These non-first-rounders will have the best careers

June 17th, 2020

The 2020 Draft is in the rearview mirror, but people definitely still want to talk about it, from signings (follow them all on Draft Tracker) and news of non-drafted free agents filtering in.

We’ve had plenty of post-Draft coverage, with looks at which teams had the best Drafts this year to our favorite Day 2 picks for every team. We spent the entirety of the Pipeline Podcast breaking down the Draft as well.

So it should surprise absolutely no one that this week’s Pipeline Inbox is 100-percent dedicated to the Draft. Enjoy!

There are always players with “first-round talent” taken outside of the opening round. Especially in the bonus pool era, teams manipulate their pools and go after high-end talent who slipped out of the first round, often because of signability.

With that in mind, the easy answer to this question is Jared Kelley, the high school right-hander from Texas taken by the White Sox in the second round, No. 47 overall. Kelley entered the Draft ranked No. 12 overall, the second-highest ranked prep arm in the class behind Mick Abel. Pick value for No. 47 is $1.58 million, but I think it’s safe to assume the White Sox will have to give Kelley a good deal more than that to make sure he doesn’t head to the University of Texas (fear not, White Sox fans, I have faith that will happen).

There are some other highly-ranked players who went in the later rounds. Third-rounders RHP Cole Wilcox (Padres) and SS Casey Martin (Phillies) both were ranked in the top 30 and are college guys with undeniable raw stuff and tools. They could be big steals.

Two other third-rounders who stand out to me are both Top 100 guys, but not as highly ranked as those mentioned above. Both will likely require above-slot bonuses to sign (again, they’re going to sign). But I really like Kyle Harrison, the Giants’ pick at No. 85 overall. He was the second-highest ranked high school lefty in the class and he really knows how to pitch. And the Indians got high school outfielder Petey Halpin, who might have been a bit underrated heading into the Draft. He has plus speed and can really hit.

As I mentioned above, and I’m sure we’ll talk about many times over as the signing deadline (now Aug. 1) gets closer, nearly everyone who was taken in the top five rounds will sign. Last year, all but two picks taken in the top 10 rounds signed. And both of the unsigned players happened later on (Rangers seventh-rounder Brandon Sproat and Cubs 10th round pick Wyatt Hendrie), meaning every single player in the top five rounds actually signed.

It’s impossible to guarantee that every single player from this year’s 160 picks will sign, but it’s a pretty safe bet. And it’s clear the Red Sox had a plan as to how to deal with their smaller bonus pool and a lack of a second-round pick. Yes, we were all a bit stunned when they took Nick Yorke in the first round (more on that below), but we quickly figured out they must be saving money to go after a player more aggressively later on. That turned out to be Jordan in Round 3.

We had Jordan, who had reclassified last summer to be a part of this Draft class, ranked at No. 42, so more of a second-round talent. It wouldn't have shocked us if someone moved him up a bit higher because they really believed in his ability to tap into his ridiculous raw power. But there’s little chance the Red Sox took Jordan with pick No. 89 without knowing if they could sign him. If he did go on to Mississippi State and he started crushing homers left and right, then sure, he’d go higher. But I fully expect him to become a part of the Red Sox organization.

I will readily admit that we were all pretty shocked when we found out that Yorke was going to be the No. 17 overall pick in the Draft. Some day, when I write my tell-all autobiography, I’ll release the internal messaging those of us at MLB Pipeline were having about our initial reaction. And we’re still a bit surprised, even though we understand what the Red Sox were doing (read the above answer about Blaze Jordan for more on that front).

I will say that I have talked to area scouts who really love Yorke’s bat. There are a lot of people who think he can really, really hit, for average and power. We had a 55 grade on his bat with 50 power, but there are those who have both of those higher. Obviously, we didn’t peg him as a first-rounder -- we had him ranked No. 139 on our Top 200. But the Red Sox believe in the bat and were looking to save money. Yorke might not have been signable later on, but the savings will allow them to help pay for Jordan.

Was it the most surprising first-round pick in history? That’s a little tough to answer, especially given how little attention was paid to the Draft in the early years. But over the past several years where more and more eyes have been on the event, it has to be the most surprising selection since the Cubs took Hayden Simpson at No. 16 in the 2010 Draft.

I still remember being with Jim Callis at MLB Network for that year’s broadcast, the second one the Network carried, and no one knew who Simpson was. Luckily for all of us, Jim had done Baseball America’s Alabama list that year and had snuck Simpson on to the end of it, so he was able to step in and save us all from looking like a deer caught in the headlights.

Gorman, who was the Cardinals’ first-round pick (No. 19 overall) out of the Arizona high school ranks in 2018, is now the organization’s No. 2 prospect and No. 47 on our Top 100 list. At the time of the Draft, he was No. 12 on our Top 200 Draft prospects list. Walker went No. 21 overall in this year’s Draft and the Georgia prep standout was ranked No. 33 on our list.

I provide that mostly for context. In some ways, both players had similar profiles entering the Draft, as guys with a ton of raw power and some concerns about the ability to make enough contact to get to it. We had Gorman as a 50 hit, 60 power player and he still has those grades now. Walker had a 45 hit tool and 60 power grade, so he’ll have to show that he can make adjustments (something he’s done at times), as Gorman has, to move into Gorman territory in terms of prospect rankings once he’s entered pro ball.

Both players had some questions about their ability to stay at third long-term, largely because of size and range. Gorman’s been fine there and has improved with the Cardinals very much committed to him sticking there. We’ll have to see what happens with Walker as he fills out his 6-foot-5 frame. I think I’m giving Gorman the slight edge, both in terms of who will be better in the long-term and who will stick at third. But I don’t think anyone will complain with a lineup that has, say, Gorman in the cleanup spot at the hot corner and Walker hitting fifth while playing right field, right?