Despite the NCAA season being extremely shortened, there are a lot of solid college arms in the 2020 draft class. As you can imagine, the field is dominated by fastball/slider pitchers — much like every level of pro ball. That said, there are some guys who do it differently, and that is what I like to see. As effective as the two highest velocity pitches are from the Asa Lacys and Max Meyers of the world, it’s the guys like Reid Detmers, C.J. Van Eyk and Tanner Burns who provide the real depth, as they will be the ones filling the middle of MLB rotations in a few years while a number of the guys with great sliders find their way to the bullpen.
I would say the overall talent drops off after No. 4, then No. 12, and again after No. 16. Those would be the first, second, and third tiers.
1. Asa Lacy, LHP, Texas A&M
What does Asa Lacy have on Emerson Hancock? It’s a legitimate question: they are almost exactly the same age, they are the same height, they both play in the SEC, they both have nearly four plus pitches, mid-90s velocity, and decent control. The difference is Lacy is left-handed, and Lacy has the best pitch between the two. His slider is the only pitch for either draftee that has the potential to be plus-plus. It’s a wipe-out pitch. His slider alone would be enough to justify his 14+ K/9 over the past 112.2 innings. Right now the difference between Lacy and Hancock is razor-thin. Being a southpaw really helps.
2. Emerson Hancock, RHP, Georgia
Let me tell you what Hancock has on Lacy: control. His stuff might not be as swing-and-miss, but Hancock can locate better and is a better athlete. That means he is likely to improve more and faster at command than Lacy. Coming into 2020, Hancock was seen as the presumptive top pitcher in the country, but many expected him to take another step, which didn’t really happen in this year’s small sample. It could have if the whole season played out, but now we’ll never know. Either way, he can reach 97 with the fastball, and has a plus slider and change. That is a good start — especially since his curveball is pretty good too.
3. Max Meyer, RHP, Minnesota
It is possible that Max Meyer could be picked above Hancock in the draft. After all, the 6’0″ righty dominated the Big 10 for three seasons. With the best fastball in the draft, Meyer can hit 101 but sits around 96. He also has a slider that is just a hair behind Lacy’s. That two-pitch sequence is what draftees are going for. He really doesn’t have a third pitch yet, but that might not be stopping a team that is looking to start winning now (Toronto or San Diego) and would place him in the bullpen almost from the get-go. Like Chris Sale, he could work his way into the rotation afterward. Just so we’re clear, I’m not calling him Sale. I’m just saying while not as popular of a route to the majors, it has happened before.
4. Reid Detmers, LHP, Louisville
If you’re more interested in performance than potential, Reid Detmers is the prospect for you. A lefty with decent size, Detmers has one of the better curveballs in the NCAA. He broke out in 2019, sporting a sub-3 ERA and 168 Ks in 107.1 innings. If that wasn’t good enough for you, Detmers was on fire through four starts, striking out an insane 48 batters in 22 innings. Not that his performance would continue at such a rate but that is quite a run. His low-90s velocity isn’t quite what you’d hope for, but there is potential here for a mid-rotation piece.
5. Garrett Crochet, LHP, Tennessee
We know that Garrett Crochet has swing-and-miss stuff and can hit 100. What we don’t know is how consistent he can be. With a plus fastball and a plus slider, Crochet has major relief concerns due to leaving the ball over the plate and the lack of a third pitch. However, he could also be one of the best second- or third-round steals if he goes to the right organization (Rays, Astros, Yankees, Indians, in case you were wondering). If he is drafted by the Rays, for example, I’d want him more than Crochet. If he’s drafted by the Red Sox, I’d rather take Slade Cecconi or Cole Wilcox.
6. Slade Cecconi, RHP, Miami
I totally get why other writers don’t like Cecconi as much as I do. He’s had a complicated injury history (shoulder/oblique), and as such, his velocity has been sort of all over the place. When he’s healthy, however, I think he has just as good of stuff as anybody on this list. Yes, it’s true that his velocity has been as high as 97 and as low as 90. His dips in velocity (significant ones anyway) have always occurred as he’s either been injured or just come back from injury, which leads me to believe that it’s not mechanical. In terms of stuff, I just like what this kid brings: a plus slider, a plus cutter, and a plus changeup. That combination with even a low-mid 90s fastball will play in the majors. There are certainly hurdles for Cecconi, but his talent is undeniable. Another thing I like about him is he also flashes plus control.
