The day of enthronement has arrived. Late this afternoon, probably in the environs of 5:30pm Pacific, the Angels will approach the podium and announce the new boy king who will sit in the slightly-uncomfortable iron chair of Angels futurity, assuming the mantle of fan hope and promise. The lone first-rounder, the high-born son!
Or to put it another way, late this afternoon, some poor talented sonuvagun will sign up for weeks of grinding negotiation with the notoriously mingy, cheeseparing farm-downsizer Arturo Moreno, right in the middle of stare-down negotiations with the MLB and MiLB, where cost-savings rule the day and players-union-busting is the clear grail of MLB ownership.
It weren’t your fault, young turks!
Well, this Turks ain’t so young anymore. I’m staring down fifty, only a couple years shy now, and have seen my share of draft day disappointments. I can’t say I play any part in front office guidance, and my personal big boards have only lined up with the Angels twice in the past decade – once in 2014, when the Angels scooped the best-player-available in Sean Newcomb after he fell down the board to #15, and then again in 2017, when the Angels’ first two picks aligned precisely with my top targets for the first round (Jo Adell, Griffin Canning). But even if team drafting philosophies and my personal preference often diverge, year after year, I profile some of the potential top-round targets for the Angels – one, because it gives me a good preview of the future stars of the game, and two, it makes Draft Day itself a bit of an adrenaline rush. Names peel off the board, and the garden of forking paths that defines future team outcomes comes into definition in real time.
So consider the table and musings below Turk’s First-Round Big Board. These are five trios of players I think represent legitimate targets, loosely stack-ranked by preference. In reality, the first grouping is a strong yes, and the last group suggests my tier of least-enthusiasm, but any of the middle three groupings are arguable, and just a matter of strategic orientation. I would be happy to follow the progress of any of them.
Profiles and commentary below.
|Max Meyer||RHP, Minnesota||Unlikely|
|Nick Gonzales||SS, New Mexico State||Unlikely|
|Reid Detmers||LHP, Louisville||Possible|
|High probability, high value|
|Ed Howard||SS, Mount Carmel (IL) HS||Likely|
|Patrick Bailey||C, North Carolina State||Possible|
|Garrett Mitchell||OF, UCLA||Possible|
|Upside collegiates with risk|
|Garrett Crochet||LHP, Tennessee||Likely|
|Heston Kjerstad||OF, Arkansas||Possible|
|Cade Cavalli||RHP, Oklahoma||Likely|
|High ceiling prepsters|
|Mick Abel||RHP, Jesuit HS (OR)||Possible|
|Jared Kelley||RHP, Refugio (TX) HS||Likely|
|Jordan Walker||3B, Decatur (GA) HS||Likely|
|Prep value picks, low need|
|Robert Hassell||OF, Independence HS (TN)||Possible|
|Austin Hendrick||OF, West Allegheny HS (PA)||Possible|
|Pete Crow-Armstrong||OF, Harvard-Westlake HS (CA)||Likely|
Max Meyer, Nick Gonzales, Reid Detmers
The Angels should be delighted should any of these players fall to #10, and there is realistically only a 50/50 shot that even one of them does. Consensus top-ten talents, Meyer and Gonzalez have been regularly mocked at #4-7 in the draft, and Detmers at #7-11. But strange things happen every draft day, and the likelihood of underslot dealing and unusual draft tactics is more acute in this draft than many others. So who knows? It would be extraordinarily frustrating (but not unexpected) if one of these players landed in the Angels’ lap but they passed on the prospect nonetheless. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.
If Max Meyer were two inches taller, he’d be going in the first four selections in the draft (and still might). He’s the most athletic pitcher in the draft, with two pitches (fastball/slider) that many scouts grade out at 70, giving him a very high floor of a late innings guy, should he succumb to bullpen risk. But most think he’ll fulfill his destiny as a frontline starter, once he refines his changeup and has more time to lengthen out, but in the meantime, his advanced approach and wipeout slider could give teams enough confidence to tease him out of an MLB bullpen as early as this year, and move him into a starter capacity in the upper minors in 2021.
Nick Gonzales, meanwhile, is this year’s Keston Hiura – an undersized grinder who can play all over the field, but will probably land at the keystone. He hits everywhere he plays, in weather hot and cold, at high elevations and low. While his power numbers have probably been exaggerated by his southwestern park environments, he’s a dirtbag mighty mouse who would be sure to out-Fletcher Fletcher and become the franchise’s second baseman for a half decade at least.
