Considering that nearly all amateur baseball players have been sidelined since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing the uncertainty around all draft prospects but particularly the younger, more unproven high schoolers, it was a sure bet all along that major-league teams would lean a bit more than usual toward collegiate prospects in this year’s draft. That likelihood increased even more when MLB decided to cut the 2020 draft to just five rounds, meaning that a team could be left with almost nothing to show for this year’s draft if they select a high schooler early and can’t complete the always-tough process of convincing him to break his college commitment. With those two factors in mind, this draft could feature a larger percentage of college players being selected than any other one in recent memory.
Here are the best 10 college prospects available in this year’s draft class:
Spencer Torkelson, 1B/OF, Arizona State
There’s about a 50-50 split among experts as to whether Torkelson or Vanderbilt’s Austin Martin will be the top pick in this year’s draft, but one thing seems to be a certainty: Torkelson is going to be an impact hitter wherever he ends up. He’s been dominant at the plate throughout his collegiate career, hitting .337/.463/.729 with 54 homers in two full seasons and a small chunk of a third at Arizona State. He played for the Cape Cod League’s Chatham Anglers after both his freshman and sophomore seasons and hit .340/.484/.745 with nine homers in 126 plate appearances.
With the way that first basemen have been devalued in the analytics era — and considering that he’s a bit shorter than your typical first baseman at a listed 6-foot-1 — it figures that a team will try to see if Torkelson can stick at a corner outfield spot before cornering him in at his natural position of first base. If he can become an option in both the outfield and at first, Torkelson would be a real weapon in this era of hyper-versatility.
Austin Martin, OF/3B, Vanderbilt
Torkelson is pretty clearly the best bat in this draft, but Martin seems to be the best all-around position player. The 21-year-old Vanderbilt star has seen action at every infield position plus left field and center field, and there’s a fairly legitimate possibility that he could handle center or shortstop at the big-league level. If he can continue to capitalize on that ability to play multiple positions he could have a Kris Bryant-like impact on a major-league club.
While his power is somewhat of a question mark, Martin has proven to be an elite contact hitter and on-base threat, posting a .368/.474/.532 slash line over two-plus seasons at Vanderbilt. He hit 14 home runs, though 10 of them came during his sophomore season. He also has plus speed and stole 43 bases during his career with the Commodores. If the Tigers take Torkelson with the first overall pick, the Orioles should still be thrilled if they end up with Martin.
Asa Lacy, LHP, Texas A&M
Lacy is in the rare position of being a college lefty who is widely considered the top pitching prospect in the draft class. He was fantastic through two-plus seasons at A&M, yielding a 2.61 ERA with 224 strikeouts and 68 walks in 152 innings. As that walk total indicates, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound lefty is still working on refining his command, but the intrigue of his mid-90s stuff delivered from a three-quarters angle is obvious. He has the stuff and physical makeup to make a Chris Sale-like impact at the major-league level. It’s just a matter of whether he can develop the same type of command and competitiveness that those two former All-Stars possess.
Emerson Hancock, RHP, Georgia
Hancock has been rather inconsistent during his career at Georgia — he struggled as a freshman, throwing for a 5.10 ERA while striking out 75 and walking 34 in 77.2 innings. He did a 180 as a sophomore, posting a 1.99 ERA with 97 strikeouts and just 18 free passes over 90.1 frames, then he took a bit of a step back in four starts this year before the season was cancelled, putting up a 3.75 ERA with 34 Ks and three BBs in 24 innings. While he obviously has a lot of development ahead of him, the 6-foot-4, 213-pound Hancock has an elite fastball that is capable of touching triple digits, three above-average offspeed pitches (a slider, curveball, and changeup) and improving command that could very well be elite when it’s all said and done. Hancock doesn’t appear to be as safe a bet as Lacy, but his ceiling is higher, and he has the ability to be a Justin Verlander-type ace by the time he reaches his prime.
Nick Gonzales, SS/2B, New Mexico State
The WAC was simply no match for Gonzales, who hit over .400 as a sophomore and in 16 games as a junior and will presumably finish his collegiate career with a .399/.502/.747 slash line, 37 homers, and 13 steals. While it would’ve been fair to wonder whether Gonzales was simply taking advantage of inconsistent competition and a hitter-friendly environment, he quashed those concerns by hitting .351/.451/.630 with seven homers over 185 plate appearances in the Cape Cod League last summer.
