The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft is scheduled for June 10-12. The Orioles will hold the No. 2 overall pick for the first time. They’ve now picked No. 1 overall twice, but never had the second pick.
While there has been talk that the draft could be delayed, that is only speculation right now. At some point they will almost certainly hold a draft and it may just be beginning June 10 as scheduled.
When I interviewed Baseball America national writer Carlos Collazo, who specializes in draft coverage, for this entry, he provided the group of five players that currently leads Baseball America’s top 200 prospects list.
They are Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson, who is rated No. 1 among all draft prospects. Georgia right-handed pitcher Emerson Hancock is No. 2, with Vanderbilt infielder Austin Martin No. 3, followed by left-hander Asa Lacy of Texas A&M and second baseman Nick Gonzales of New Mexico State.
Collazo believes that group of five has separated itself from the pack and that the Orioles’ No. 2 pick will come from this list.
“I think so,” said Collazo. “Entering the year, the top three had already separated themselves into an upper echelon. Now Asa Lacy and Nick Gonzales have joined the group. There are scouts that prefer Lacy over Hancock now as the top pitcher. Gonzales is just a special hitter and might have the best hit tool in the class. This group - you can place them in any order and it might make sense. After this five there is some separation with the next group of players.”
After hitting 25 homers as a college freshman and 23 last season, he was off to another strong start in 17 games this year before the season was stopped. He was batting .340/.598/.780 with four doubles, six homers, 11 RBIs and an OPS of 1.378.
Collazo realizes the O’s have a DH/first base logjam of sorts already, but if he is available, they may have to make this pick.
“I think so, you have to consider it,” he said. “Especially if Austin Martin goes first off the board. If Torkelson goes 1/1 and we’ve never had a college first baseman go with the first overall pick in the draft. That is because that profile historically is not one that goes 1/1 because defensive questions that you have.
“But if Martin goes 1/1, the Orioles have to look at Torkelson. The bat is that special. He broke Barry Bonds’ freshman home run record at Arizona State. He is the best power and hit bat in this draft, college or high school. He’s the best power-hitting prospect in the class. At some point, you have to consider: How special is this bat?
“I do think it would make a lot of sense at No. 2. If you are going to get a guy you can put in the middle of the order with Adley Rutschman, you really don’t care what position he plays. If you have that conviction in his bat you just take him. And you figure out your defensive alignment at the major league level when you need to.
“At the same time I think the Orioles are in a pretty good position because they have number of players that make sense in that range. It will be interesting to see what happens.”
Is Torkelson limited to only first base?
“I think so,” said Collazo. “His most likely position is first base, but he is more athletic than a guy like Andrew Vaughn last year. It wouldn’t shock me if Torkelson wound up in a corner outfield spot. But you are not going to get a ton of defensive value from him. I do think he has the athleticism to handle his own out there.”
The right-hander had a 1.99 ERA as a sophomore. To start this season, over four outings, he was 2-0 with a 3.75 ERA. Over 22 innings, he gave up 22 hits with three walks to 34 strikeouts.
“He just has a long track record at the college level,” said Collazo. “Last year, he was one of the best pitchers in the country as a sophomore. He is an exceptional strike-thrower and has some of the best command in the class. He has an easy plus changeup that he can consistently rely on. Especially lefty hitters as a right-hander.
“I think some of the questions you might have - he just didn’t look as sharp as he did his sophomore year stuff-wise. Some scouts question his arm slot, a little bit lower than you want. I think there are questions about his deception and the spin on his fastball, how that is going to play. It’s a pitch that is 94 to 97 (mph) pretty consistently, but hitters were squaring it up more than you expect.
“But at the same time, he’s an impressive pitcher and I think he has the ability to make the adjustments necessary. He was throwing that pitch higher in the zone this year and he had not previously done that. But at the same time, you have a great frame and delivery with potential plus stuff across the board. He’s still a high pick.”
