MLB Draft preview and podcast with ESPN Insider Kiley McDaniel
Who knows when Major League Baseball will return? But Wednesday evening, the 2020 Major League Baseball Draft begins, and it’ll conclude Thursday evening. Yes, the five-round, shortened draft will span two days with the first and competitive balance rounds occurring Wednesday night (6 p.m.) before rounds two through the final fifth round on Thursday (4:00 p.m.). Both ESPN and MLB Network will televise and cover the draft.
Because of MLB’s current shutdown, the original plan of a 3.5% raise to assigned slot bonus values won’t occur in 2020 and 2021 drafts. That said, the penalties for teams spending more than their assigned bonus pool remain in place. Courtesy of MLB.com, a breakdown of penalties for a team that exceeds an assigned bonus pool:
If a club exceeds its assigned pool, it faces a penalty. Teams that outspend their allotment by 0-5 percent pay a 75 percent tax on the overage. At higher thresholds, clubs lose future picks: a first-rounder and a 75 percent tax for surpassing their pool by more than 5 and up to 10 percent; a first- and a second-rounder and a 100 percent tax for more than 10 and up to 15 percent; and two first-rounders and a 100 percent tax for more than 15 percent.
In eight years with these rules, teams have exceeded their allotments a total of 149 times but never by more than 5 percent. Twenty-one of the 30 teams outspent their pools last year.
Special thanks to @kileymcd, who joined me for a #MLBDraft preview edition of the Extra Bases podcast: https://t.co/043A7VpV7a Tune into ESPN to watch his analysis and buy his book. Topics: MLB, unpredictable draft, Trackman/data, scouting, @TexasBaseball signees/Elder, more.— Dustin McComas (@DMcComasOB) June 9, 2020
Obviously, this MLB Draft will be very unique given the change from 40 rounds to five. Additionally, all undrafted players eligible to be selected can sign for a maximum of just $20,000 as a free agent. Combine that with the five-round limit and a possible scenario unfolds of many talented juniors returning to school and some freshmen making it to campus who otherwise wouldn’t. However, Texas probably won’t be as fortunate as some other programs when it comes to the latter part of that previous sentence.
But does anyone truly know?
While talking over the last weeks with scouts, crosscheckers, and scouting directors, the only consensus about the MLB Draft is no one truly knows how it’ll play out. While that’s true for normal drafts, it’s true to a far lesser extent; the point is these guys always enter those drafts with a much, much, MUCH better feel for how early rounds will play out. This year, they don’t. Remember, the main reason behind the shortened draft is because owners don’t want to spend the money, and don’t have their usual cash flow from games coming in daily.
So, could a lot of teams, and more than people expect, decide to aim for cheaper players who would sign for under the projected slot amount? It’s possible. Owners could encourage their scouting departments to lean towards players willing to sign for significantly less than projected slot amount. And if that occurs, the draft could have very much of a college feel to it. Those players are viewed as less risky and are often easier to sign given the alternative – returning to school for, in a vast majority of cases, senior season and entering the draft next season with no leverage. Could there even be a few senior signs in the top five rounds to save even more money? I’m not ruling anything out that includes owners saving money.
Oh, and throw in this wrinkle too: because of a global pandemic, medical information could be less accessible prior to a draft than normal, creating an increased possibility of medical surprises after players are selected. Yeah, there are definitely more reasons than normal the draft could go sideways.
But multiple scouts also stated the heavily scouted high school prospects should be selected like usual, and perhaps especially so because they were the ones scouts had evaluations eyes on prior to the season ending just as it began. With that in mind, let’s preview the Major League Baseball Draft from the Longhorn perspective:
CURRENT TEXAS PLAYERS
Bryce Elder – Junior – RHP
Prep Baseball Report – No. 73
2080 – No. 107
ESPN – No. 151+ (not included in top 150, but will be in top 250)
MLB.com – No. 109
Fangraphs – Not ranked
Elder arrived at Texas a late addition to his signing class, and emerged as an intriguing freshman who pitched primarily with a mid-80’s cutter/slider. As a sophomore, Elder added increased velocity and a true sinker to distinguish between his slider and started to show the feel for more of a repertoire.In 2020, Elder’s body again matured and added strength, which allowed him to consistently sit 91-93 MPH with his two-seamer despite only moderate effort in his delivery. Despite all four starts being only glimpses of the future when he’d have it all clicking, Elder posted excellent numbers – 2.08 ERA in 26.0 innings pitched with 32 strikeouts, seven walks and batters hit just .191 against him.
