Most people tend to do draft prep and make 100% sure they’re ready for the draft. However, for this Draft/Stash Challenge, I wasn’t that prepared. It sounded almost too easy to draft a team of players that would accrue innings for pitchers and games started for hitters. Was it easy? Oh Lord no. I was surprised towards the end just how hard it was to find good players projected to make their mark in 2020.
For a full breakdown of how the challenge works, please give Travis Sherer’s article a read here. The TL;DR version is that 12 Pitcher List staffers were tasked with fielding a roster of 10 prospects we think have the best chance to earn MLB playing time in 2020.
Drafting from the no. 9 spot, here are my picks:
1. (Pick 9) Justin Dunn, SP, SEA, Age: 24
When the draft first started, I had two targets in mind from the #9 spot and I was able to get both of them with my first two picks. Justin Dunn (before the Taijuan Walker signing) seemed to be in a battle for the 5th spot in the Seattle Mariners rotation with fellow youngin’ Justice Sheffield. Personally, I trust Dunn’s stuff and command more than Sheffield, and I do think there’s a chance both are pitching important (or not so much) innings this year with Walker and Kendall Graveman just coming back. Not to mention both of their previous poor pitching performances. With Marco Gonzales being the only stable rotation piece, I think the innings will be there for the taking. I think Dunn gets the spot right out of Spring Training and shows enough improvement from his first MLB stint to hold onto it.
2. (16) Nico Hoerner, 2B, CHC, Age: 22
Like I mentioned above, I had been considering Nico Hoerner with my first pick, so I was thrilled he lasted till here. I was not so thrilled when the Chicago Cubs signed Jason Kipnis to a minor-league deal about a month after the draft had finished. This more than likely ensures Hoerner starts the year in AAA until at least the Super-Two deadline passes, much like Kris Bryant did years ago. I still think there’s a chance Hoerner wins the job out of Spring Training with a big performance, as Kipnis isn’t currently on the 40-man roster. Hoerner’s wrist injury last year more than likely sapped his power once he returned, but he still slashed .282/.306/.436 in his brief majors time. His low-strikeout, high-contact ability would be something the Cubs desperately want to slot into their lineup sooner than later, as they know better than anyone that every win counts.
3. (33) Lewis Thorpe, SP, MIN, Age: 24
Like the Seattle Mariners rotation, I don’t hugely trust the Minnesota Twins rotation to stay healthy. Rich Hill is old and already hurt, and Homer Bailey is old, so the chances will be there for Lewis Thorpe to get some important innings. Kenta Maeda coming in throws a wrench into Thorpe getting a ton of innings, but like the other two, he’s older and has an injury history. Whether or not that was a Los Angeles Dodgers injury list manipulation stint is hard to tell, but I wouldn’t put his innings total over 150. Thorpe throws four pitches, all for strikes, and has continued to strike players out at a decent clip. If he doesn’t make the rotation out of Spring Training I bet he’s either in the bullpen as a long man or the first option up when someone gets hurt.
4. (40) Daz Cameron, CF, DET, Age: 23
Part of the appeal to Daz Cameron to me was the elite defense. Even without being able to swing a good bat, defense can take you far in terms of games started. Just ask Kevin Pillar, Jackie Bradley Jr., Kevin Kiermaier, etc. While the bat floundered last year in AAA (just a .214/.337/.377 slash), he’ll be repeating AAA for a second time, so if he bursts out of the gate on fire, a call-up is possible. I saw the Detroit Tigers not really building for 2020 and potentially giving their young players a chance to earn the roles out of Spring Training. Cameron Maybin makes that less of a possibility for Cameron, but who knows. A bench role more than likely isn’t happening with the Tigers wanting to see what they have with Cameron, so he’ll have to earn it.
