The 2020 Draft doesn’t come until June, but there’s already so much to talk about. There’s the Competitive Balance Rounds being announced, the Draft order changing with free-agent signings and, of course, the exciting move to Omaha.
There’s also MLB Pipeline’s recently released Top 100 list to get fans ready to learn about the future stars of Major League Baseball. Digging deeper into that list has provided a treasure trove of intriguing information. Here are 10 interesting stories about the Class of 2020.
Move over Barry Bonds
It’s quite possible no one will ever touch Barry Bonds’ career Major League home run mark. Getting past 762 home runs seems insurmountable. But Bonds did have one homer record get absolutely shattered in 2018 by someone on the Draft Top 100.
Spencer Torkelson, No. 2 on the list, topped Bonds’ Arizona State freshman home run record (11). And he did it with home run No. 12 in late March, just 25 games into the season. Torkelson ended up setting the Pac-12 record for freshman home runs (25) and has 48 long balls over two years, already four more than Bonds hit in his Sun Devils career.
Turning an issue into a strength
When UCLA outfielder Garrett Mitchell, No. 6 on the Top 100, was 9 years old, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. For many, that could spell the end of an athletic career. For Mitchell, it’s become something he talks about with pride, something he has learned to manage well and something he hopes to use as a means to inspire others.
While there are countless athletes across sports who have learned to excel even while managing Type 1 diabetes, former big league outfielder Sam Fuld might give Mitchell the best frame of reference. Like Mitchell, Fuld was diagnosed when young and went on to have an eight-year big league career.
From Little League to big leagues?
Ed Howard, the high school shortstop from Mount Carmel HS in the Chicago area, is the No. 11 prospect on the Top 100 and has the chance to be one of the first prep players taken in the Draft. He also might seem a bit familiar.
Back in 2014, Howard was the starting shortstop for the Jackie Robinson West (Chicago) team that went to the Little League World Series. Should he go in the first round in June, he’d join a strong list of LLWS alumni like Michael Conforto (2014), Gavin Cecchini (2012), Randal Grichuk (2009), Lance Lynn (2008), Todd Frazier (2007), Jeff Clement (2005), Sean Burroughs (1998), Jason Varitek (1993 and 94) and Gary Sheffield (1986). Of that group, Clement (No. 3 overall), Sheffield (No. 6) and Burroughs (No. 9) were top 10 selections, where Howard hopes to land.
Second time is the charm?
As mentioned above, Varitek was drafted in the first round in back-to-back years. He was taken by the Twins at No. 21 in 1993, then by the Mariners in 1994 with the 14th overall selection. A player being taken in the first round in two June (regular) Drafts has happened 20 times in the past. Most recently, there was Brady Aiken (2014-15), Mark Appel (2012-13) and Tyler Beede (2011, 2014).
No. 21 on that list could be JT Ginn, who is ranked No. 15 on the Top 100. The Mississippi State Draft-eligible sophomore was taken at the end of the first round in 2018 by the Dodgers, but didn’t sign. He has the chance to go much higher than that in June and might want to point to another member of the two-timer club: Gerrit Cole, who was the No. 28 pick of the Yankees in 2008, then emerged as the No. 1 overall selection by the Pirates in 2011 after a strong UCLA career.
Playing both ways
In 2017, Brendan McKay was the No. 4 overall pick in the Draft and the Rays allowed him to keep doing what he did so well at Louisville: both hit and pitch. And it didn’t exactly slow him down as he made his big league debut in 2019 and picked up his first Major League win and hit his first Major League homer.
While it doesn’t look like any two-way player will follow in McKay’s footsteps in the top five of the 2020 Draft, there are four players in the Top 100 who do both pitch and hit. And these days, there isn’t the inclination to automatically push a player in one direction or the other once they turn pro.
1) Cade Horton, RHP/SS, Norman HS (Okla.): Liked more as a pitcher, he also has skills as a shortstop (and as a quarterback!). He actually could play two sports at Oklahoma as a preferred walk-on in football after totaling 4,233 yards and 41 touchdowns as a senior this fall.