He has a bit more size and power, but Gonzales has a lot in common with middle infielder Nick Madrigal, taken fourth overall by the White Sox two years ago. Gonzales is unlikely to stick at shortstop and probably doesn’t have a ton of development ahead of him, but it’s very likely that he’ll be an impactful hitter in a major-league lineup and could be big-league ready rather soon.
Max Meyer, RHP, Minnesota
Meyer, rather undersized for a right-hander at 6-foot and 185 pounds, has been exceptionally consistent throughout his career at Minnesota, whether starting or pitching out of the bullpen. Over two-plus seasons, he has a 2.13 ERA with a 0.94 WHIP, 187 strikeouts, and 41 walks over 148 innings. He started 15 games but pitched exclusively out of the bullpen as a freshman and made five relief appearances as a sophomore, picking up 18 saves along the way.
He throws a mid-90s fastball that can touch 100 MPH, but his best offering is a slider that he’s capable of throwing over 90 MPH. Considering his previous relief experience and his filthy breaking pitch, he has a good shot of being an effective option out of the bullpen even if he ends up lacking the size or durability to start in the big leagues.
Cade Cavalli, RHP/1B, Oklahoma
The 6-foot-4, 226-pound Cavalli has actually had more success as a hitter than a pitcher at the college level, posting a .757 OPS with 10 homers over three seasons, including a stellar .319/.393/.611 slash line as a sophomore. But he has a ton of potential on the mound, and though he didn’t have a ton of college pitching success — he threw for a 4.35 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP with 114 strikeouts and 53 walks over 101 innings — he has elite stuff: a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and an above-average curveball and slider.
In addition to his relative inexperience on the mound, Cavalli may scare some teams due to his health history — he dealt with a back injury in high school and suffered a stress reaction in his pitching arm last spring. The bright side, though, is that he has a ton of upside, and for an organization confident in its ability to develop pitchers at the minor-league level, Cavalli is essentially a ball of clay waiting to be shaped into a frontline starter.
Reid Detmers, LHP, Louisville
Detmers has shown tremendous growth during his time at Louisville, finishing with a 3.20 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP over two-plus seasons despite a rough freshman campaign that saw him post a 4.85 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP with 69 strikeouts and 34 walks over 55.2 frames. Detmers really figured out his command in his sophomore year and beyond, striking out 215 and walking just 39 over his last 135.1 innings. Thanks to that uptick in performance, it’s now a possibility that Detmers could be taken in the top 10.
He doesn’t necessarily have traditional top-10 stuff, as he throws a low-90s fastball along with an effective curveball and changeup. But scouts praise him for his intimidating presence on the mound, meaning that he very well could overcome his below-average velocity and take a Madison Bumgarner-like path to success at the big-league level.
Heston Kjerstad, OF, Arkansas
Kjerstad, a lefty-hitting outfielder, may have the most power of any player in this draft class. While he didn’t show on-base skills quite as good as those of guys like Torkelson, Martin, and Gonzales over his first two seasons at Arkansas, he slugged at an impressive rate, hitting 14 homers with a .553 slugging percentage as a freshman then hitting 17 home runs while slugging .575 in 2019. Then he vaulted himself firmly into top-10 consideration by hitting out of his mind for 16 games this spring, posting a .448/.513/.791 slash line with six homers.
It’s not a certainty that Kjerstad’s swing will translate to the professional game, but if it does, he has the ability to transform a lineup with his power. And while his 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame and lack of speed might make him a better fit at first base down the line, his arm gives him a chance to stick at a corner outfield spot.
Patrick Bailey, C, NC State
First-round catchers are somewhat of a risky proposition in general, but Bailey — the rare and always-coveted switch-hitting catcher — is widely regarded as the top college backstop in this year’s draft class and seems like a relatively safe bet to make an impact in the big leagues. He has a very strong, polished all-around offensive game, having posted a .302/.411/.568 slash line with 29 homers and 106 RBI over two-plus seasons at NC State. He’s also a very advanced defender, and his skills behind the plate should get him to the big leagues whether or not he remains productive at the plate as a pro.