Last season for Vanderbilt, he hit .410/.503/.619. Through 16 games this season, he was batting .377/.507/.660 with six doubles, three homers, 15 runs and 11 RBIs.
“I think he might have the best upside of any of the players in this group,” Collazo said. “Just because he has the hit tool, speed, he has athleticism and I also think he can be an impact defender at a premium position. Whether that is the infield, shortstop, third base. I think he’ll be an asset defensively in addition to bringing a plus hit tool and speed on the bases. So I think when you look at everything that he does, he probably does the most for you. The other top hitters don’t have his defensive value. It’s a very attractive package and that is why he’s probably the favorite of mine right now to go 1/1. But again, all these guys are pretty close together.”
Martin made starts at both third base and center fielder this season. But Collazo believes the team that picks him still should consider him at short in the pro ranks.
“It’s not great if you are not a shortstop on your college team, projecting that into the future. But he has the arm strength, athleticism and footwork and all the tools and ingredients you’d like to see at shortstop. For me personally, I would draft him as a shortstop and see if he could handle it there. Let him get the reps and see if he can handle it.”
The lefty with a mid-90s fastball and plus slider posted a 2.13 ERA last year as a sophomore. His 4.97 hits allowed per nine innings was fewest in the country. In 2020, he got off to a great start, going 3-0 with an 0.75 ERA in four starts. Over 24 innings, he allowed nine hits with eight walks and 46 strikeouts.
“He was putting together one of the best pitching seasons in college baseball,” Collazo said. “It’s a very strong pitching class and he was certainly at the top of that through the spring. You don’t want to overanalyze four weeks, which is a small sample size, but when you put it together with what they’ve done throughout their college careers, it is impressive.”
He led the country batting .432 last season. Then he showed some of his pop is legit with seven homers in the Cape Cod college summer league. Then he put up some crazy stats through the first 16 games of this season. He is batting .448/.610/.1.155 with three doubles, a triple, 12 homers and 36 RBIs.
“All this guy has ever done is hit at a high level,” said Collazo. “And I know people will question the environment he hits in at high altitude. That obviously helps the power numbers. But he hit in the Cape Cod League last summer against some of the best pitchers in college baseball. He performed at a high level and hit seven home runs with a wood bat. I think that reassures you he is a good hitter. But obviously he did start this season really well and that matters. What you did before the draft does matter.”
Collazo said it’s too early to know which way Detroit is leaning with the No. 1 pick.
“Nothing specific on that, it’s super early. No insight on who they prefer at this point,” he said. “They’ve had a tendency to go power arms. Whether or not taking Casey Mize 1/1 (in 2018) makes them want to go in another direction, you could argue that both ways. A frontline pitcher is maybe the most valuable position in baseball, an argument for some of these pitchers at the top. But with some arms they like maybe it’s a good time to go for one of these impact bats. That’s a long way of saying we don’t have a great idea at this point.”
The Orioles have the No. 2 pick in round one, but also the No. 30 overall pick as the top selection in Competitive Balance Round A. In the second round, they hold pick No. 39 overall, and in round three, that pick is No. 75. They would pick next at No. 105 and every 30 picks through the draft after that.
Collazo said it’s not a bad year to hold four of the first 75 selections.
“It’s great for that. The strength of this year’s draft is just the depth, particularly on the college side,” he said. “For the Orioles, that’s a fantastic spot to be in. Not only do you get to the pick at the top and get one of the elite talents, you also have picks in the top 100.
“This could be one of the better draft classes in the last 10 years. I have frequently compared it to the 2015 draft, which had such a strong college class. They are people saying it’s the best class since 2011. And if you go back and look at that 2011 class, there are impact major leaguers throughout the first round. So it’s a good time to have a number of early picks.”
Now, this note: Remember, it is a time for washing hands!
Stay safe out there! “Hands... washing hands..” 🎶 pic.twitter.com/QaRB1qZshp-- Neil Diamond (@NeilDiamond) March 22, 2020