It’s my turn to detail my round-by-round thoughts as we continue our coverage of the Pitcher List 2020 Too Early Mock Draft. Let’s do it.
I decided to take a unique approach to this draft- I did not go in with a conscious plan and I did not do research beforehand. I almost exclusively drafted players with the sole purpose of discussing them in this article and my subsequent podcast with Nick. There will probably be some bad picks in here and I can’t wait to talk about it.
Round 1, Pick 3: Ronald Acuna Jr. (OF, Atlanta Braves)
.280/.365/.518 with 41 HRs, 127 R, 101 RBI, and 37 SBs. Need I say more? I guess there’s some concern with his 126 wRC+ and 26.3% K rate, but his savant profile is pretty beautiful and I’m not concerned about his 2020 season.
Devers came out of relatively nowhere in 2020 and that could lead some to think he’s primed for regression. When you dig under the surface though, it all looks like a legit season. Yes, his SwStr% is a tad high, no, he doesn’t steal bases, and strangely, his barrel rate actually fell from last year. But his savant profile is gorgeous and his plate discipline took a big step forward. There’s a small concern that Devers is just a beneficiary of the juiced ball movement, but I don’t see any reason to shy away from him too hard in 2020.
Just read Alexander Chase’s article. That says it all. For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t draft him in the top 12 rounds as a pitcher or the top 20 rounds as a hitter. BUT as a combined player, I’m so about it. I can’t draft him hard enough.
I felt that Ohtani wasn’t enough of a pitcher and I needed a legit starter, so I went with Nick’s pre-season No. 9 starter, and obsession since mid 2017, Luis Castillo. whiff rates and O-swing numbers are beautiful and I love that he was able to become more of a ground-ball guy in 2019, generating 55% GBs vs 45% in 2018. The primary concern, and likely what inflates his FIP and SIERA, are startling walk numbers: 10.1% in 2019 vs 6.9% in 2018. Earlier in the season, Nick Gerli and Dan McNamara pointed out that Castillo did not throw many pitches in two-strike counts, which could explain his high walk numbers. Entering 2019, it seemed the walk issues were a thing of the past, but perhaps he allowed more in order to generate more strikeouts. I guess it was a net positive though, as his K-BB still sat just below 19%, which was good enough for… 22nd in the league. Slashing that walk rate back down to 7% would bump him all the way to the top 15 if he can maintain the Ks during such a transition.
The best part of this pick was how angry it made Michael Ajeto, who I sniped with this pick. Ryan Amore astutely predicted Marte’s breakout prior to the 2019 season in his awesome going deep. I think most of us saw his contact ability and thought Marte might have the ability to recreate the .280 average he posted in Seattle in 2015 with maybe 15 HRs; instead Marte posted 32 HRs with a .981 OPS behind a .329 average. Baseball savant suggests there wasn’t a ton of fluke in his game either, with a .299 xAVG, .405 xwOBA, and 9.3% barrel rate to back it all up. The HRs should fall a bit in 2020 (especially if the ball is dejuiced as I think it will be), but I don’t think they’ll fall all that far. Dan Richards’ pHR calculation gives him 30.5 for 2019. On top of that, he made legitimate changes to his swing that explained a six degree jump in his launch angle. He does still have some trouble with breaking balls and off-speed pitches, but he hits fastballs well enough that he should be able to sustain some success while he figures that out.
The only reason Morton should fall this far is his age, as he enters his age 36 season. But despite pitching for a new team last year at age 35, he hasn’t slowed down one bit, setting a career high with 11.1 K/9, his best BB/9 since 2012 (2.64), and a 0.69 HR/9 in a year when everyone was giving up a ton. Pair that with a stellar 2.81 FIP and 3.54 SIERA which is right in line with what he posted in his Houston days, and you’ve got yourself a discount ace. One thing that helped was moving slightly away from his fastball toward his ridiculous curveball that generated an absurd 24.8 pVAL. Oddly enough, this was the third -est pVAL per 100 curveballs Morton has posted in the last four years, dating back to his 2016 season with Philly. Each year, he’s thrown the pitch more and more, until a 37.3% mark in 2019. Will he go even higher with the pitch? Even if he keeps it the same, his sinker is good enough as a third pitch to keep hitters honest and on their toes for his age 36 campaign.
Those concerned about Mondesi’s plate discipline heading into 2019 were completely correct, as his strikeout rate ballooned to 29.8%, supported by a drop in his contact rate to 63.4% and a bump in SwStr% to a hideous 21%. Combine all of that with a HR/FB that fell in half and you get just 9 HRs in 443 PAs. But if you’re drafting Mondesi, you’re doing it for his 50 steal attempts in 102 games (86% success rate). That’s just the most ridiculous pace; if he managed to stay healthy for 162 (which he hasn’t come close to doing yet), that’s a 68 SB pace. I won’t bet on him doing something he’s never done before (max of 125 back in 2013), but even if he gets back to 125, he’s got a good shot at 15 HRs and 50 SBs and that needs to go in the top 75, even if it only comes with a .260s average.
