If the Nationals go for hurlers in the five rounds of the June 10 First-Year Player draft, it will be from a lot filled with quality pitching depth.
MLBPipeline.com senior writer Jim Callis said the 2020 draft has a more quality pitchers than last year’s draft, and may be the best he has seen in quite some time. As I wrote last week, the Nats have favored stockpiling pitchers for their system and fortifying need at the major league level through trade.
General manager Mike Rizzo, assistant general manager and vice president of scouting Kris Kline and their staff have selected 30 pitchers in their first 49 selections the past five drafts. Callis said if Rizzo employs that same strategy again this season, it’s a smart way to go because there are so many good arms to choose from.
“The strength of this draft is college pitching,” Callis said. “It is kind of funny because last year was probably the weakest group of first-round college pitchers I can remember (in a few years). There were other evaluators who said the same thing. They thought it was especially weak as well. This year is the exact opposite. I think it is cyclical. There is just a ton of them.”
Callis said he goes back and forth on which pitcher the Nats will choose first with the 22nd overall pick. He said they really cannot go wrong because there is a lot of quality at the top of the draft. Many mock drafts had the Nats selecting Georgia pitcher Cole Wilcox because they picked him a couple of years ago out of high school. Wilcox elected to head to college instead. The Bulldogs were stacked this season with pitching, which includes another right-hander, Emerson Hancock, expected to go in the top five.
“I keep doing the same thing,” Callis said. “I think the first time I did a mock draft, I had Slade Cecconi from Miami going to the Nationals, and then I had Clayton Beeter from Texas Tech last time. The easiest thing is to give them a Scott Boras guy, of course. Most of the other mock drafts are giving them Cole Wilcox. The only reason I haven’t given them Cole Wilcox is I haven’t really had him getting down to No. 22. There is just a ton of guys. I don’t really know in particular which one they like compared to others. But there are so many of them this year that they can choose from.”
Plus, the Nationals have three selections in the first 71 picks because they lost Anthony Rendon to the Angels in free agency. That should still produce a pretty good haul for the team that just won the World Series.
“There will be pitching depth,” Callis said. “It’s too bad it’s not the old rules because in the olden days, they would have gotten the Angels’ first-round pick in exchange for Rendon. Last year, right after the draft ends, we do a mock draft for the next year. At the time, the Nationals were picking in the top 10 (and) we only go 10 deep. I went back and looked at that and I think the Nats had the No. 7 or No. 8 pick in mid-June last year because they had one of the worst records in baseball at the time.”
The Nats’ first pick comes at No. 22. In the MLB.com top 200 prospect rankings, the No. 22 prospect right now is Oklahoma right-hander Cade Cavalli. Most drafts have the right-hander gone before the Nats pick. But last year, many thought Jackson Rutledge would not be on the board when the Nats picked at No. 17. He was and the Nats snatched him up. One reason? Fourteen position players went in front of Rutledge last season.
Could a pitcher with the talent of Cavalli fall to the Nats again this season?
“If we want to go down that road again, I think the guy they like is Cade Cavalli from Oklahoma,” Callis said. “The way we lined up our players, we had Cade Cavalli at No. 22 on our top 200. Now I know the teams aren’t going to draft off of that, but he would be right in line with the Nats’ pick. There is a top tier of college pitchers that are going to go near the top like Asa Lacy from Texas A&M, Emerson Hancock from Georgia, Max Meyer from Minnesota and Reid Detmers from Louisville. Cavalli is at the top of the next tier, so he probably doesn’t get to the Nats.”
Callis said a Nats source told him they are hopeful Cavalli will fall to them like Rutledge did last season.
“If the Nats are making a wish list, Cade Cavalli might be at the top of that realistic wish list,” Callis said. “He’s got some pretty nasty pure stuff, too. Wilcox is interesting. I don’t have Wilcox quite getting to them and a lot of other mocks do, but not far away. I think I had Wilcox going to Milwaukee at No. 22 in one mock, and No. 19 in another mock.”
Callis noted that actual observation and analysis of these collegiate pitchers is set because the season was stopped in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic. That pretty much locked in most of these draft boards. Instead of setting their sights on one or two pitchers, the Nats and other teams can feel comfortable with five to seven throwers in the top 75 because they cannot differentiate them too much based on just 17 regular season games.
“The odd thing obviously about this year is it’s not like guys are moving up and down,” Callis said. “It’s not like Cole Wilcox went out and threw a two-hitter in the regionals and now he’s going No. 15. I don’t think teams have finalized their orders. I still think teams are refining how they are lining these guys up and then they will work on sign ability with that as well. It’s just weird because most years we’d be talking about, ‘Hey, this guy has tailed off a little bit, he might get to No. 22,’ but we don’t know because no one has done anything in two and a half months.”
Being a Georgia alum, Callis is excited about Hancock and Wilcox possibly going early on. This draft is chocked full of front-line Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference pitchers.
“The last time Georgia had two first-round picks was the first year I covered baseball when I was a student in 1987,” Callis said. “We had (former Nats pitching coach) Derek Lilliquist and Cris Carpenter. This year, with the Emerson Hancock and Cole Wilcox combination, I think they had a good chance to get to the College World Series, which, of course, got cancelled. So that was kind of disappointing. I think the Nats are going to wind up with one of those guys.”
What if they don’t get a pitcher like Wilcox? Callis said the Nats will be fine. There is so much mound talent available from in this draft.
“There is Carmen Mlodzinski from South Carolina, Bryce Jarvis from Duke, Bobby Miller from Louisville, Tanner Burns from Auburn, Chris McMahon from Miami and C.J. Van Eyk from Florida State,” Callis said. “It’s amazing how many college pitchers there are this year that could go in the first round. The guys that are going to be around where the Nationals pick, there’s probably going to be at least six or eight college pitchers go off the board before they pick.”
That’s OK for the Nats because eight of 11 pitchers Callis previewed here are ranked from No. 21 to No. 31 on MLBPipeline.com’s top 200 prospect list. Picking No. 22, the Nats will be able to choose from a wealth of collegiate pitchers that will still be on the board.