Inbox: Looking ahead to Draft, future aces

April 16th, 2020

Generally this time of year, Jim Callis and I would be starting to really shift our focus to the upcoming Draft. Under normal circumstances, we’d be balancing it with the start of the Minor League season and how the top prospects in the game were faring.

With that part of our worlds on pause, we’ve been able to focus even more on the 2020 Draft class. We talked about it at length during this week’s Pipeline Podcast, where Jim and I simulated a Draft based on who we would take in the top 20 picks. And we’ll also re-rank and expand our top 100 list, first to 150, then to 200. So it seemed only fitting to kick off this week’s Inbox with a Draft-related query.

As I mentioned, Jim Callis and I are working on re-ranking and expanding our Draft list as I write this, and that ranking will definitely reflect what we’re hearing in terms of guys potentially sliding out of first-round consideration. Without giving too much away, right now it sounds like you’re not wrong about Casey Martin, who was No. 15 on our Top 100 list back in December. The Arkansas infielder still has tremendous raw tools, especially that power-speed combination, but he really struggled out of the gate before things got shut down. Given the swing-and-miss concerns that were there already, seeing him end up in the second round isn’t unreasonable.

In December, we had Daniel Cabrera at No. 34, so we didn’t necessarily see him as a slam dunk first-round pick. I don’t think he’s going to move much in either direction in our revamped list. Could he go at the back end of the first round? Sure. Could he be more of a comp round or second round selection? I could see that as well.

Another obvious name would be J.T. Ginn, and we already moved the Mississippi State right-hander from the teens to the mid-30s because he needed Tommy John surgery. I could see someone taking a shot with him in the second round and helping him rehab with their professional staff. I’ll throw one more college name at you: Florida State’s C.J. Van Eyk. It’s not that Van Eyk was bad during his four starts this year, he was solid outside of his command. It’s more that it seems others have passed by him. Maybe he’s more of a sandwich guy, but he’s no longer looking like a surefire first-rounder.

And as for your question about the length of the Draft, there’s still no news on that front. But I promise we’ll let you know as soon as we do.

Indeed, Mize and Pearson are just about knocking on the big league door and with both being in the top 10 of our Top 100 prospects list, they’re considered the top two right-handed pitching prospects in the game. Mize is No. 7 overall and Pearson is one spot behind him. Predicting who will be in their shoes in two years is an interesting challenge, one where I have to figure out who will have graduated from the list before then (putting aside trying to figure out what this year’s stoppage means for any of this).

The first name that comes to mind is Grayson Rodriguez of the Orioles. We all saw what he can on a big stage in last year’s Futures Game. The size, stuff and feel for pitching are legit and he’s only going to get better. He’s also not pitched above the Class A South Atlantic League, so thinking he’ll be at the upper levels in two seasons sounds about right. There’s always the chance that his development speeds up and he’s graduated, but he’d be my first choice.

The other arm I’ll throw out there is Matthew Liberatore, now with the Cardinals. Again, an outside chance our No. 6 left-handed pitching prospect will have ascended to St. Louis, but it’s just as easy to envision him being in that “one phone call away” territory. Liberatore’s only going to continue adding strength to his 6-foot-5 frame, and I think his stuff is going to continue to tick upward and he already has a very good feel for pitching with an extremely cerebral approach to his craft.

I’d love to say there’s an obvious yes to this question,. I’m not sure there is, but I’ll throw out a couple of possibilities in a minute. It should be noted that while there were a lot of question marks surrounding the big league rotation at the start of the year, there was the potential to have a solid, and largely homegrown, staff ready to go and not all that old. That could provide some stability as the organization continues to try to develop starting pitching talent from within.

Now, last I checked, a rotation needs five starters and I tend not to worry about labels like "No. 1" or "ace." That said, the only guy currently in the system who I see as a sure bet to hit the big league rotation is Ryan Rolison, the team’s No. 2 prospect. The 2018 first-rounder had a solid first full season, though he doesn’t have the pure stuff you normally associate with a frontline starter. That doesn’t mean he won’t get there with his combination of solid stuff and pitchability. It’s more that he seems more like a really good No. 3 type starter.

After that, it’s tough to pinpoint an arm in their top 30 who screams top of the rotation. I would keep an eye on No. 17 prospect Helcris Olivarez. He’s only 19, he’s still growing (he’s already 6-foot-3) and is going to keep adding strength. There’s more consistent velocity to come, and he has the chance to have at least two plus pitches. If Rolison’s the high floor guy -- the one you feel pretty comfortable is going to be a big league rotation piece, but maybe not a No. 1 or 2 -- then Olivarez is the one you can dream will eventually get there, with as high a ceiling as any pitcher in the system, even if he has a ways to go to get there.