Top-heavy. That is what 2020 looks like for college hitters. At the very top is one of those can’t miss bats, followed by four more prospects who are a cut above the rest. It’s a good thing the draft is only five rounds because as far as college hitters are concerned it is a significant drop off beyond that.
Actually, I’m not being fair. As you’ll notice, once we get to the halfway point of the top 20, the pattern of wishing for more games to see if a kid’s numbers are for real will become obvious. The coronavirus has really done a number to many of these kids’ stock values. For this reason, I predict that even though there are only five rounds, we will see more solid prospects coming out after round one than in many years. We simply do not have the sample sizes. Let’s get to it.
1. Spencer Torkelson, 1B, Arizona State
Let’s not overthink this. Spencer Torkelson has the highest ceiling in this draft. There is a potential to hit .290 with 45 home runs if everything comes up Milhouse. The future Tigers (?) first baseman hit an insane 48 dingers in just 112 games at Arizona State or once every 8.3 at-bats. That is exceptional power, but not unheard of. If you consider that his college career slash was .337/.723/1.166. This kid got on base too. Before the 2020 season was postponed, Tork was working on a 31:15 BB:K ratio. That’s 31 walks in just 17 games. This is the kind of bat you hope you can get. There are a lot of comparisons to Kris Bryant and I have to say that I tend to agree. It’s possible he could only spend 160 or so games in the minors before being called up just like Cubs’ former NL MVP. Many outlets will argue that Austin Martin should be picked higher than Tork. To them I just say that if Torkelson could field any other position, this wouldn’t even be a debate — and that is enough for me to suggest there really shouldn’t be a debate in the first place.
2. Nick Gonzales, 2B, New Mexico State
Yes, we all know Nick Gonzales’ stats are inflated by the altitude of his home games at New Mexico State. Still, I don’t think anyone was expecting 12 homers in 16 games to start the 2020 season. The undersized 2B was on pace to shatter every Aggie single-season hitting record, which means in a place where everyone puts up numbers, Gonzales might just be the absolute best ever — not that it will silence those who believe he’s that geographic location he hits is more important than the manner in which he hits:
Let’s address the ranking of Gonzales over Martin, as that is probably what you scoffed at moments ago. They are of similar value with Gonzales having more power potential while Martin is likely to put up more all-around numbers. Gonzales is above Martin because he plays a premium fantasy position. If the two are likely to contribute similar value, I’ll take the infielder over the outfielder.
3. Austin Martin, SS/OF, Vanderbilt
That brings us to Martin. He’s got at least borderline plus tools across the board and is perhaps the most skilled player in the draft. The two guys above him just happened to have louder tools. A top-100 prospect coming out of high school (as most Vanderbilt commits are), it’s hard to find a negative in Martin’s game. He’s steadily hit for more power every season. There is a lot of gap power to go with his speed so he’s likely to be one of those guys who leads the league in triples and keeps a high XBH%, which leads to both runs and RBIs. While he is the kind of player you’ll want on your dynasty team, I’m just not sure he can be the best player on your dynasty team if you want to win. I see a 20/20 floor here, and he’ll need a step forward to become an elite outfielder.
4. Garrett Mitchell, OF, UCLA
One of the most talented players in the draft, Garrett Mitchell is also one of the most polarizing. Some scouts say he is the best prospect they have ever seen, citing raw ability. Some disagree that raw ability either can be refined or is closer to its peak right now than they’d like. He’s got big power potential and the ability to swipe 15-20 bags, but he’s got swing-and-miss issues. The interesting thing about Mitchell is that everybody knows why he only hit six home runs in his college career: his swing. It’s no secret that he can’t generate power on the outer half to the plate due to his mechanics. This is a fixable issue, provided Mitchell is willing to work to fix it. But how much more power is there? Part of his value will be tied to who drafts him: a team with a history of developing players, or a team that lets them figure it out on their own — yes, there still are some of them out there.
5. Heston Kjerstad, OF, Arkansas
Thirty homers in 132 games, mainly against SEC pitching, will earn you a first-round selection in any year’s draft. Somehow, I feel like we were just starting to see what Heston Kjerstad was capable of. The Razorbacks’ outfielder cut his K rate in half while increasing his already impressive power with six homers in his first 14 games, all while slashing .424/.814/.1.299 in non-conference play. There are a few guys on this list I really wish I could see more of. I’m not sure that is the case with Kjerstad. I feel like if we saw more, he’d be harder to get on draft day. Scoop him up. He’s a gamble, but the odds are pretty good. In my opinion, I’d rather have Kjerstad than J.J. Bleday.