If Elder had a full season, he would have likely pitched himself into All-American consideration once he regained consistent feel for his slider and mixed in more of his changeup to lefties and curve later in outings; both pitches profile as future average offerings with the curve joining his slider as future above-average pitches. Interestingly, Elder has more velocity than he’s shown, although he touched 96 MPH this past season. If he switches to a four-seamer as a professional, Elder could sit 94-97 MPH with more in the tank.
Still relatively new to pitching, Elder, a former standout golfer and also a high school basketball player, is an underrated athlete who rapidly improved over the course of his collegiate career. He also has excellent makeup both on and off the field, and teams who move him down their lists because of his Trackman data, which isn’t elite, will miss an opportunity to select a future big-league arm.
PROJECTED DRAFT POSITION: If Elder makes himself a more attractive signing because of a willingness to accept a bonus below slot amount, he could go as early as the second round. The few teams we’ve spoken to felt he’d be drafted, and probably before the end of the fourth round. While it’s not a guarantee, because this is such an extremely heavy college pitcher draft, he’s selected it would be a big surprise if he isn’t picked.
Other draft-eligible, non-senior Texas players who could be drafted, but are unlikely to be selected in the top five rounds: Zach Zubia, Kam Fields, Cole Quintanilla, Coy Cobb, Tristan Stevens
In a normal draft, Fields, Quintanilla, Zubia, Cobb and Stevens would all be selected. Fields and Quintanilla both began the shortened season slowly and plagued by inconsistency on the mound, but both have been scouted extensively with enough velocity and secondary stuff to perhaps even slide into the backend of day two during a normal draft.
Zubia’s plus-plus raw power and outstanding summer a couple years ago in the Northwoods League would have probably led to a selection early during day three (11th-40th rounds). Cobb is a draft-eligible sophomore who was a heavily scouted prep player. Although his stuff hasn’t improved at Texas, his production was better this season.
The question for these guys, and seniors, will be whether to take the $20,000 and start the pro journey or return for another season at Texas with even less draft leverage in the future, although more rounds in the draft could prove beneficial.
Maybe you should grab a beer before this section; actually, perhaps a bourbon is more appropriate and stronger. Based on many conversations I’ve had, the expectation is the top of the Texas signing class is decimated by the draft. Now, keep in mind no one truly knows how the draft is going to play out; normally, these guys know. Yes, Lloyd Christmas says there is a chance. Just not a very good one.
THE GROUP OF FIVE
Jared Kelley – RHP – Refugio
Prep Baseball Report – No. 19
2080 – No. 12
ESPN – No. 26
MLB.com – No. 12
Fangraphs – No. 28
A very hard-throwing, 6-3 righty recently named Gatorade National Player of the Year, Kelley combines a plus fastball with a future plus changeup. His breaking ball is a bit of a work in progress but could develop into an average or above-average offering in time.While Kelley could slide down the draft deeper than expected, assuming he’s unwilling to sign at a discount, he’s given no indication whatsoever to Texas he’s coming to school.
PROJECTED DRAFT POSITION: Once upon a time it seemed a lock Kelley would be selected in the top 20 picks. Now, there’s a possibility he slides out of the first round. Regardless, it would be an enormous surprise if he ended up in college.
Tanner Witt – RHP/INF – Episcopal (Houston)
Prep Baseball Report – No. 60
2080 – No. 53
ESPN – No. 27
MLB.com – No. 53
Fangraphs – No. 31
A true two-way talent who could make an impact in college also with his bat, Witt has moved up MLB Draft rankings lists and is gaining as much buzz as an rising prep arm. Teams relying heavily on their models will love Witt because he’s 17-years-old, an athletic 6-6 with mid-90’s fastball velocity and can spin a 3,000-RPM (spin rate) hook. He’s drawn comparisons, because of the similar size and breaking ball spin rate, to Carter Stewart, who was selected 8th overall in 2018 by the Atlanta Braves.
