Even with the industry becoming more optimistic that a significant portion of the 2020 MLB season can be salvaged, with games densely packed into the late summer months, a cloud of unpredictability still looms over the industry. As the MLB and MLB Players Association (MLBPA) continue to exchange proposals to settle on the locational breakdown, scheduling structure, health protocols, and many other aspects of a potential season, the status of the 2020 MLB Draft is far more concrete. This marks the first installment in the High School Stars section of the PitcherList 2020 MLB Draft Preview series, where I will be writing comprehensive breakdowns on many of the most promising High School prospects who hope to hear their names called by Rob Manfred this summer.
Due to the complications of COVID-19, the 2020 MLB Draft will be forced to break many of the long-standing precedents of the annual event. We know that it will take place remotely like last month’s NFL Draft, it is still scheduled to occur on its initially chosen start date of June 10, per MLB Insider John Heyman, and will feature just five rounds. This axing of many rounds will drastically reduce the total number of players selected in the event, which has historically been a 40-round doozy.
Another certainty is that teams will have significantly less information at their disposal than they’ve had in advance of any other draft in recent memory. Player progression is seldomly linear, and substantial changes to the long-term outlook of players can routinely occur throughout the winter while players grind behind the curtain of the scouting stage. This sentiment tends to hold particularly true for amateur high school talents, who are generally further from being a finished product than their collegiate counterparts. Players pop-up onto the prospect map each spring, at both the high school and college levels, but there were few opportunities to do so this spring, with the seasons of many talents from cold-weather states like Chicago-prepster Ed Howard ending before they could ever begin.
A small sampling of a season’s performance can be more usefully incorporated into teams’ evaluations than no body of work for a season, so the extent to which some players will be penalized for never having an opportunity to take the field in 2020 may not be visible until Draft Day. Although most scouting departments have been tracking many of these players for years, this lack of recent data could drastically alter their attitudes towards certain demographics of players that are generally viewed as having a higher standard deviation of outcomes (ex. HS Right-Handed Pitchers). Organizational risk aversion levels will likely vary based on the club, but many teams will look to avoid making multi-million dollar investments in players who aren’t known commodities. Without further adieu, it’s time to introduce the first player in the High School Stars portion of the series: slugging Florida prep OF Zac Veen (Spruce Creek High School, FL).
Standing in around 6’4”, 195 lbs, the lanky, athletic Veen boasts the exciting combination of present ability to drive the ball with authority and future projection that should eventually make him a middle of the order kingpin, with a sweet left-handed swing that operates with controlled violence and an over-the-shoulder finish that bears resemblance to reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger. While fellow 2020 Draft prep OF prospects Pete Crow-Armstrong, Austin Hendrick, Robert Hassell, and Dylan Crews may have burst onto the prospect radar long before last summer’s showcase circuit, Veen closed the gap between all of them and himself with a torrid summer to become arguably the most intriguing player of the bunch by the end of the calendar year.
Following last summer’s breakout, Veen, who turned 18 last December, cemented his status near the top of the prep class by showing an improved ability to use his plus raw power to drive the ball the other way. Although he tacked on roughly 20 pounds of muscle during the offseason, there’s still ample room for Veen to add significant muscle to fill out his currently lean frame. Below is my evaluation of Veen on the 20-80 scouting scale, where 50 represents the big-league average for each of the 5 tools (Hitting, Power, Speed, Defense, Arm).
Veen plays loose, generating explosive torque with ease. He has plus bat speed and quick hands (a maximum barrel speed of 78.107 MPH, according to Perfect Game’s Diamond Kinetics metric) that rival Hendrick and Crews, two of the premier players in the draft class in this department, with his long levers enabling consistent extension through the zone and a finish high over his right shoulder.
Veen has a mature approach for such a young prep player, as he infrequently expands beyond the strike zone and patiently sticks to his plan early in the count. This plate discipline will allow Veen to put himself in advantageous counts that will be paramount to his plus raw power translating into games. He tends to take pitches away early in the count, opting instead to wait for pitches inside and down-in-the-zone which he uncorks on using his long arms to maximize his extension.
Another element to the lanky Outfielder’s swing that bodes well for his prospects will be the posture that he maintains throughout his swing, leading to an effective hip-torso separation that allows him to still drive the ball even when he’s off-balance. One concern about Veen’s ability to ultimately reach his sky-high offensive ceiling is his tendency to whiff at fastballs up in the zone and breaking balls away. These issues aren’t likely to be as crippling for Veen as they are for someone like Crews or Hendrick, due to his above-average plate discipline, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see them become less frequent as he improves his ability to identify breaking pitches with increased experience, leading to both a high BB% and OBP in the future. However, he showed an innate ability to slug against some of the top arms on the showcase circuit last summer and can be successful at the highest level, even if these issues persist.
Present In-Game: 40
Future In-Game: 65
Raw Power: 65
Albeit in small sampling, Veen took things to new heights this spring, showcasing an ability to consistently drive the ball with authority to all fields, alleviating previous concerns about his ability to tap into his raw power to the opposite field. Veen angles his bat flat over his back shoulder while in his stance, before making it more vertical as the ball approaches. His power comes naturally, with a slight uppercut as he gets through the baseball that enables Veen to lift the ball with ease. The lanky Florida prepster can already put on impressive displays in BP, especially to his pull side, providing him with a legitimate chance to eventually possess 65/70-grade raw power once his frame fills out. This raw power is likely to only further translate into games.
Veen currently boasts above-average speed but is likely to see his speed tool regress towards being league average, at best, once he tacks additional strength onto his frame. He has long, gliding strides, gets good reads on the basepaths, and is constantly hustling.
Veen’s right-handed arm is around average for a CF, and will only improve as he adds strength. He does seem to have choppy footwork on balls hit on the ground, with overall actions that are far less smooth in the outfield than they are at the plate or on the basepaths. Veen throws from a high overhand slot.
While he’s currently a CF, Veen’s future is likely elsewhere. Although he presently has enough speed to remain in CF as an average defender, Veen is commonly expected to migrate to an outfield corner upon filling out, where his offensive-centric profile will make him above-average regular.
Future Value: 60
Veen has all of the makings of a potential middle-of-the-order thumper for many years to come. His combination of a polished approach at the plate, a solid feel for hitting, and plus raw power should enable Veen to approach his ceiling as he matures. He should provide whatever organization drafts him with marginal value defensively and on the basepaths, but there is little debate regarding Veen’s offense-centric profile. Another consideration in the evaluation of a prospect is makeup, another category in which Veen appears to be off-the-charts. He has been chronicled by Baseball America as a baseball junkie who used to ride his bike for miles to watch his High School team’s practices as a 6th grader. Veen is likely to be the first high school player off of the board on June 10, and should ultimately pay immense long-term dividends as an above-average regular for whatever franchise selects him.