6. Austin Wells, C, Arizona
The best offensive catcher in the draft is Austin Wells. There are certainly better defensive catchers, but few put the package together of potential power and a solid approach. That said, I think Wells is the type of catcher you should target now that we move closer to robo-umps. There is a decent chance he ends up at first base, but you should pick him knowing that this is a gamble, as all catching prospects are. He was also better defensively than predicted, but that says more about how low expectations were than how well he received. In the batter’s box, Wells posted a 46:43 BB:K rate as a freshman to go along with a 1.000 OPS. He was on the way to do the same thing in 2020. Traditionally, catchers take a leap in the second or third year. As a draft-eligible sophomore, we’ll never know if Wells made the jump. But we will know if the bat is for real fairly quick.
7. Dillon Dingler, C/1B, Ohio State
A catcher who could hit leadoff? I’m sold. If you’ve read my articles before, you know I’m always on the hunt for unique profiles. I like Dillon Dingler for this reason. Converted from center field as a freshman, Dingler showed a selective approach in his first two years with the Buckeyes. He was in the midst of an explosion in 2020 with a handful of homers to go along with a .340/760/1.164 slash — all career highs for him. He also has fewer miles on his knees due to the position transition. There is also the potential to steal 15 bases.
8. Aaron Sabato, 1B, North Carolina
Aaron Sabato absolutely mashed in conference play in 2019, so much so that he was named co-Freshman of the Year for the entire country. He hit 13 homers and had a 1.000+ OPS. Some of those trends continued in a brief 2020 stint. It’s debatable whether Sabato is a first-rounder due to the simple fact that he did not get a chance to build on his freshman year and he’s a draft-eligible sophomore. To make matters worse, he’s a right-handed first baseman who isn’t a great fielder. That means if he makes it to the majors, it will be his bat that takes him there.
9. Daniel Cabrera, OF, LSU
Daniel Cabrera is one of those prospects who has good all-around tools, but nothing stands out. While that may seem like someone you’d pass on, I’ll take a late-round flier on him any day. Those are the guys who improve on one area and become starters on your team. He does come with red flags, however, as he has never really been dominant. He has a history and reputation of being contact-oriented and good at working the count. Those are two skills I like to see. If only he could work on the launch angle.
10. Parker Chavers, OF, Coastal Carolina
Don’t let the fact that he played for Coastal Carolina fool you. Parker Chavers has got pop and speed. There is always a concern when guys come from weaker conferences. At the same time, Chavers put up numbers that will make you wonder why you didn’t see it if you don’t grab him. A draft-eligible sophomore, Chavers hit 22 homers between 2018 and 2019. Shoulder surgery kept him out of the first and only part of the 2020 season. Shoulder surgeries also linger for roughly a year, so it’s possible he comes back with diminished power. Don’t be fooled.
11. Casey Martin, SS, Arkansas
The fastest player in the 2020 draft, Casey Martin has hit for a surprising amount of power in his first two seasons as a Razorback (28 homers in two seasons). More than anything, getting on base will be the key for Martin. No-doubt contact issues, Martin has been able to maintain an almost .400 OBP in SEC play. That will be tested in the minors as he faces breaking balls more often. The potential for a dynamic leadoff hitter is there, but the risk is high.
12. Zach DeLoach, OF, Texas A&M
Before 2019, to say Zach DeLoach was a middling prospect would be an overstatement. Not even hitting .250 in two years with the Aggies, DeLoach looked very much like his career was over once he finished college. Then he went to the Cape Cod League. He turned heads and his career trajectory by winning the batting title, slashing .353/.541/.969 with five homers. in 37 games. DeLoach then returned to Texas and maybe got even better. In the first 18 games of 2020, DeLoach hit more home runs (6) than the previous two years combined. By slashing .421/.789/1.336 to start 2020, it’s possible that if 2020 continued, he could have played his way into the first round. He also trimmed his walk rate down from 15% to 3% and raised his BB rate from 12% to 18%. There’s above-average speed here too.