Last year, I took him at pick 118 and got significant pushback from Nick and others. WHO IS LAUGHING NOW? But seriously, how does 148 games of a .367 wOBA and .875 OPS with 178 R+RBI and a .311 average not move him further up draft boards? People can still talk about his shoulder all they want, but he’s played 291 games the last two years and looks fully healthy. I won’t hear any of the Astros trash can critiques about him either, because he’s always been a .300 hitter. He doesn’t need high EVs or HH%s because he’s just a flat out talented hitter.
Michael Ajeto hit all the main points on Gray in his amazing article that you should absolutely go read. The sparknotes version is that Gray has a strong two-seamer that helped get swing and misses as it played off of his above average slider and curveball. He’s due for some regression in his breaking pitches, as Ajeto notes, but they’re still strong offerings. Despite the regression, I still want Gray around pick 100 for sure.
In late April, 2019, Ben Palmer asked the question we were all thinking. Maybe it’s the lingering effects of his 80-game suspension from 2018, but why does everyone hate Jorge Polanco so much? Was it because of his 100 point drop in OPS from the first half to the second half, during which his K% jumped 4 points and his wRC+ dropped 22 points? Or maybe it’s his pedestrian .279 xAVG (.270 career) and lack of stellar batted ball profile? There are definitely reasons to not love Jorge Polanco. He’ll never be the most exciting player on the field, but he’s a very stable contributor with solid plate discipline, telling me he’s unlikely to seriously regress in 2020. Oh and he’s only 26.
Yuli is very much NOT 26. In fact, he’s almost 36 and I WANTED CARLOS SANTANA UNTIL JON METZELAAR TOOK HIM FROM ME. Gurriel is essentially the last 1B I’m comfortable as my starter. To be honest, I’m not even thrilled with him as my starter. Yes, he’s got one of the highest average floors of any 1B, posting no less than a .290 mark the last three seasons, but his power is *incredibly* suspect. His 31 HRs helped produce a .541 SLG, which is supported by a… .422 xSLG and a 3.8 barrel rate. Yeah, he hit 31 HRs on just 19 barrels. And while the Crawford boxes at Minute Maid Park help with that, they don’t help THAT much.
At First Pitch Arizona, Nick gave an awesome presentation, breaking down starters into a few different groups. One such group is called “Stuff McNasty” and includes Andrew Heaney. When you first look at Heaney, you may be disturbed to see his 4.91 ERA with a 1.28 WHIP and 1.89 HR/9 in 2019 over 95.1 IP. I get it. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see an 11.14 K/9 buoyed by a sinker that rated in the 95th percentile in spin rate. What’s odd here is that Heaney’s 2018 success was largely built on an elite changeup that disappeared on him in 2019, perhaps due to a 1 MPH bump in velocity; if he’s able to find that pitch again, he’ll have an elite two-pitch mix with a not-totally-awful curve.
In case you weren’t paying attention, Escobar hit 35 HRs with 212 R+RBI for the D-Backs combined with eligibility at two positions (one of which is the super-deep 3B) but his savant profile is atrocious, which led Jon Metzelaar and me to call for his regression in the second half. I just can’t get behind the power when his EVs, HH%, Barrel%, and xwOBA sit where they did.
I believe Giles’ shoulder injury just before the trade deadline last year is the reason he’s not getting more hype in 2020. If he were healthy, he would’ve been dealt to a contender and we’d be more amazed at his 1.87 ERA, 2.27 FIP, 14.1 K/9, and 4.88 K/BB (which is actually down from 7.57 in his rough 2018). While some may point to his inconsistency, citing two out of the last four seasons with an ERA over 4, I’ll point out his FIP never rose above 3.08 and his SIERA has never been above 2.96 in the majors. His 31.7% K-BB% was bested by only Josh Hader, Kirby Yates, Nick Anderson, a creepy pedophile who used to pitch for the Pirates, and Liam Hendriks. That’s elite and he is coming at a major discount.
McCullers missed the entire 2019 season recovering from Tommy John Surgery, but seemed to have figured out his key to success, using his elite curveball as his primary pitch to the tune of a 3.86 ERA and 1.17 WHIP along with a 3.50 FIP and 3.62 SIERA. If he can avoid the command struggles that pitchers often face when returning from TJS, he could provide elite production, albeit in somewhat limited innings.
