Once Opening Day passes and the Orioles start to grind their way through the first weeks of the second season of the Mike Elias regime, more and more attention will be placed on the 2020 MLB Draft. After drafting Adley Rutschman No. 1 overall last year to be the face of the rebuild, Elias’ goal is to add another piece on which to build when the team selects No. 2 overall this year.
The Orioles hope the first No. 2 pick in franchise history will produce a star. Some of the biggest names in recent years, include Alex Bregman, whom Elias helped draft with the Astros in 2015, and Kris Bryant, whom the Cubs drafted No. 2 overall in 2013 and was the National League MVP three years later.
This year, the draft is more college heavy than in previous years. Steve Bernhardt, who is the chief baseball officer at Baseball Factory, one of the leading baseball development companies, said that the elite college players have amassed a track record that the high school prospects haven’t had the time to build.
“So many college players, whether it’s early this season or in careers or Cape Cod or USA Baseball have established themselves as elite-level talents that teams feel great about them,” Bernhardt said. “If you have guys with three years of major college success to see he can be an impact major leaguer, most organizations will side that way.”
After talking with Bernhardt and looking at various prospect rankings, I put together a list of players Oriole fans should follow leading up to the MLB draft. This is by no means a comprehensive list, because player stocks rise and fall, especially as the draft gets closer.
Reid Detmers, left-handed pitcher, Louisville
Although Detmers isn’t as highly touted as the two pitchers I’ll discuss later, he could get there by season’s end. He set a Louisville single-season strikeout record as a sophomore with 167 strikeouts in 113 1/3 innings pitched and this season has struck out 33 batters in just 16 innings in his first three starts. His fastball tops out at around 94 miles per hour, and he is working on honing his slider and changeup. Keegan Akin, Zac Lowther, Alexander Wells and Bruce Zimmermann are the Orioles’ left-handed pitching prospects that are closest to the majors, although Detmers looks to be closer to DL Hall in terms of upside.
Nick Gonzales, second base, New Mexico State
All Gonzales has done since joining the Aggies is hit. He hit .347 as a freshman, then slashed .432/.532/.773 in an All-American sophomore season. So far as a junior, he has hit .500 with 12 home runs in just 13 games. According to Bernhardt, there are still questions. Some of his numbers might be inflated because of playing in high altitude, and he appears to be limited defensively. However, if the Orioles drafted the switch-hitting Gonzales he likely would become the best middle infield prospect in the farm system.
Emerson Hancock, right-handed pitcher, Georgia
Hancock has been talked about as the potential No. 1 overall pick since last year’s draft ended. After posting a 5.10 ERA in 77 2/3 innings as a freshman, Hancock finished with a 1.99 ERA as a sophomore. His fastball can touch as high as 97, and he has a slider and changeup. The Athletic’s Keith Law saw him pitch on February 21 against Santa Clara, and Hancock threw two different sliders, which could only make him a more tantalizing prospect. The Orioles’ minor league pitching program was a big success last year, and Hancock would be another frontline arm in a strong group of prospects.
Austin Hendrick, outfielder, West Alleghany High School (Pennsylvania)
Hendrick is the best high school hitter in this draft class. In its preseason high school All-America list, Baseball America ranks him as the second-best hitter and best power hitter, as well as the best outfield arm. As is the case with all high school prospects, Hendrick can reject the signing bonus and play two years at Mississippi State since he’ll be 21 when the draft comes around after his sophomore year. However, it’s hard to see a potential top-10 pick rejecting a multimillion dollar signing bonus.
Asa Lacy, left-handed pitcher, Texas A&M
Lacy is the No. 2 pitching prospect in this draft class and could be 1B to Hancock’s 1A by season’s end. He worked out of the bullpen for his freshman year before breaking out as one of the most effective starters in the country last year. His 4.97 hits per nine innings was the lowest in the country and he struck out 13.2 batters per nine innings. He has carried that into 2020, striking out 33 and allowing just nine hits in 17 innings. The biggest knock on Lacy is his control. He walked 4.36 per nine last year, but that number is down to 3.17 in his first three starts this season.
Austin Martin, shortstop/third base, Vanderbilt
Martin was the projected No. 1 overall pick in Baseball America’s most recent mock draft. He was a freshman All-American, had a program single-season record 105 hits as a sophomore and is slashing .362/.508/.660 to start his junior season. With Vanderbilt primed to get back to the College World Series and go for a second straight national championship, fans should be able to see him play on ESPN multiple times in June. The only knock on Martin is his defense. He’s projected as a shortstop but has played mostly third base for the Commodores the past two seasons.
Garrett Mitchell, outfielder, UCLA
Alhough Mitchell doesn’t look to be in the 1-1 or 1-2 discussion, he’s still a tantalizing prospect. He hit .349 in a breakout sophomore year, stole 18 bases and plays solid defense in center field. According to Baseball America’s Carlos Collazo, he has shown power in batting practice that’s yet to translate into games. The other concern about Mitchell is that he has type 1 diabetes, which could make some teams hesitant.
Spencer Torkelson, first base, Arizona State
After going undrafted out of high school in 2017, Torkelson has transformed himself into the most polished hitter in this year’s draft class. He smashed Barry Bonds’ freshman year home run record in just 22 games and hit a combined 48 home runs in his first two seasons. This year teams aren’t pitching to him, and he’s walked 27 times in 14 games, including 15 intentional walks. He has still slashed .325/.603/.850 with six home runs. There’s a possibility the Detroit Tigers, who have the first pick, take him before the Orioles get a chance.
Zac Veen, outfield, Spruce Creek High School (Florida)
Veen is the second-best high school outfield prospect, trailing only Hendrick in a deep class. He’s 6 feet 5, 200 pounds and already is known for his tape-measure home runs. He’s been rising up draft boards after a strong start to his senior season, although he hasn’t worked his way all the way to the top of the draft.