Inbox: How will 2020 impact development?

October 1st, 2020

So many postseason games, with so many prospect-related angles. On Wednesday, we saw Twins prospect Alex Kirilloff make history by picking up his first hit while making his debut start in the playoffs. We’re going to see Braves pitching prospects Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright play a very large role as starters throughout Atlanta’s run. The list goes on and on.

And so do your questions. This week’s array includes an often-repeated question about how 2020 will impact development, some 2021 Draft talk and a look back at our rookie rankings.

Both Jim Callis and I have gotten questions like this for much of this unusual season, so we spent time discussing it on this week’s Pipeline Podcast. And, truth be told, we tend to answer this question with question marks or shrugs of our own. The real answer is that no one really knows how this layoff is going to impact the development of Minor Leaguers. The only thing we do know is all 30 teams are in the same boat. There was only so much they could do to create a competitive setting at alternate sites. Nothing really replicates the reps that come with a 140-game Minor League season.

But one theory I’m working with as I’ve talked to some farm directors for recaps on alternate camps we are doing (check out Callis’ Marlins alternate camp report) is that the really young guys who were in camp may end up being positively impacted. Or at least it being closer to even since not getting 500 at-bats or 100 innings is hard to erase. But for the Class A or Rookie-level players who got the chance to compete against Double-A and Triple-A players, not to mention former big leaguers, that experience might prove invaluable. Like with everything this year, we’ll have to wait and see what the repercussions are (yes, I think pitchers will have to be on tight innings limits in 2021, for example.), but if you see some of those teenage types who were at alternate sites jumping into higher levels next year, maybe that’s why.

You’re right that the strength of the 2021 Draft, at least as far as we can tell, is on the position player side. In last week’s Inbox, Mr. Callis did a quick mock of the top 10 picks and six of the 10 selections were hitters. But only one, Florida’s Jud Fabian, was an outfielder.

While we haven’t done an official ranking of the 2021 Draft class just yet, I can dive a bit deeper into a master list of potential draftees to find a list of outfielders for you. Here’s a list of 10, in a bit of a loose order, who could very well find themselves in or around the first round next July (in case you missed it, the 2021 Draft will take place during the All-Star break in Atlanta):

1. Jud Fabian, Florida
2. Colton Cowser, Sam Houston State
3. Ethan Wilson, South Alabama
4. James Wood, IMG Academy (Fla.)
5. Joshua Baez, Dexter Southfield HS (Mass.)
6. Sal Frelick, Boston College
7. Benny Montgomery, Red Land HS (Pa.)
8. Tyree Reed, American Canyon HS (Calif.)
9. Braylon Bishop. Texarkana HS (Ark.)
10. Christian Franklin, Arkansas

It’s split 5-5 between high schoolers and college players, though it should be noted there’s some exciting depth on the prep side of things, guys who could leap up into this conversation with a normal and productive spring.

We could have very easily gone much deeper than 25 on this list, especially when looking at pitchers (particularly relievers) who had strong seasons. I will say that three of us at MLB Pipeline voted on the rankings and one of us had Luzardo in the top 25 (lower down) and two did not. Keep in mind, this was a list solely based on this year’s performance, compared to other rookies, and not based on long-term value. In that ranking, Callis rightfully ranked Luzardo No. 4 overall.

There are some statistical reasons to keep Luzardo off. Among all rookie pitchers who threw 20 or more innings in the big leagues in 2020, Luzardo was 38th in baserunners per nine innings (11.9), largely because of his 8.85 hits-per-nine rate.

Comparing him more closely to the pitchers who did end up on the Top 25, the lefty doesn’t quite measure up, either. His 4.12 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 4.19 FIP, .257 BAA, .745 OPS and 108 OPS+ were all far worse than any other pitcher on the list. Again, long term, I probably take Luzardo ahead of anyone else on this list (he is the first pitcher ranked on the long-term value story, which ranks only pitchers who surpassed rookie status in 2020). As valuable as he was to the A’s, and as great as it was that he got the ball in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series, he fell a little short comparatively for this list.

I’ll take the second part first because I’m concerned you’re listening in to my conversations. I was just talking about Gunnar Henderson, the organization’s No. 6 prospect, recently with the Orioles as I worked on their alternate camp report and let’s just say the powers that be were very impressed. I was told point blank they believe Henderson belongs on the Top 100. We obviously haven’t started looking at 2021 just yet, and it’s going to be tough to figure out how to change the lists since there was no Minor League Baseball this year and the pro scouts we usually talk to didn’t get to see the players from other organizations play. But I can assure you, I’ll make sure he comes up in conversation.

As for the first question, I don’t see GM Mike Elias having any hesitation taking a college pitcher in the top 5 if that’s the best player available. You need to have a very short memory in terms of the Draft and take each year for what it gives you. Over the years, scouting staffs might develop a reputation, like the Cubs did for developing hitters, but that shouldn’t preclude them from taking a pitcher if he is the best player on the board based on their evaluation.

If you want to lay the blame for Mark Appel and Brady Aiken (who was a high school pitcher when he was taken No. 1 overall, and based on what’s gone on with him since, perhaps Houston was right to walk away?) at Elias’ feet, then you also need to give him credit for Lance McCullers Jr. (No. 41 overall in 2012), Daniel Mengden (fourth round, 2014), Trent Thornton and Tom Eshelman (2015) and top Astros pitching prospect Forrest Whitley (2016) -- and yes, the jury is still out on him at this point. Yes, I’m cherry-picking guys with positive WAR in the big leagues (except for Whitley, who has yet to pitch there). But it proves the point, right? Elias and his staff can draft pitching just fine. Now, it happens that next year’s Draft class is bat-heavy, so there might not be an arm to take, but I don’t see the Orioles fearing going in that direction if it makes sense.