5. (57) Kwang-Hyun Kim, SP, STL, Age: 31
The St Louis Cardinals haven’t done much this offseason to bolster their team other than signing Kwang-Hyun Kim. Kim had started most of his time in the KBO and currently is penciled in on Roster Resource as the Cardinals’ fifth starter with the Miles Mikolas injury. The injury was to Mikolas’ pitching elbow so it could be more long-term and see Kim getting a bulk of the innings as long as he puts up even average results. I don’t think more than 150 innings can be expected but with Daniel Ponce de Leon, Austin Gomber, Alex Reyes, and Genesis Cabrera as the pitchers behind him, I see him getting the first chance to stick. Kim throws four pitches with his fastball, slider, curveball, and splitter all helping round out a starter’s repertoire, and his slider can be an elite pitch just from looking at it. At worst, Kim is throwing mop-up or relief innings for the Cardinals, and that’s still not a zero.
6. (64) Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, PIT, Age: 23
One of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ top prospects, I personally see Ke’Bryan Hayes getting off to a hot start in AAA and getting the call sometime mid-season. With the Pirates more than likely than not a contender this year, they won’t have to rush to bring him up, but Colin Moran is the only thing stopping Hayes from getting regular at-bats. A .322 OBP last year doesn’t give me a ton of hope for Moran sticking it out, especially because he had the second-worst UZR last year for third basemen, the opposite of Hayes’ defensive abilities. A plus defender with a great hit-tool, Hayes still has the chance for a power breakout and having a chance to become the Pirates’ next star, sooner rather than later.
7. (81) Jesús Sánchez, OF, MIA, Age: 22
Like most of these picks, Jesús Sánchez was picked based off a decent chance to make the team out of Spring Training because his respective team had an opening. Also like most of those teams, the Miami Marlins would end up signing a player to fill the hole (Corey Dickerson in this case) and taking away the playing-time opportunity. Sánchez is a trickier top prospect than most that are this close to the majors as he’s suffered from real plate discipline issues in the past. After the trade to the Marlins, however, he had an 11.5% walk rate, showing an improvement in what is his biggest weakness. He still only had an 89 wRC+ in that short time, so if he can show that improvement is permanent, he will get his chance sooner than later.
8. (88) Vidal Brujan, MI, TBR, Age: 22
This was my first real “gut feeling” pick. I have a gut feeling Vidal Brujan is gonna hit his way to the majors this year, and he has a unique skillset the Tampa Bay Rays would love to have on their team. Brujan is very, very fast and has fantastic plate discipline, allowing him to get on base and take advantage of his wheels. He finished the year in AA last year and I think he starts there this year. If he hits well enough, he might see AAA a month after. His power hasn’t emerged yet, but with the “special” ball in AAA and MLB, he should have plenty of opportunities to swing for the fences. The Rays have a billion players at middle infield, but I can see a route to outfield reps as well. The Rays trading for Manuel Margot throws a wrench into those plans, but Margot has disappointed in the past, so perhaps Brujan’s path isn’t blocked for good.
9. (105) Pavin Smith, 1B, ARI, Age: 24
At this point, it’s seeming more and more that Pavin Smith is just a James Loney clone, and that’s not a bad thing. That might be a disappointment for the seventh overall pick of the 2017 draft, but Smith’s still projected to be a valuable bat. He stayed in AA all of 2019, showing an improvement in power while still walking almost as much as he struck out. The verdict is still out on Christian Walker as the first base option in Arizona, and Smith should get a chance to utilize the fun ball in AAA for a bit in 2020. An above-average hit tool will carry Smith’s profile to the majors, but his power will be the real sticking point.
10. (112) Mark Payton, OF, CIN/OAK, Age: 28
A Rule 5 draft pick by the Cincinnati Reds, Mark Payton is more than likely going to be returned to the Oakland Athletics. The Nick Castellanos signing made this all the more likely, and Jesse Winker, Aristides Aquino, Shogo Akiyama, Josh VanMeter, Phillip Ervin, and even Michael Lorenzen are all fighting for outfield at-bats. Payton deserves to get a shot wherever he goes, however, as he slashed a .334/.400/.653 slash line last year. Even if it was in the PCL, Payton still posted a 148 wRC+. A swing change sparked the age-27 breakout, and I considered him getting a bench spot with the Reds, as he would have had to make the roster. Now, I think he goes back to the A’s and will get a shot when an injury arises.
Image by Michael Packard