the spring had gotten a chance to play out,” Bloom told reporters, “the public perception of him would be a lot different.”
6) Local hero
The Cubs’ new vice president of scouting, Dan Kantrovitz, didn’t have to look far for his first pick, at No. 16: Shortstop Ed Howard, of Chicago’s Mount Carmel High School.
Howard was a part of Jackie Robinson West’s famous run to the little League World Series finals in 2014. Now, Howard has a chance to captivate Cubs nation. If he can live up to his billing as the top prep shortstop on the board and play for his hometown team, he’ll be one of the feel-good stories of the 2020 Draft.
“We’re ecstatic,” Kantrovitz told reporters. “It was literally our best-case scenario.”
7) Pipeline flow
MLB and USA Baseball created the Prospect Development Pipeline less than two years ago to serve as an official identification and player assessment pathway for elite high school players. The invite-only PDP Premier events are a way for these players to get the scouting attention they deserve.
The PDP bore fruit in a big way in this first round. Eight of the 13 high school picks on Wednesday night – the aforementioned Howard, outfielders Hassell and Austin Hendrick (Reds), right-hander Mick Abel (Phillies), shortstop Carson Tucker (Indians), third baseman Jordan Walker (Cardinals) and catchers Tyler Soderstrom (A’s) and Drew Romo (Rockies) – were products of the pipeline.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.