7. Bobby Miller, RHP, Louisville
Let’s talk about Bobby Miller. His strikeout numbers aren’t what you like to see out of a first-round college pitcher, but I like the cut of this guy’s jib. His heavy, sinking fastball plays really well with his plus slider and a borderline plus changeup. As long as this kid can stay in the zone, he has middle-of-the-rotation written all over him. Miller also has the kind of velocity you want to see, sitting mid-90s with the heater and touching 90 with the slider. I see potential in this guy being an overachiever too. He’s consistently gotten better every year, whether it’s adding velocity, increasing his K rate or limiting homers. While many pitchers don’t yet know what they are capable of, it seems that Miller has an identity on the mound and pitches to his strengths. With the right franchise, he could be in the majors in a little over a year — and there is very little chance he becomes a reliever.
8. Cole Wilcox, RHP, Georgia
Wilcox has dynamic stuff, nobody is disputing that. From a velocity standpoint, Wilcox fits the bill: sitting 94. He also has crazy movement on his slider, which has improved significantly over the years. If he wants to be more than a high-leverage reliever, however, he’ll have to work on his changeup. I’ve heard he has a splitter too, but I haven’t seen it — or maybe I have and it’s just not discernible. Nevertheless, Wilcox has a lot of work ahead of him to be a starter. As a freshman at Georgia, he came out of the bullpen, and his stuff had a little more bite but was also wilder. He was hitting 100 on the gun in relief, and that might be what a team hopes to use him for if he drops to the end of the first round.
9. C.J. Van Eyk, RHP, Florida State
Right now, C.J. Van Eyk is equal to the sum of his parts. With a plus fastball, curveball, and change, the Florida State junior has the potential to be dominant with more consistency. What’s stopping him? Too many walks and limiting his repertoire by relying too much on the one or two pitches he has working that day. Despite those setbacks, he was still very good with a career 3.45 ERA and an 11.38 K/9. I probably have the Seminole higher than most because unlike some of the guys right after him who might have stronger pitches, I see fewer roadblocks to Van Eyk’s development.
10. Tanner Burns, RHP, Auburn
I’m not sure why Tanner Burns isn’t higher on lists. Sure, he’s not a top-end arm, but if you want a prospect who is destined to be a starter with virtually no reliever potential, you’ve got to look his way once Miller is gone. He’s got two plus pitches: his fastball sits 93 and there is good depth to the curveball. The change needs a little work but is usable right now. Burns has been consistently good and improving in his two-plus years in the nation’s premier baseball conference: the SEC.
The walk rate has decreased and the K rate has increased. I don’t expect Burns to be a 9 k/9 type of guy, but he has a future in the MLB, and it’s likely that it’s sooner than most of the names here. He’s already very far in his progression, and to me, he’s one of those guys who picks up new tricks along the way.
11. Cole Henry, RHP, LSU
If this list took into account how much work pitchers had to change to get where they are now, Cole Henry would be near the top of the list. The video, provided by D1Baseball.com, shows the changes he made in the past four years by streamlining his motion before he delivers and removing the shimmy and head jerk on his follow-through:
These adjustments have done wonders for his control and essentially earned a shot at a No. 3 in the majors. There is still reliever risk as his velocity can vary, but his performance at LSU has been positive:
As a draft-eligible sophomore, Henry also won’t turn 21 until after the draft. Considering he’s got a plus fastball and plus curve, there is plenty to like here.
12. Logan Allen, LHP, Florida International
How much do you root for the underdog? What if that “underdog” has the following career NCAA marks?
|IP||ERA||WHIP||K (per 9)||BB (per 9)|
|136.1||2.77||1.04||187 (12.3)||33 (2.17)|
Looks great right? The problem is, when he’s at his best, Allen is hitting low 90s on the gun. Sometimes it’s just 90. He’s going to have to really pitch to live up to those college numbers. The good news is his secondary pitches make up for his lack in velocity. He has a plus change and a near-plus curve. As you can imagine, he’s also got some of the best commands in the college ranks. I wouldn’t recommend drafting Allen in a dynasty league, but that’s only because nobody else will. Just wait and watch.
13. Cade Cavalli, RHP, Oklahoma
I’m not as high on Cade Cavalli as most. In a vacuum, it’s hard not to like him. He’s got three plus pitches (fastball, slider, curveball) and he can touch 98. If he were two years younger, I would love this kid. It worries me, however, that he will be 22 in August and has such poor command. His career NCAA WHIP is 1.54, which is crazy high. There are a number of reasons guys have high WHIPs. They don’t have good stuff, they only have one or two pitches, they refuse to throw out of the zone, they are too fixated on the strike zone. All of these situations lead to walks and/or hits. Cavalli doesn’t have any of these problems. His issues have everything to do with poor control. Cavalli doesn’t miss small. He has good stuff, but unfortunately his placement is such that there are only two destinations: down the middle or in the dirt/way outside/at your chin. Poor placement can completely neutralize even the best stuff because batters no longer have to guess. If it looks like a strike, it will be a strike. He’s not doomed, but he has a long road working on his control and sequencing.
