2020 MLB Draft Preview: The Hitters

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Major League Baseball's abbreviated 2020 Draft kicks off Wednesday night with the 1st round at 6 PM CST. The following four rounds will be broadcast on Thursday beginning at 4 PM CST. Slot values have not increased from the 2019 draft. A $20K limit on signing bonuses has been imposed on undrafted free agents.

The Cubs hold the 16th selection in the 1st round ($3,745,500 slot value). They will then choose at 51st overall ($1,436,900) in the 2nd round, 88th in the 3rd ($678,600), 117th in the 4th ($492,700), and 147th in the 5th ($367,900). The Cubs did not lose or gain any picks due to trades or free agent signings. Their total draft pool ($6,721,600) ranks 19th in Majors.

Today I will focus on the top hitters available and then focus on prospects who project to be available when the Cubs are on the clock Wednesday night.

The Top Four

Top college position players: Spencer Torkelson, Austin Martin, Nick Gonzales

I always start my draft prep after Baseball America and MLB Pipeline publish their preseason list. I tend to ignore the top five or so prospects as they rarely, if ever, end up dropping to the range the Cubs are drafting. That held true this year, as Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson and Vanderbilt OF/IF Austin Martin maintained their consensus status atop draft boards. They appear to be locks to go top five, with the power hitting Torkelson most often projected as the #1 pick. Martin is compared to Ian Happ by Baseball America for his power, athleticism and defensive versatility, but with the added skill that Martin is expected to provide far higher contact rates.

At draft time last year, Gonzales was a player considered a future 1st rounder, but not necessarily a top ten prospect because he is likely limited to 2B, doesn't play in a top conference, and his power totals are helped by the elevation in New Mexico. Still, I was 99% sure he would erase any doubts scouts had because the kid simply rakes. After he torched the Cape Cod League last summer and then opened the collegiate season putting up astronomical numbers, he's done just that.

Top prep position players: Zac Veen

For the third year in a row, a player opening the year well inside the range where the Cubs would be picking come June jumped out to me.

When reviewing video of players in the preseason draft rankings this year, I quickly identified Zac Veen as my preferred prep bat. I did not get my hopes up after having them dashed  the last two springs as Jarred Kelenic and then J.J. Bleday rose well beyond the reach of the Cubs by the time each draft rolled around. Even with the Cubs choosing higher this year than they have since their rebuild ended I wasn't going to get my hopes up. Sure enough, Veen now seems to be considered the first or second best prep bat by everyone and is almost a lock to go top ten and perhaps even top five.

Players of Veen's caliber are available in the middle of the 1st round in some years, but there is no dominant prep bat with both present polish and power potential this season. Veen is simply the best combo of what is available, and thus the least likely to slip out of the top ten.

The Best of the Rest

While Torkelson, Martin, Gonzalez and Veen are sure to be off the board by the time the Cubs are on the clock, there are a handful of intriguing bats (and gloves) the team can choose from. We'll start in the collegiate ranks.

Arkansas COF Heston Kjerstad

Ht: 6-3 | Wt: 200 | B-T: L-R

A switch hitting corner outfielder with a long track record of hitting for average and power in the SEC and for the US National team, what's not to love? On the surface he certainly seems like a perfect fit for the Cubs, who lack power hitters (especially from the left side) in their system. But I must admit, I have my doubts about Kjerstad. He's got a complicated swing and that concerns me when the player isn't a fluid athlete. I don't feel confident Kjerstad is capable of future adjustments necessary to make enough contact to consistently access his plus power.


You'd be betting a lot on the bat as Kjerstad projects as no more than average as a defender in RF despite a strong and accurate arm. It appears there are several teams ahead of the Cubs who like Kjerstad so the concerns I harbor may prove moot as he'll likely be off the board.

UCLA CF Garrett Mitchell

Ht: 6-3 | Wt: 204 | B-T: L-R

Another collegiate outfielder who may go before the 16th pick is speedy centerfielder Garrett Mitchell. By most accounts he is the fastest player and best defender among 1st round candidates. After a slow start at the plate during his career with the Bruins, Mitchell improved his batting line in each of his two subsequent seasons, topping out with at .355/.425/.484 this spring before the season ended prematurley. He is far from a sure thing as a hitter however, despite possessing the top set of tools in the class.


