Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
The 2020 Major League Baseball draft is three days away, with a slew of rumors and speculation about what will happen in the first round.
Given the circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic, this draft will be unlike any other one that MLB has conducted. The five-round format has already impacted the talent that teams have to choose from.
ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel reported three high school players—Dylan Crews, Kyle Teel, Brandon Fields—officially withdrew from the draft, and Florida State outfielder Reese Albert intends to return to school next year for his senior season.
None of those players were likely to be taken on the first day, but it does impact the overall depth in the class not having them available.
As for what might end up happening in the draft, here are the latest rumors and speculation leading up to the first round on Wednesday.
Orioles Getting Creative at No. 2?
The Detroit Tigers appear set on Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson with the first overall pick. Assuming that comes to pass, the real drama will start at No. 2 with the Baltimore Orioles.
The Athletic’s Keith Law has the Orioles going with Vanderbilt’s Austin Martin, but added he’s heard they could try to do an under-slot deal with Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad and use the savings to select high-end talent with lucrative price tags at No. 30 and 39.
MLB.com has Kjerstad ranked as the 10th-best prospect, noting he has the best left-handed power in the 2020 class.
Martin is widely regarded as the No. 2 player, behind Torkelson, in this year’s draft. MLB.com notes he’s the best pure hitter available and could end up playing center field in pro ball.
Per MLB.com’s Jim Callis, slot value for the second pick is $7,789,900. No. 30 and 39 are worth a combined $4.272 million.
During their rebuild, one thing the Orioles have been good at is not overthinking things early in the draft. They took Adley Rutschman with the top pick last year, and he’s their best prospect on the fast track to the big leagues.
Even though Martin will likely cost more than Kjerstad, he’s a superior talent and is a strong enough hitter to move through the system quickly.
Royals Targeting Hitters
Even though there remains debate over the name the Kansas City Royals will select at No. 4 overall, the consensus is it will be a position player.
Law noted the rumor that “won’t go away” for the Royals is Florida high school outfielder Zac Veen, suggesting it’s “in part because there’s a clear top three in the draft and then a gap before the next tier of talent.”
MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo has the Royals taking New Mexico State second baseman Nick Gonzales “narrowly over Veen.”
Unlike the Orioles with Martin or Kjerstad, there’s not nearly as much separation between Veen and Gonzales in draft rankings.
In his top 100 big board, Law has Veen at No. 5 and Gonzales at No. 7: “Veen is an athletic and still very projectable 18-year-old center fielder who has one of the best swings in the class. He’s a left-handed hitter with a smooth swing, accelerating his hands quickly to produce hard contact and huge power.“
Gonzales has been a terrific hitter throughout his amateur career. The 21-year-old put up a .392/.484/.690 slash line with 25 home runs in 112 games from 2018-19. He was named MVP of the Cape Cod League last summer after finishing second in average (.351), first in slugging (.630) and on-base percentage (.451).
The offensive profile is more than strong enough to carry Gonzales through the minors, though he’s also a solid second baseman who can play average defense.
Kansas City is coming off consecutive 100-loss seasons, so there’s no wrong direction for the team to go with this pick. There’s more certainty with Gonzales because of his performance in college, but Veen’s upside would make him an appealing option for the franchise.
Pirates Poised to Be a Wild Card
Even as most teams keep their options open to be prepared in case one of their players gets taken, the Pittsburgh Pirates appear to be all over the map when they make their first pick at No. 7.
Axisa had the Pirates selecting Gonzales in his mock, while Mayo had Kjerstad going to them.
One potential late entrant in the mix, according to Law, is Oregon high school pitcher Mick Abel: “The Pirates have supposedly spent ‘a lot of time’ on Abel, which doesn’t mean they’ll take him, but they’re serious about the possibility, and I also heard they didn’t want to go too safe.”
CBS Sports’ R.J. Anderson ranked Abel as the seventh-best prospect in the class, noting scouts are high on the right-hander’s potential as a future starter:
“Based on their past observations, Abel has a chance to be a high-quality big-league starter. He has a tall, lean frame that ought to support muscle gain over the coming years; he’s a good athlete who can repeat his delivery, boding well for his command and control; and his arsenal includes three flowering pitches: a lively fastball that can bump the upper-90s and a slider and a changeup.”
One issue for teams in this draft, especially with high school players, is the pandemic cut off the amateur season very early.
Teams had scouting notes from showcase events in past summers, but things can change drastically—positively or negatively—based on what happens in the final weeks before the draft.
Abel only made one start for Jesuit High School before play was halted. The 18-year-old has enough upside to be worth the investment for Pittsburgh at No. 7, but the increased risk makes it logical the team would have multiple college hitters on its radar.