13. Anthony Servideo, 2B/SS, Ole Miss
Coming into 2020 with a notable swing change, Anthony Servideo drove the ball farther and much more often. So much so that I’m betting this becomes more of a trend for him. He also has the ability to play up the middle. I’m guessing he ends up at second, but it’s hard to tell at this point. This kid also has plus speed, stealing 33 bags between 83 games in 2019-2020. Bottom line: there is noticeable room to grow here, which is rare for guys coming out of college. And, I think Servideo is likely to be one of those guys who continues to work on his game.
14. Zavier Warren, INF, Central Michigan
Zavier Warren represents a special kind of asset. He could play catcher, second, third, or even shortstop. It all depends on what organization he goes to. If we’re thinking out of the box here, he could be a catcher, if given enough time to adjust to the position as a pro, but I’d rather see him at second base, or a utility man, a la Whit Merrifield or Ben Zobrist. He doesn’t have a ton of power, and his speed is somewhere between average and plus. Still, Warren can get on base. This guy is good at everything, and there isn’t a hole in his game. He just needs to improve in some areas.
15. Tyler Keenan, 3B, Ole Miss
A thick third baseman with a history of power for an elite program in the elite conference, Tyler Keenan emerging as a top 100 prospect a year from now wouldn’t be a surprise. What I like about Keenan is his power and penchant to draw free passes, at a 15% rate. He’s got 24 home runs in 120+ games in the SEC and the power seemed to be on the rise. There is a good chance Keenan ends up at first base, but if the power keeps improving, it would play there. At the same time, there could be a team that is convinced he can play third and they take I’m in the first two rounds.
16. Gage Workman, OF, Arizona State
When I think of Gage Workman, I think of Trevor Larnach. A three-year starter who played second- (or third-)fiddle to more high profile teammates. Still, like Larnach at Oregon State, Workman was the workhorse at Arizona State. While Torkelson was crushing bombs, Workman had 23 extra-base hits in 57 games. He also stole nine bases. Despite his large size, Workman has decent speed. He was competent at third and could also play the corner outfield. There are a few paths to the majors.
17. Patrick Bailey, C, North Carolina State
IF this was about the best overall college prospects for real baseball, Patrick Bailey would be higher on this list. He’s a very good receiver/defender who is capable on both sides of the plate. The thing is that I am not one to draft a catcher on the hope that his bat comes around. If it doesn’t, you’ve wasted your pick. I’d much rather draft a bat-first catcher and hope that either the defense makes a leap or that the bat is so good it forces the org to find a solution of either early promotion or reassign to another position.
18. Jacob Young, UTL, University of Florida
An exceptional athlete, Jacob Young is probably capable of playing anywhere on the diamond. He’ll likely find a home up the middle of a big-league club. One of the fastest players in the draft, Young also has plus potential power. He was old for his draft class as a prep star, but now a draft-eligible sophomore, he could be one of those prospects who stands out as a steal as a compensation-round or second-round pick. There were signs that Young’s progression was accelerated in 2020 as he came out of the gates on fire, slashing .450/.517/1.031. Like DeLoach earlier, there is room for serious growth, quickly.
19. Luke Waddell, 2B, Georgia Tech
Nothing really stands out about Luke Waddell. He’s good at everything without being great at anything. His career stat line accentuates my point: .309/.408/.816. There isn’t much power here, yet. Like some of the others on this list, Waddell is a candidate for the launch angle revolution. He’s coming off a stint where he hit .320 for Team USA and led the team in steals (4), while posting top-three numbers on the team in almost every offensive category…except homers.
20. Freddy Zamora, SS, University of Miami
It’s hard to tell if Freddy Zamora is fast or he’s got great baserunning instincts. Neither really sticks out, but the result is the same: 31 stolen bases over two seasons as an underclassman. That’s all you need to know. But what else? He’ll stick at short for sure as he’s one of the better fielding shortstops in the draft. He also eligible as a sophomore and has the potential to get on base, which is what you want from a base-stealing infielder. He missed 2020 due to a knee injury that would have kept him out all year.
Featured image by Steve Cheng/Wikimedia Commons | Adapted by Dorian Redden (@d26gfx on Instagram/@dredden26 on Twitter)