14. Bryce Jarvis, RHP, Duke
Bryce Jarvis is one of those guys you root for. He’s not overpowering, but he has been very good all three years at Duke. He was good enough to be selected by the Yankees last year in the 37th round as an eligible sophomore, but he stayed at Duke instead. Good thing too. Through only four or so starts in 2020, his draft position significantly improved. He’s likely to go in the 2nd or 3rd round now, but he has the stuff to be a starter with a plus changeup and a very good slider. He only gave up two runs in 27 innings (0.67 ERA) before the season was cancelled, which was aided by striking out 15 in a perfect game vs. Cornell.
15. J.T. Ginn, RHP, Mississippi State
A projected first-round pick in the 2018 draft, J.T. Ginn was seen as all but impossible to sign and ended up going to Mississippi State despite being drafted by the Dodgers. As a freshman in 2019, Ginn dominated the SEC with an ERA 3.36, a K/9 of 11.54, and a WHIP of 1.08. As a draft-eligible sophomore, Ginn could have greatly improved his draft stock with a full 2020 season. Obviously, that did not happen as elbow surgery limited him to just three innings in his first start. Because of that, he’s back to where he started two years ago: a fringe first-round pick. He’s got a good fastball/slider combo with a developing changeup and better control than the average 20-year-old.
16. Jared Shuster, LHP, Wake Forrest
If you’re scanning this article for a name of a value pick, look. no further. Jared Shuster has pretty much come out of nowhere to be one of the top college arms in the country. With major improvements over the last year Shuster’s breakout can be traced back to the Cape Cod League, where improvements to his already plus changeup and developing slider were evident. What was glaring was his head-turning control. Coming into 2020, Shuster had a 5+ BB/9 rate, which is unusable in any level of pro ball. Shuster shrunk that down to 1.4 in the CCL on his way to a 1.41 ERA. Shuster continued that control this spring, while also seeing an almost 7 mph spike in velocity, going from 88 to 96 on the fastball.
17. Carmen Mlodzinski, RHP, South Carolina
Carmen Mlodzinski will leave South Carolina with many wondering what happened. A 5.61 ERA and 1.64 WHIP as a Gamecock does not show what he is capable of. In fact, three years ago, he was an elite starting pitcher prospect. But injuries and inconsistencies have since derailed that. Just in time for the draft, however, Mlodzinski blew up at the Cape Cod League, coming away as arguably the summer’s best pitcher. Hitting 98 on the gun and offering a plus curve, he posted a 2.15 ERA and 40 Ks in 29 innings and might have impressed scouts enough to be a compensatory pick.
18. Chris McMahon, RHP, Miami
Just about everything that can be said Mlodzinski can be said about Chris McMahon. Another highly touted high school arm, McMahon’s results in his first two years didn’t match his stuff. He then he blew up with Team USA, posting the team’s second-best ERA and third-best BAA. McMahon used that performance to propel his junior season, striking out 38 in 25 innings before the season was cancelled. With very good control and sitting around 94, McMahon needs to continue the development of two offspeed pitches — both of which show promise.
19. Kyle Nicolas, RHP, Ball State
If you watch Kyle Nicolas pitch nothing stands out. Yes, he can hit 99 on the gun. Yes, he has a plus slider. No, he doesn’t have much else, and no, there isn’t a ton of control. This kid has “reliever” written all over him. He’s on this list, however, because he could be a very dominant, back-end type reliever. He has swing-and-miss stuff, but unless something magical happens with the control, I don’t see him lasting more than an inning at a time. Still, the inning he’s in could be enough to make him valuable (13.6 k/9 in 2019 and 2020).
20. Christian Roa, RHP, Texas A&M
Like many of the pitchers on this list, Christian Roa exploded out of the gate in 2020, flashing stuff that he straight up didn’t have as a freshman and sophomore. Most notable was the four ticks he added to his fastball, which was last seen sitting 94. Along with his shiny new velocity was a certain dominance: doubling his K-rate to 15.75. One has to wonder, however, if this increase in velocity came at a price — like doubling his walk rate (4.05). Either way, what Roa couldn’t suppress was his ability to allow excess base runners. His WHIP of 1.35 in 2020 matched his previous two-year mark. Basically what we know about Roa right now is that he has decent stuff, but there are obviously question marks about effort exerted to raise velo, hitability if he doesn’t exert said effort, and finally, is there a way somewhere in between to lower base runners?
Photo By Baumology/Wikimedia Commons | Adapted by Dorian Redden (@d26gfx on Instagram/@dredden26 on Twitter)