Of these three, Reid Detmers is the player most-mocked to the Angels, and if the Padres or Rockies don’t nab him, there’s a chance he makes it to the club. Player analysts have dubbed him the “safest pitcher in the draft” – and if that sounds like a backhanded compliment, it shouldn’t necessarily be so. Yes, the left-handed Detmers profiles as a mid-rotation stalwart more than a frontline asset, but his extraordinary polish, workhorse build, and ease-of-delivery suggest long health and durability. FB/change/curve mix, with elite smarts, deception and sequencing. Imagine if the Angels could get 5+ years from a Washburn/Saunders/Heaney level talent that didn’t spend weeks or months on the IL? I’d take that any day.
High probability, high value
Ed Howard, Patrick Bailey, Garrett Mitchell
When folks use the words “high-probability”, “high-floor” or “safe pick” in a drafting context, it’s often meant as a pejorative. Like Detmers above, I’m not sure that applies to these three players. With a top ten draft selection, I want my team to hit their mark, and if the player doesn’t make it to the MLB, I at least want a kid with durable value that is a tradeable asset and carries value for a couple years into competitive markets. I think that holds for each here.
Ed Howard is the top prep shortstop in the draft. He’s smooth, he’s smart, he’s athletic, he’s a no-doubter to stick at the position. There are some questions about whether he fully projects into power, and whether he can improves his speed/footwork to maximize what should be an above-average tool, but he’s otherwise a well-rounded player with good makeup who has the floor of reserve defensive shortstop, and the ceiling of an everyday contributor. A Chicago-native, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him go to the White Sox or Cubs at #11 or #16 should the Angels pass him up.
Patrick Bailey – Molina devotee and bearer of the made-to-order nickname of “Patty Barrels” – is the consensus top catcher in the draft. And yes, the Angels have been burned by first-round catchers before. But no, Bailey isn’t a guy who is likely to migrate off the backstop like Thaiss and Ward, and no, he’s not a high-variance prep catcher like Conger. He’s a true game-tested catcher that came to the college ranks with an outstanding defensive skill set, and then proceeded to develop impressive in-game power from both sides of the plate. As a pro, scouts expect him to become an offense-oriented catcher with low batting average but high OBP, excellent pitch recognition, and a consistent power threat. In terms of being a field general, as Baseball America says, he’s “one of the rare college catchers who calls his own game, which will give him better grades for some scouting departments, and he draws plenty of praise for his leadership ability behind the plate.” For an organization lacking even a single catching prospect in its top 30, that’s solid value and a rare commodity.
Orange County’s own Garrett Mitchell, from Lutheran HS and UCLA, is a known quantity. Centerfielder managing Type I diabetes who has performed at all levels and flashes five solid tools. Top-grade speed and defense make him a textbook leadoff-threat. He shows 70-grade power in batting practice, but it doesn’t always materialize in-game, where he uses a line-drive and first-step speed approach to beat out singles and stretch doubles into triples. His swing, which has undergone modifications at UCLA, has polarized scouts who want to see a more consistent power game from him. Another LH burner and physical specimen, he’s somewhat redundant with Brandon Marsh, but could also make the latter expendable for useful pitching next season. Hard not to root a little for a local with such a good track record. He’s likely to move fast in any system.
Upside collegiates with risk
Garrett Crochet, Heston Kjerstad, Cade Cavalli
College kids with at least one big tool and a couple red flags. These aren’t safe picks, but they may deliver big rewards to a team willing to accommodate the risk.
Dream on Garrett Crochet. 6’6″ left-hander with a triple-digit fastball and a devastating slider that draws Andrew Miller comps. He’s both started and relieved in his collegiate career with Tennessee, and at ceiling, one can imagine an Aroldis Chapman late-innings destroyer, or a Randy Johnson unicorn who gives left-handed batters fits. What’s not to like? Well, recent shoulder soreness, to start, and makeup and body concerns from some scouts, along with a fairly short track record. But stuff? All the stuff, man, it’s gnarly.
If it sounds like some amateur garage geneticists with a CRISPR kit combined Keston Hiura and Darin Erstad to make designer baseball golem Heston Kjerstad, you’d be right…and wrong at once. Kjerstad doesn’t resemble either of those players. He’s destined for rightfield, or 1B eventually, as a middle-of-the-order masher with some swing-and-miss concerns. His power tool is second only to first-overall pick Spencer Torkelson, but he lacks speed and versatility, so WYSIWYG. Lefty monster mash. On the Angels, he probably supplants both Pujols and Thaiss in two years at first base. Does he strike out 150+ times at the pro-level? Maybe. Has he consistently hit for average and power at the most competitive levels of the SEC and Team USA? Definitely.