PROJECTED DRAFT POSITION: I’ve heard there are some teams who believe Witt is worthy of a selection inside the top 20, but he’s unlikely to be selected that high, especially considering there are going to be many teams who barely turn in high school prospects to even be on their respective boards.
What could help Texas is a lot of family pressure to attend college, and an asking price reflective of a clear first-round selection. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel labeled Witt as 50-50 to turn professional, and that’s probably where I fall as well.
Jared Jones – RHP – La Mirada (California)
Prep Baseball Report – No. 49
2080 – No. 42
ESPN – No. 51
MLB.com – No. 55
Fangraphs – No. 84
In August, Jones will turn 19-years-old, which might hurt him some with MLB teams who rely heavily upon their computer models. However, he’s a good athlete with a fastball already able to sit in the mid-90’s with the ability to flirt with 100 MPH.
When he committed to Texas, his control and command issues were big enough concerns to make college baseball a true possibility despite his elite arm strength. Scouts have seen enough improvement, and someone will bet on the immense upside while understanding the risk.
PROJECTED DRAFT POSITION: It sounds like Jones made his intentions to sign known, and he probably won’t have to wait until the third round. But given the control/command concerns, there’s a chance he waits longer, and a very small chance he ends up in college. But don’t get your hopes up.
Carson Tucker – MIF – Mountain Pointe (Arizona)
Prep Baseball Report – No. 144
2080 – No. 79
ESPN – No. 33
MLB.com – No. 52
Fangraphs – No. 56
Unfortunately for Texas, location worked against it in the case of Tucker, who was one of the most heavily scouted prep players in the country because he played near many Spring Training facilities in Arizona. Also, Tucker showed more power and physicality during his limited action this season, which helped his draft stock and not Texas.
PROJECTED DRAFT POSITION: The younger brother of current Pirates infielder and former first-round pick Cole Tucker, Carson could sneak his up into the late first round like his brother. According to Eric Longerhagen of Fangraphs.com, there’s some buzz Tucker would take well below slot value if selected in the backend of the first round. Regardless, he’s likely going to be selected in the top three rounds and is expected to sign.
Petey Halpin – OF – St. Francis High School (California)
Prep Baseball Report – No. 120
2080 – No. 82
ESPN – No. 66
MLB.com – No. 76
Fangraphs – No. 71
Halpin is one of the best pure prep hitters in the 2020 draft class, and after being looked over during most of the 2019 summer circuit, the lefty hit his way into the conversation as one of the best high school outfielders. He’s more hit over power currently but is starting to show a little more juice in the bat; Halpin is a plus runner, has a plus arm, and is a solid defensive player.
PROJECTED DRAFT POSITION: I’ve heard there are a few teams who think Halpin is good enough to be selected late in the first round, but the industry believes that’s very unlikely. If a team truly believes he’s signable at his high asking price, he’d probably need to be selected in the second round.
While I think Halpin is more of a 50-50 bet between professional and college, ESPN’s McDaniel told me he’s putting the percentages at 80-20 in favor of college. It sounds like Halpin’s asking price is reflective of a possible late-first round selection, which would push him down the draft and possibly, if Texas is very lucky, out of it completely.
OTHER SIGNEES WHO COULD BE SELECTED BUT ARE UNLIKELY TO HEAR THEIR NAMES CALLED: LHP Lucas Gordon (Notre Dame High School; Los Angeles, California); INF Mitchell Daly (Bob Jones High School; Huntsville, Alabama)
Gordon lacks physicality and elite velocity, and is more pitchability over stuff currently. That said, he recently posted a video of a 91 MPH fastball with 99% spin efficiency with improving stuff to match his advanced maturity, command and feel for pitching. He’s unlikely to be selected, but during a normal draft, Texas would probably have to worry.Some teams have called around on Daly to gauge interest, but because the draft is so short and could lean heavily towards college players instead of prep standouts, he’s unlikely to be selected.