2) Masyn Winn, RHP/SS, Kingwood HS (Texas): Upper 90s on mound, tools for shortstop, could do both at Arkansas.
3) Casey Schmitt, 3B/RHP, San Diego State: Excellent defender at 3B with power potential, successful college closer to boot.
4) Colten Keith, RHP/3B, Biloxi HS (Miss.): Three-pitch mix with projection on mound; raw power from left side as an infielder.
Another two-sport star
Horton isn’t the only one on this Top 100 who plays multiple sports at a high level. But unlike the majority of dual-sport athletes, No. 99 prospect AJ Vukovich does not stand out on the gridiron.
No, the 6-foot-5 East Troy (Wis.) High School star plays basketball and baseball, and he has serious skills in both. As a junior, Vukovich averaged 26.5 points and 10 rebounds a game and his senior year is just getting started. He put his name on the baseball map this summer by playing well in the PDP League and finishing as the runner-up in the High School Home Run Derby during the All-Star break in Cleveland last July.
Harvard-Westlake producing hitters?
Over the past several years, Harvard-Westlake, a high school in Southern California, has build a reputation of having one of the strongest programs in the country. It’s competed well at the National High School Invitational a number of times and it’s churned out a trio of first-round picks: Lucas Giolito and Max Fried in 2012 and Jack Flaherty in 2014. All three are big leaguers, Giolito has made an All-Star team, he and Flaherty got Cy Young Award votes in 2019 and Fried and Flaherty have pitched in the postseason.
One thing Harvard-Westlake hasn’t done is produce bats worthy of early-round consideration. Austin Wilson was a 12th-round pick in 2010 before heading on to Stanford. But the 2020 class could change that. Outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong (No. 25) and infielder Drew Bowser (No. 64) could come up in those conversations, with Crow-Armstrong looking like a first-round contender if he can turn the page on what was a so-so summer. Both do have strong college commitments like Wilson had, with Crow-Armstong heading to Vanderbilt and Bowser heading north to Stanford if the Draft doesn’t work out.
Blazing an early path
Sitting at No. 53 on the Top 100, Blaze Jordan is one of the most intriguing players on the list, partially because he reclassified to be a part of the Class of 2020 at the early part of the summer. He’s on the list because of his tremendous raw power, but that’s nothing new. He’s been tapping into it for years now.
Jordan, who goes to DeSoto HS in Mississippi, participated in his first home run derby when he was 11. A couple of years later, he recorded two shots of over 500 feet. So it should have come as no surprise to see him hit in, and beat Vukovich, in the High School Home Run Derby last summer.
Not taking anything for granted
Any time Victor Mederos is stuck in a bases-loaded situation on the mound, he need only fall back on his own history to provide some perspective.
No. 59 on the list, the Westminster Christian Academy (Fla.) senior right-hander fled Cuba with his mother and older brother to join his father in Miami when he was 6 years old. They got visas to fly to Costa Rica, then survived a harrowing trip over the Costa Rican border into Nicaragua. They made it to Texas and then in a tiny plane to Miami, where he’s established himself as one of the best high school pitchers in the state.
Tolentino calls it
There are almost always sons of former big leaguers in each Draft class, and the 2020 class is no different, with Tyler Soderstrom (Steve’s son) and Tanner Witt (son of Kevin) both hitting the Top 100. But the Tolentino family adds another wrinkle.
Jose Tolentino helped the University of Texas win the 1983 College World Series, playing with future big leaguers like Roger Clemens and Calvin Schiraldi. Tolentino himself went on to play pro ball for 15 years, including one season in the big leagues. But he’s still around it every day as one of the Spanish-language broadcasters for the Los Angeles Angels. His son, Milan, is a shortstop from Santa Margarita Catholic High School in California who impressed many over the summer. He’s at No. 82 now, but he could easily make a leap come the spring. The Angels pick at No. 10, but then not again until the third round (They forfeited their second-round pick for signing Anthony Rendon.), so whether the timing works out remains to be seen, but who wouldn’t want to hear dad call his son’s big league debut?
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.