Mitchell's mechanics and timing are even more choppy than Kjerstad's, getting out on his front foot and leading to a high groundball rate  and an inability to consistently tap into his plus raw power during game action. I am reminded of the issues David Bote overcame as a young minor leaguer. Hard contact is not a problem for Mitchell, but he often makes contact too far out in front of the plate, resulting in balls driven into the ground instead of into the gap or out of the yard. His issues are currently more pronounced than Kjerstad, but the far superior athlete may have the better odds of resolving them.

An X-Factor regarding Mitchell's draft stock is concern regarding his Type 1 diabetes. It contributed to Mitchell failing to secure a place at the top of the draft as a prep player (he went in the 14th round), but now with a longer track record of controlling his chronic health condition while competing against a high level competition there should be fewer questions. However, each team will assess the risk differently and it is almost impossible to predict how any particular team will view it. I must admit to a bit of positive bias in the hopes of seeing another player with the condition thrive the way Ron Santo managed to do for so long in Chicago.

NC State C Patrick Bailey

Ht: 6-2 | Wt: 192 | B-T: B-R

I'm a little less familiar with Bailey, and haven't watched his work behind the plate extensively, but according to scouting reports there seem to be few concerns he can handle the position. He did not develop into the potential impact defender some projected when he came out of high school, instead settling into the average-to-above-average range. On the positive side, he has gained experience calling his own games according to Baseball America, and from what I've seen his hands are soft and smooth as a receiver. His arm and feet are fine but I don't see him as a guy capable of shutting down a running game.

While he may not have become the defender some scouts expected, Bailey has exceeded all expectations as a hitter. Considered a huge question a few years ago, Bailey has developed above average pop, displays a decent eye, and should make enough contact to project him as a MLB hitter. I don't see any impact potential from either side of the plate, but an average MLB bat from the catcher position is nothing to sneeze at.


Bailey would be a safe, low ceiling/high floor pick. Those selections have their place, but given the Cubs lack of high upside players in their pipeline, I'd prefer to see them take on more risk for a higher payoff.

Arizona C? Austin Wells

Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 200 | B-T: L-R

A player who falls into that greater risk/payoff category is bat-first prospect Austin Wells. Drawing comps to Kyle Schwarber by some, Wells seems unlikely to stick behind the plate, but it wouldn't hurt to let him try as he enters pro ball even if he only develops enough to function as a 3rd catcher on a MLB roster. While first base is his most likely home long term, he may have enough athleticism to get by in left field.


His left handed bat should carry him wherever he ends up, with above average potential for average, power and patience. He lacks the pure power Schwarber possesses, but still could profile as a middle of the order hitter. I prefer Wells over Bailey, but I seem to be in the minority opinion.

Mississippi State 2B Justin Foscue

Ht: 6-0 | Wt: 201 | B-T: R-R

I'm a sucker for second baseman, but that's a tough profile to draft in the middle of the 1st round. You are betting heavily on the bat, which is a tough proposition when it is a right handed only bat as well. But you might be able to talk me into Justin Foscue. I haven't seen enough video, especially of his defense to get a read I'm comfortable with, but I find the bat very intriguing. He shows bat speed, strong wrists/hands and ability to engage his lower half.


Others: C Dillon Dingler (very athletic catcher who played some CF as freshman, with a strong arm behind and good discipline at the plate, he was also starting to show power this year), IF Jordan Westburg (Foscue's teammate is a fast, strong, athletic infielder who is on the upswing but probably can't stick at SS), SS Nick Loftin (reportedly a solid defender all over the diamond who started to show some pop this year).

 

From here, I will move on to the prep bats. While Zac Veen offers the best combination of tools among their ranks, there are a handful of players who offer higher upside as defenders (Pete Crow-Armstrong, Ed Howard), in the power department (Austin Hendrick), or as pure hitters (Robert Hassell III, Tyler Soderstrom).

