TORONTO — Best. Player. Available.
That’s the stated philosophy league-wide when it comes to the MLB draft, a process that rarely produces anything close to instant gratification the way the NFL, NBA and even the NHL draft do within the top five picks.
Rather, the fruits of the draft and developmental labour tend to show up three to five years down the road, allowing more than enough time for team dynamics and needs to change exponentially.
Best. Player. Available.
It’s the only way to go, they’ll tell you.
But with the game skewing younger and the timelines for top 10 picks speeding up a bit in recent years — we’re still talking two to three years for the best players in every draft class — teams are starting to see top prospects have an impact relatively quickly with more regularity.
Armed with the fifth-overall pick Wednesday night in his first draft as the lead dog, new Blue Jays director of amateur scouting Shane Farrell doesn’t dismiss the allure of a prospect seen as an almost finished product.
“I really think you have to separate that,” Farrell said Monday as the Jays were hunkered down in their virtual war room, making final preparations for the 7 p.m. ET start on Wednesday night. “It’s tempting to just gravitate towards the player that could be in the major leagues sooner than later. I think you have to enter each draft with a very open mind and really take a best-player approach. There obviously has been a bit of a youth movement recently in baseball, and we’ve seen a lot of college players over the years navigate the minor leagues a little quicker than normal, I’d say. But I don’t think that in terms of the timeline that really factors into our decision making. We’re looking for the best player for the Blue Jays that will help us win a championship and have sustained success.”
For the Jays, the on-the-clock fight between quick timeline versus massive upside could be New Mexico State infielder Nick Gonzales, 21, seen as a quick mover who could be in an MLB lineup by 2022, and Zac Veen, 18, by far the best high school position player in the draft.
Once you factor need into the equation and rule out a high school pitcher — this Blue Jays regime has not taken one in the first round, but they love high-upside prep players in rounds 2 and 3 — you then land on a pair of college right-handers in Georgia’s Emerson Hancock and Minnesota’s Max Meyer.
Pitching is a constant need, and the chance to take one of the best NCAA arms in the class may be an opportunity that is too tantalizing to pass up.
“It seems like a deep class in college pitching this year,” Farrell said, agreeing with the industry consensus. “I think we’ve seen an increase in velocity at the amateur level over the past few years and that seems pretty evident this year more than ever. We’re entering this draft very open to all demographics and the entire player pool trying not to be hyper focused on one individual or one subset of players.”
The MLB draft is as fluid as it gets, with multiple options still in play for every single team in the top five, even less than 48 hours out.
“I think we’ll probably know more the morning of Wednesday, as information is starting to trade hands a little bit,” Farrell speculated. “Right now, it’s tough to say, and we still want to process everybody at the top of our board equally and make sure we’re spending enough time on those guys, as important of a decision as it is to be made.”
Here’s a look at how the first 37 picks Wednesday night could shake out, as well as some potential targets the Blue Jays could be interested in adding to the system come pick No. 42 on Thursday.
1. Detroit Tigers
1B Spencer Torkelson, Arizona State
Cutting a late underslot deal like the Houston Astros did in 2012 when they gave Carlos Correa $2.4 million less than the recommended slot value for the top pick is always an option, but Torkelson is the best college position player on most boards and the safe pick.
He can hit, hit for power, and the advanced approach could make the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Torkelson one of the best first base bats in the bigs.
With all of the pitching the Tigers have on the way, this pick makes sense, but no one has ruled out the next two guys, Martin and Lacy.
2. Baltimore Orioles
3B/OF Austin Martin, Vanderbilt
He’s played all over the diamond for the Commodores, and teams seem to be split on where he ends up, with centre field, third base and middle infield the likeliest, in that order.
No matter the glove, the 21-year-old right-hander hitter can rake, using some of the best bat speed in the draft class to get it done, and Martin could be a top-of-the-order fixture in short order.
By no means is this pick locked in. Even with the largest bonus pool in the draft ($13,894,300), the Orioles could get creative. But for a franchise in dire need of a cornerstone, Martin might prove tough to pass up.
3. Miami Marlins
LHP Asa Lacy, Texas A&M
A 6-foot-4 southpaw from Texas, Lacy was dominant prior to coronavirus ending the Aggies’ season, which has seemingly pushed him ahead of the rest of the college pitching crop that you’ll read about shortly.
Much was made about their payroll shedding a couple of winters ago, but the Marlins have quietly stockpiled a lot of talent, and adding the most complete college starter in the draft is a nice bronze medal in this situation.
A top three of Torkelson, Martin and Lacy would be chalk, which is rare in recent MLB draft history.
4. Kansas City Royals
2B Nick Gonzales, New Mexico State
Authoring huge numbers in the New Mexico air have pushed Gonzales all the way to the top of the draft.
A second baseman as a freshman and sophomore, Gonzales shifted to shortstop as a showcase this season, but most see a bounce back to the right side of the diamond in his future.
The hit tool is elite, and he’s got some speed, but the power is in question at this point.
He’s been compared to Nick Madrigal, the fourth-overall pick by the Chicago White Sox last year, and Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Keston Hiura, who both profile as high average offensive producers at the keystone.
5. Toronto Blue Jays
OF Zac Veen, Spruce Creek HS (Florida)
Under the current regime, the Jays have selected one high school position player in the first round in four years, and the Jordan Groshans pick at 12th overall in 2018 is looking like a good one.
That could lead them back to the prep well with Veen on Wednesday night at the same pick they took a pretty good high school outfielder 23 years ago in Vernon Wells.
Veen won’t turn 19 until December, but if everything clicks, the 6-foot-5 left-handed hitter draws Christian Yelich comparisons, aka he’s got an MVP ceiling.
That’s the pull here. That off-the-charts superstar upside.
He could also be off the board, as the Royals seem to be very interested in that ceiling at pick No. 4 and the Orioles potentially in play at No. 2.
If Veen is off the board or they deem a high school outfielder to be too risky, the Jays will likely zero in on the college pitching crop, a group they’ve gone to three times in the four Ross Atkins/Mark Shapiro drafts with T.J. Zeuch (21st overall, 2016), Nate Pearson (28th overall, 2017) and Alek Manoah last year at No. 11 overall.
At this point, it would be a minor surprise if it’s not one of these four names: Gonzales, Veen, Hancock or Meyer.
6. Seattle Mariners
RHP Emerson Hancock, Georgia
A finalist for the Jays at No. 5, Hancock is the second college arm off the board and starts a run to finish out the top 10 that ends up being 90 per cent NCAA products.
In the conversation for first pick overall heading into the year, Hancock’s stuff didn’t jump out as much as it did in 2019 when he posted a 1.99 ERA, leaving the 6-foot-4 right-hander alongside Minnesota righty Meyer in the second tier of college pitchers.
The allure with Hancock is his excellent command, already grading as plus. The reason he’s not going first overall is the lack of a true out pitch, but there’s not only lots of time to figure that out, there are also ways to overcome it and still fulfill that top-of-the-rotation promise.
7. Pittsburgh Pirates
OF Heston Kjerstad, Arkansas
With a new Blue Jays-flavoured regime now in Pittsburgh, it’s tough to predict what will float their boat at pick No. 7, because there are myriad ways Ben Cherington and former Jays director of amateur scouting Steve Sanders could go here.
Kjerstad, best case, is a quick moving corner outfielder with some of the biggest power in the draft, as no part of the ballpark is safe when the 6-foot-3 left-hander is hacking.
But there’s the kicker. Kjerstad strikes out a bit too much, and it could hinder the overall offensive package.
Meyer could be a consideration here, as could the top high school pitcher in the draft, Oregon right-hander Mick Abel.
8. San Diego Padres
RHP Max Meyer, Minnesota
Most organizations like their pitchers big and sturdy with a frame capable of dealing with the grind of 200 innings.
Meyer is not that. He’s more Sonny Gray, standing 6-feet, 185 pounds, but with wicked nasty stuff headlined by a 98-mph fastball and a wipeout slider that tilts into the low-90s.
Teams will wonder about Meyer’s durability due to the body type and question his rotation future, but the stuff is so good it might not matter, and he could be dominant in a multi-inning role.
There’s a chance Meyer is long gone by the time the Padres are on the clock and this would likely represent his floor.
9. Colorado Rockies
C Patrick Bailey, North Carolina State
A plus defensive catcher, how much Bailey will contribute with the bat is the question, something that could be answered with two words in this scenario: Coors Field.
If things click with the stick, aided by thin air, Bailey could be a pretty valuable asset, with his contributions on defence carrying the profile.
He’s the best all-round catcher in the draft.
10. Los Angeles Angels
LHP Reid Detmers, Louisville
Everybody says they take the best player available regardless of need, but if the Angels don’t find some pitching to support Mike Trout, the league’s most marketable commodity will waste away in regular-season oblivion.
Detmers would not only represent the best board value, he also has the potential to move fairly quickly and help out in the not-so-distant future.
The Angels have an eye for high school bats, leaving Tennessee prep outfielder Robert Hassell as a logical target, as well.
11. Chicago White Sox
OF Robert Hassell, Independence HS (Tennessee)
12. Cincinnati Reds
RHP Mick Abel, Jesuit HS (Oregon)
13. San Francisco Giants
RHP Cade Cavalli, Oklahoma
14. Texas Rangers
OF Garrett Mitchell, UCLA
15. Philadelphia Phillies
C Tyler Soderstrom, Turlock HS (California)
16. Chicago Cubs
RHP Clayton Beeter, Texas Tech
17. Boston Red Sox
LHP Garrett Crochet, Tennessee
18. Arizona D-Backs
SS Ed Howard, Mount Carmel HS (Illinois)
19. New York Mets
OF Austin Hendrick, West Allegheny HS (Pennsylvania)
20. Milwaukee Brewers
RHP Slade Cecconi, Miami
21. St. Louis Cardinals
RHP Bobby Miller, Louisville
22. Washington Nationals
SS Casey Martin, Arkansas
23. Cleveland Indians
OF Pete Crow-Armstrong, Harvard-Westlake HS (California)
24. Tampa Bay Rays
RHP Cole Wilcox, Georgia
25. Atlanta Braves
RHP Jared Kelley, Refugio HS (Texas)
26. Oakland Athletics
C Austin Wells, Arizona
27. Minnesota Twins
C Dillon Dingler, Ohio State
28. New York Yankees
RHP Tanner Burns, Auburn
29. Los Angeles Dodgers
RHP Carmen Mlodzinski, South Carolina
Competitive Balance Round A
30. Baltimore Orioles
RHP Chris McMahon, Miami
31. Pittsburgh Pirates
SS Nick Loftin, Baylor
32. Kansas City Royals
SS Carson Tucker, Mountain Pointe HS (Arizona)
33. Arizona Diamondbacks
OF Daniel Cabrera, LSU
34. San Diego Padres
RHP Nick Bitsko, Central Bucks East HS (Pennsylvania)
35. Colorado Rockies
1B Blaze Jordan, DeSota Central HS (Mississippi)
36. Cleveland Indians
3B Jordan Walker, Decatur HS (Georgia)
37. Tampa Bay (from St. Louis)
RHP J.T. Ginn, Mississippi State