Everything on paper makes Cade Cavalli look like an ace. Four pitch mix anchored on a mid-90s fastball, delivered from an ideal pitcher’s frame and textbook mechanics This guy would surprise no one if he emerged in three years as the best right-handed starter from this draft class. But some injury history (back injury in HS, stress reaction in his arm in 2019), along with relative lack of track record have put him in the #15-25 range on most boards. He needs regular in-game work, and innings in a time of pandemic are in short supply.
High ceiling prepsters
Mick Abel, Jared Kelley, Jordan Walker
Of all the groups on this board, these are the most unlikely. Walker is a stretch, only theoretically possible if the rumors proved out, and the Angels were going after an underslot deal with their first round selection. He’s a supplemental rounder in most projections. Meanwhile, Abel and Kelley, along with Nick Bitsko, are among the three top high school pitchers in the draft. The Angels have not chosen a high school pitcher in the first round in twenty years, when they selected Joe Torres (also at #10, go figure) in the year 2000. Torres washed out. But this is a weird draft, and it’s possible the Angels are willing to take risks. While I leave Bitsko out here simply due to the fact that he hasn’t thrown a pitch this season and there’s too little with which to evaluate him, there’s plenty to like in Abel and Kelley to give them an airing.
Mick Abel and Jared Kelley aren’t exactly interchangeable, but they’re close. Big projectable righties, born within a couple months of each other, with at least a three pitch repertoire, led by fastballs that make it regularly up to the high 90s. Kelley is considered the more advanced, with startling command for his age, but some questions around his slurvy breaker, and whether it will advance enough to avoid relief risk. Both kids flash plus changeups. There’s more scouting consensus on Abel being the overall stronger package based on a balanced portfolio and (keep it in perspective guys!) Strasburg/Soroka comps (though both MLB Pipeline and Baseball America ranks the two at #11 and #12 respectively, so the daylight between the two is smaller than one might insist). Take your pick – they each have frontline upside.
Along with baseball-name-champ Blaze Jordan, Jordan Walker has long been talked about as the “most athletic” (Angels-trademark) prep player in the draft. He’s the top high school prospect at third base, and the top high school prospect out of Georgia, but he falls into the supplemental round in many projections because he has a big long swing that might be preyed upon by more advanced pitchers. Or with refinement it might become an over-the-fence weapon that makes Walker a special player at the hot corner. At 18, he’s already 6’5″ and 220 pounds, so physical conditioning is something to monitor. But in the words of one area scout: “He’s the total package for me. You have some concerns on the bat, just pure hittability, but the power is exceptional and the makeup is really good.”
Prep value picks, low organizational need
Robert Hassell III, Austin Hendrick, Pete Crow-Armstrong
Three prep outfielders, each of whom have been mentioned in the Angels first-round conversation at some point this spring. Hassell in particular has received a lot of Angels interest. While the axiom “don’t draft from need” tends to hover above each drafting squad’s big board year after year, I’m skeptical of the wisdom when this year’s opportunity is four picks deep. The Angels have a deep, deep outfield pipeline, with key MLB players plugged in for several years, and Adell, Marsh, Adams, Knowles, Deveaux and others (including recent Latin signs) on the horizon. Adding another 4 or 5 year prep project to the queue seems questionable given chronic deficits in the pitch-and-department department.
But if you remain interested, they’re all lefties with different strengths. Austin Hendrick is the OF kid with power – a high school analogue to Kjerstad above. Scouts rave about his bat speed, and he’s an Under Armour All-America Game home run derby winner. Pete Crow-Armstrong is the local product (Harvard-Westlake alum) with the speed/defense profile and contact-oriented swing. He was Team USA’s leadoff hitter in 2019. PCA’s unlikely to hit for much more than average power, but he might be an elite defender up the middle. Robert Hassell, meanwhile, is the balance of both. A two-way player who excelled as pitcher and hitter in high school, he was “voted as the top pure hitter in the class by scouting directors” and he has above-average tools across the board. But there’s question as to whether power will come that translates to more than ~20 HRs at the highest level. There’s little doubt that he goes toward the first half of the draft – I just question where he fits in an organization full of similar assets, yet with abiding needs that have gone unaddressed for years.
And there you have it: Turk’s take, 2020 edition.
Who have I missed? Where did I get it wrong? Despite all this interminable weirdness, are you still excited for the draft?
Well, excited or not, it starts today, 4pm Pacific. Tune into the MLB Network or ESPN for the video coverage, and find more at Draft Central, MLB.com. And naturally, don’t forget to come back to CtPG to share all your agonies and ecstasies with our beloved community and prospect hounds. Tally ho!