There may be additional prep prospects the Cubs will consider beyond these five, and we've seen them go off the board a bit in recent drafts, but with the shortened (and in some cases non-existent) high school season this spring it is difficult for me to provide substantive analysis beyond this group due to a lack of recent video. This group has at least been on the radar as 1st round prospects dating back to at least their junior seasons so there is more video and info available for me to assess.

OF Robert Hassell III

Ht: 6-2 | Wt: 190 | B-T: L-L

Lauded by most for having the best pure hit tool among the prep class, Hassell was a standout on the US 18U National Team last summer, batting .514/.548/.886. He's shown off a good eye and plate coverage over an extended period according to scouts. You won't find many who think Hassell won't hit as a pro.


So why might Hassell make it to the Cubs at 16? He likely won't, but there are enough questions regarding his power potential and ability to stick in center field where the possibility for a small slide exist.

Hassell isn't a quick twitch athlete at the plate or in field. He is long and lean and takes some time to build up to his above average speed. His frame may not accommodate much additional muscle mass and I've seen future power projections anywhere from 45-55. Even the lowest end of that spectrum would lock up a top ten slot if he was a no doubt center fielder, but if his first step on defense doesn't end up being good enough to play in the middle of the diamond his overall impact diminishes. Given the small center field dimensions of Wrigley Field, Hassell's ultimate range as a defender may be less of an issue to the Cubs than other organizations. He's capable of 90+ from the mound, so there is no doubt his arm plays in right field if it comes to that.

CF Pete Crow-Armstrong

Ht: 6-0 | Wt: 175 | B-T: L-L

Above average speed, a plus arm (clocked 90+ from outfield) and a hard nosed style of play make Crow-Armstrong easy to like as a defender in center field and as a runner on the bases. A player who has been on the radar for years, a combination of prospect fatigue and a below expectations junior campaign dropped his stock heading into the year. He regained some of his lost momentum with strong performances this spring as one of the players who had an opportunity to showcase himself in games before the lockdown.


I've remained a fan of his skillset and instincts as an up-the-middle player. He possesses solid bat speed and his smooth left handed swing creates plenty of line drives. His power potential likely tops out in the low teens, and may never consistently even reach that level, but he isn't a slap hitter that will be handicapped at the plate by a lack of strength.


OF Austin Hendrick

Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 205| B-T: L-L

Hendrick is one of the older members of the prep class as he will turn 19 soon after the draft. And while that doesn't always line up with the prospect also being one of the more physically mature, it does in this case. Hendrick is powerfully built with quick hands and plenty of raw strength. Consistency has been an issue according to scouts, which becomes a bigger concern when factoring in his age and the lower level of competition he faces in Pennsylvania.

I wasn't a fan of the swing he deployed as a junior but I've seen more recent video which is encouraging (although he didn't get an opportunity to showcase it in games this spring). Depending on how real any improvements this year are, Hendrick could fall into the same high risk/reward category that Kjerstad does for me as a power-above-hit player, but I think there is greater upside and more chance he reaches it because of his superior athleticism.

And boy, the kid can hit bombs. As a taste, here he is showing off that power in Wrigley, a sight I could get used to:


Like Hassell, Hendrick is borderline in center field, but his power profiles just fine in a corner if he ends up there.

C(?) Tyler Soderstrom

Ht: 6-2 | Wt: 190 | B-T: L-R

A polished left handed bat who makes loud contact to all fields. I'm not crazy about his lower half at the plate but I do like his bat speed and hand strength and I can see above-average-to-plus power coming in the future. He's already done some tinkering this year and I can understand if someone wanted to make a case for Soderstrom having the highest ceiling for prep hitters in the draft.


The big question with Soderstrom is where he plays. He's behind the plate right now, and while the position isn't out of the question, he's considered raw there and a team may not want to see his offensive development slowed while he learns the skills needed to be a MLB caliber catcher. Unlike Austin Wells, who projects only to 1B and LF, Soderstrom possess enough athleticism where 3B and RF could be on the table as well for an eventual defensive home. He's showcased himself at the hot corner this spring and has drawn some positive first impressions.