I’m going to mention this in my podcast as well, but Jeff Zimmerman mentioned at First Pitch Arizona that the average winner of an NFBC league in 2019 drafted 2.5 closers. That’s it. You don’t need six closers to corner the entire market. Chances are a guy will go down at some point; Hansel Robles was very much NOT the closer to start 2019, but he returned very solid value for those who snatched him up after they quickly abandoned Cody Allen. Robles backed up his save numbers with a 2.48 ERA, 2.88 FIP, and 1.02 WHIP with the help of a sexy power change joining his 97 MPH fastball.
Prospect pedigree? Check. Strong AAA numbers and a strong MLB showing? CHECK. Playing time? CHECK! Wildly small sample sizes that let us overreact like crazy? CHECK… wait what? Murphy had only 140 PAs at AAA in 2019 and 152 total before getting called up last season. In 60 PAs, he put together a .370 wOBA and an 8.1% barrel rate, following up his .409 wOBA in those 140 AAA PAs (it was the PCL, so relax). His minor league numbers suggest a decently patient hitter with solid walk numbers who could struggle big time with Ks at the MLB level (26.7% in 2019), but he’s been praised for his contact ability and plate discipline throughout the minors. He’s dealt with major injuries in the minors to his hamate bone and meniscus. In fact, he had surgery on the knee in September, but he should be ready for the majors. The main reason I love Murphy though is he is a plus defender behind the dish, getting grades of 65 and 70 on his glove and arm from MLB Pipeline, which means major playing time, especially after the A’s cut loose both Josh Phegley and Chris Herrmann.
Real life works just like Backyard Baseball, where having both of the Gurriel brothers makes them both better, right? If you play Yahoo, Gurriel has some major value entering 2020 with 2B, SS, and OF eligibility, but all other leagues only give him OF only, so be aware of your draft platform. His plate discipline leaves a lot to be desired, striking out at a 25.1% clip while his contact rate and SwStr suggest it could get even worse. The counting stats ceiling is tantalizing, given 20 HRs and 102 R+RBI in 84 games, but with a 20.2 HR/FB%, I’m not sold given Dan Richards’ 16.8 pHR. Still, he’s got double digit SB potential (with 6 on 10 attempts over that time frame) and he’s worth a flier in the last third of your draft.
While the calling card is the high 90s fastball, he also possesses two decent secondary offerings in a high 80s slider and a ridiculous low 90s changeup. He’s returning from TJS in 2020 and while the White Sox may bring him along slowly (with The Athletic suggesting they may use a six-man rotation until he can push Gio Gonzalez to the bullpen), he’s a very worthwhile risk in the 19th round. The big thing to watch in Spring Training will be his command; it’s often said that starters struggle with command upon returning from TJS and Kopech already struggled with that in the minors, posting a 4.3 BB/9 in AAA in 2018.
I wanted Jose Urquidy here but I figured I’d take someone who could stand to benefit in a huge way if the ball gets de-juiced. 1.74 HR/9 is just crazy. Granted, that is actually lower than his 1.77 in 2018, but he never really allowed a ton of HRs at any level of the minors (except 1.51 HR/9 over 71.1 IP in AA in 2016), so I have to think he reigns in the 12 HRs allowed by his fastball in 2019. That said, if I could do this draft over, I wouldn’t draft Mahle because he currently doesn’t have a spot in the rotation: those belong to Gray, Castillo, Bauer, Miley, and DeSclafani. I’d probably take Tony Disco (who ranked in the top 30 in K/9 in 2019) here instead.
With the Didi signing that I discuss below, Segura should shift back to 2B in 2020, giving him sneaky double eligibility on draft day. 2019 was an aberration for Segura, who had become a lock for a .300 AVG and 20 SBs, achieving both in each of the prior three seasons. He still maintained an elite xBA even if it did drop to the 77th percentile and it was his worst since 2016. He still basically never strikes out (11.8% in 2019) and barring something from Austin Bristow about SBot with respect to Joe Girardi as a manager, his steals should bounce back in 2020.
I almost pitched as many innings as Betances in 2019, but this is a 2020 mock draft and I think there’s an outside shot Betances ends up as the closer. Granted, I made this pick when he was still a free agent, but solid ratios, elite K numbers, and a shot at a closing role in the 22nd round? Sure, why not?
When I made this pick, Didi was also a free agent so I didn’t know he’d end up in a park that is just a perfectly designed for his swing as Yankee Stadium, but he is in Philly and that’s just beautiful for his projection into 2020. I’m well aware of Didi’s disastrous .718 OPS this past year for New York, but keep in mind he was playing through injury. Also, don’t sleep on his three consecutive seasons with 20+ HRs and a near .270 AVG. His batted ball profile is never going to be elite, but I’m not worried about that for reasons I’ve spent too much time outlining already. In a deep SS class, Didi is a late gem.
(Photo by Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire)