By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and without much fanfare, the first round of the Major League Baseball Draft was on Wednesday night. Due to changes to the draft process, there is plenty to criticize about the draft from MLB’s side of things, but for the players and teams involved, it was an eventful evening.
Up first to the podium were the Detroit Tigers, who nabbed slugging infielder Spencer Torkelson. Though Torkelson played first base in college, the Tigers announced him as a third baseman. As a first baseman, his ultimate value will be limited due to a lack of defensive value. However, Torkleson proving to be even a competent third baseman would make him a potential superstar given his high-ceiling bat. Even as a first baseman, Torkelson projects to be a middle-of-the-order force for the Tigers.
Outfielder Heston Kjerstad went second overall to the Baltimore Orioles. Perhaps the most talent-depleted franchise in baseball, Kierstad was a bit of a surprise selection at two. There is a lot to like about his power profile, but there is also cause for concern given his struggles with swings-and-misses while in college. Plus, he is likely going to be a right fielder long-term, meaning he will have to be an offensive juggernaut to make up for his lack of defensive value.
Miami nabbed college arm Max Meyer with the third pick in an interesting move for the Marlins. Meyer is slight of frame, making it a tough bet to pencil him into the team’s starting rotation for the next decade. However, he has proven more than capable of racking up strikeouts. A smart franchise would manage to turn Meyer’s skillset into a multi-inning force out of the bullpen. It remains to be seen whether or not Miami has the staff in place to take advantage of his potentially unique ability to dominate.
With Baltimore reaching to take Kierstad and Miami taking Meyer, the Kansas City Royals were big winners at four, taking left-hander Asa Lacy. The 21-year old boasts an ace’s frame, along with a four-pitch arsenal that has shown steady improvement during his college career. The Royals have steadily been collecting a barrage of high-upside arms in the minor leagues, and Lacy is yet another added to the stockpile.
Seen by many as the best player in the draft class, shortstop Austin Martin’s slide on draft night ended at five. The Toronto Blue Jays have to be elated to land Martin, who boasts a bat capable of turning him into a perennial All Star. Martin is also extremely versatile on the defensive spectrum, with shortstop a possibility though outfield or elsewhere in the infield will also be considerations. Martin isn’t likely to need much seasoning in the minor leagues. He could be ready to join Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. as building blocks in Toronto at some point in 2021.
Right-handed pitcher Emerson Hancock was thought to be the presumptive first overall pick at this time a year ago, but the UGA product slid to the Seattle Mariners with the sixth overall pick. Like Austin Martin, Hancock is close to being a finished product developmentally, and it wouldn’t be a surprise for him to join Seattle as soon as the 2021 season. He has a massive frame, an arsenal of pitches capable of generating swings-and-misses, and has exhibited excellent control during his college career. Hancock has a chance to develop into the ace Seattle has desperately needed since Felix Hernandez’s sudden decline.
While the focus with the draft class is the 2021 season and beyond, there remains much uncertainty surrounding MLB’s ability to have a 2020 season. The owners continue to negotiate with the MLBPA in bad faith, seeking further concessions from the players beyond the already agreed upon discounted salaries for the season. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred recently boasted assurances that there would be a season in 2020, but it is becoming more and more difficult to see that as a reality.