2020 may be the least opportune time to be a scouting director in the modern history of baseball.
As the June 10-11 MLB Draft looms, front offices will lean on scouting directors to point them in the right direction in a draft without much to work with. Said scouting directors will have little or no 2020 NCAA or high school spring seasons to work off of when trying to evaluate the prospects that their employers should spend heavy resources on in the MLB Draft.
Additionally, the economic fallout of COVID-19 led the MLB to adjust their 2020 draft to include just five rounds. Normally, the draft is 40 rounds. Without the normal length of the draft, the handful (or less) of picks that each team possess will take on greater significance. As previously stated, though, it will be harder to evaluate prospects without seeing another year of their development.
With the understanding that there's next-to-no certainty in terms of how the 2020 MLB Draft board will fall, here's RADIO.COM Sports' projection of what the first 10 picks could look like:
1. Detroit Tigers: Spencer Torkelson - 1B, Arizona State
Arizona State head coach Tracy Smith says you would be "crazy" not to select Torkelson with the No. 1 overall pick. He's looking at you, Al Avila. The Tigers are coming off a disastrous 47-114 campaign and their major league roster remains devoid of talent. While MLB Pipeline says they possess the fifth best farm system in baseball currently, they need to continue to accumulate young talent. Torkelson was hitting .340 with six home runs and 11 RBIs in just 50 at-bats before the 2020 season was suspended. In 498 career college at-bats, he has a staggeringly high .729 slugging percentage.
2. Baltimore Orioles: Austin Martin - IF/OF, Vanderbilt
Since taking over as the Orioles' general manager in November of 2018, Mike Elias hasn't been especially subtle about the team's plan to bottom out for a few years and accumulate star talents, the model that his previous employer - the Houston Astros - built their team on. The Orioles have the losing part down, as they went 54-108 in 2019. Now comes the hard part - turning the lottery ticket into a future star player. They'll have to use his time in the minor leagues to decide what position they plan to play him at, but Martin has a .368 batting average in his collegiate career and he's hit 14 home runs in his last 321 at-bats after homering just once in his freshman season.
3. Miami Marlins: Asa Lacy - LHP, Texas A&M
It took a few years, but CEO Derek Jeter and president of baseball operations Michael Hill finally appear to have the Marlins headed in the right direction. They did well to sign some low-risk, high-reward veterans this past offseason, and have a top-five farm system that's close to graduating RHP Sixto Sanchez, shortstop Jazz Chisholm and outfielder Jesus Sanchez. Lacy - who has gone 8-1 with a 1.54 ERA in 12 college starts - could join an exciting young core of pitching that includes the aforementioned Sanchez, Edward Cabrera and Sandy Alcantara.
4. Kansas City Royals: Emerson Hancock - RHP, Georgia
After constructing a team that won two consecutive American League pennants and the 2015 World Series, Dayton Moore is attempting to build another contending team in Kansas City, following two consecutive seasons of 100 plus losses. Unlike the division-rival Tigers, the Royals don't have an elite farm system to show for their string of rough seasons, as MLB Pipeline says that the Royals have just the 17th-best farm system in baseball. That makes them hitting on this pick especially important. Hancock had a dominant sophomore season, going 8-3 with a 1.99 ERA after a freshman season that had some lean starts. He had a 3.75 ERA in his first four starts of the 2020 season, and while you may have liked to see if he could get hot again, his sophomore season should be enough to pique the interests of the Royals.
5. Toronto Blue Jays: Zac Veen - OF, Spruce Creek High School (FL)
Taking any high school player after not getting to see their full senior season will make some front offices uneasy, but Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com says that Veen is "the top high school position player in the country." This will likely be the final time that the Blue Jays are picking this high in the draft for some time, so general manager Ross Atkins would love to hit on this pick. That said, between Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., the Blue Jays have produced a ton of position-playing talent in recent seasons. If they could add another future star into their system to create a second wave of young talent, it would be icing on the cake.
6. Seattle Mariners: Nick Gonzales - 2B, New Mexico State
The Mariners have slashed spending in recent seasons, and the guess here is that the COVID-19 induced economic crisis won't increase the willingness of ownership to spend money on veterans. So Jerry DiPoto, a general manager that loves to wheel and deal, needs to be successful in drafting if he wants to build a contender in Seattle. The Mariners currently possess the No. 9 system in baseball, and adding Gonzalez - who has a .392 batting average with 25 home runs and 116 RBIs in 413 career college at-bats - would boost a budding system.
7. Pittsburgh Pirates: Max Meyer - RHP, Minnesota
The Pirates lost 93 games last season and have a middle-of-the-pack farm system, so it's fair to wonder if they are as far away as any team in the sport from truly contending. Enter, Ben Cherington, who the team hired as their new general manager last November. During his tenure as Red Sox general manager, Cherington had a mixed record on signing veteran free agents, but continued to help the team to develop young talent. Without the resources of the Red Sox, Cherington - who spent the past four seasons as the Toronto Blue Jays' vice president of baseball operations - will have an increased incentive to hit on high draft selections. Carlos Collazo of Baseball America, while citing Meyer's "top-of-the-line pure stuff," opines that the righty helped his draft stock as much or more than any college prospect during the limited showcase of the 2020 NCAA season. Meyer went 3-1 with a 1.95 ERA in four starts before the 2020 season was suspended. Mason McRae of Prospects 365 calls Meyer a "power righty with triple-digit velo." That doesn't sound like a bad prospect to build your farm system around.
8. San Diego Padres: Robert Hassell III - CF, Independence High School (TN)
With Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, Chris Paddack and the No. 2 farm system in baseball, general manager A.J. Preller has set the Padres up to be one of baseball's most successful teams this decade. If they hit on this pick, it would be the case of the soon-to-be rich getting richer. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com is among the evaluators that rave about Hassell III, saying "He’s the best pure high school hitter in the class, he’s pretty athletic and his makeup is off the charts." With an organization already flush with young talent, the Padres are in more of a position to take a high school player than some other teams picking in the top 10. Hassell III almost certainly would reward them if he's selected here.
9. Colorado Rockies: Heston Kjerstad - OF, Arkansas
An anonymous MLB eexcutive told Carlos Collazo of Baseball America that Kjerstad's "power profile is almost as good as anyone in the class." Imagine taking that skill set - one that has allowed him to hit 30 home runs and drive in 108 runs in 520 collegiate at-bats - and putting it in Coors Field for 81 games a season. Kjerstad is a match made in heaven for the Rockies.
10. Los Angeles Angels: Cade Cavalli - RHP, Oklahoma
With Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, Shohei Ohtani, Andrelton Simmons and Justin Upton, the Angels have the makings of a lineup that is ready to compete in the postseason right now. The starting rotation is seemingly light years behind. ESPN's Kiley McDaniel says that the Angels "have been tied" to Cavalli, which makes sense since he posted a 3.28 ERA in 12 starts in his sophomore season and could theoretically get to the major leagues in relatively short order.