SS Ed Howard

Ht: 6-2 | Wt: 185 | B-T: R-R

Local product Ed Howard of Mt. Carmel HS (and former 2014 LLWS alum of Jackie Robinson West) will draw plenty of fan interest. He is also one of the few true shortstops at the top of the draft class. There are no standout tools, but Howard projects as a solid player across the board. He's an instinctual defender with smooth hands and an above average range and arm at short. Howard is also compact and smooth at the plate with plenty of bat speed. He has yet to fill out his frame and didn't show off much power as a junior but 15-20 homer potential exists.


According to MLB Pipeline the state of Illinois has not produced a 1st round prep player since Jayson Werth in 1997.

Others: CF David Calabrese (Among youngest players available, a similar player to Crow-Armstrong except he might have a higher ceiling thanks to better foot and bat speed).

Comments

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  • Thanks for this, Michael. Really hard to get up for the draft when there has been no baseball this spring. And even harder when it now appears that any baseball this year is seriously in doubt.

    I usually am with the players against the owners when there are labor disputes, but the players need to give now. There is no way they should get paid 100% of their prorated salary when those salaries were agreed to with the expectation that fans would be in the seats. I don't care how much money the Ricketts family has, it shouldn't be on the owners to pay full freight when they will be only taking in a fraction of the revenue. A 50-50 revenue split seems quite fair.

    It sure makes the players look greedy. And I wish Boras would STFU.

  • In reply to TTP:

    That makes sense, but who knows where Baseball is going at this point? Or the country for that matter. It could be a few years before things get back to normal. The season was suspended. No money was coming in and the players provided no service. Losses should be divided equally and profits as well. There is a time to negotiate and a time to prioritize your product. I remember during the 1970's oil embargo, a then unknown car company introduced the hatchback 'great little car' concept. Mazda prospered after while other car manufacturers struggled. Employees settled for less for a minute and recouped double time later. This is not one of the games finer moments.

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    I am very happy to actually read about prospects again. I hope that Garett Mitchell is available because we need a lead off man, but if he's not available let's take a possible #1 pitcher.
    Thanks Mike.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    How about Brennan Davis for a lead off hitter? His OBP was .381 last year. But I like Garett Mitchell too. Maybe we can use both. And I am with you with drafting a potential #1 pitcher. You always can use those. Problem is the failure rate on pitching is higher.

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    In reply to John57:

    When I think about our pitching I'm reminded of the movie "The World According to Garp" with Robin Williams. He's looking for a house and the one they're looking at suddenly has a plane crash into it. Williams says he'll take it--what are the chances this could happen again?
    I'm almost to that point when we draft pitchers. We've drafted so many that didn't make the majors "What's the chance this could happen again?" I know it's not a true analogy, but with new people in our minor league development programs I'm hoping they can break the cycle.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Now that's funny.

    But, *what if* that house has some sort of tracking device that draws in wayward aircraft? That seems to be the case with our pitching development.

    I won't rehash the details here, I've done that in previous articles, but the complete organizational shakeup last offseason wasn't completely voluntarily from Epstein's point. Systemic flaws were identified and changes were made. We all hope it makes a difference going forward.

  • In reply to John57:

    Would love to have Mitchell leading off, followed by Bryant, Davis or Rizzo, Rizzo or Davis, Báez, Willson, ? possibly Roederer or ?, Hoerner or Strumpf or ? Caveats being who is lost &/or signed in FA or traded away/for by the time Davis & Mitchell would be ready for prime time.

    Mitchell’s speed & ability to hit/GOB really excites the heck outta me. Plus he would answer the CF & leadoff question for years to come once ready.

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    I’ve seen Mitchell and Mick Abel (a HS pitcher) mocked to the Cubs. Abel throws between 95-100 and his control is getting better. We can never have enough pitching but we’ve been waiting for a lead-off man for years and Mitchell is one. A very good CF with 70 speed is just what we’ve been looking for.

  • Michael, thanks for the article.

    The Cubs hopefully will continue to draft some athletic high school bats, after the 1st round.

    I read some good things about Isaiah Greene HS-CF from CA.

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