It makes sense to start with the pool of players and position that I said I think is the strongest in the 2020 MLB Draft: college pitchers. Right off the bat, I should mention that I have not included junior college arms because the tape that is available is hard to come by. Additionally, it is much harder to tell how good JUCO pitchers are due to the lesser quality bats and lineups that play there, an issue that is prevalent with high school baseball too. There are a number of pitchers I believe can have major league success, with the first name that comes to mind being Beck Way, someone I was intrigued by. However, this cannot be said with the amount of confidence as the ten college starting pitchers on my list, all of whom I feel are getting seriously overlooked. The order in which I discuss them and the other positions that follow are not my personal opinion but how MLB has them ranked. I will try to be clear with how much I like each of them, which, fair to say, is a lot since I’ve singled them out. I would be decently surprised to see any of them go before pick 20 or so and Oklahoma’s Cade Cavalli, who I will start with, probably has the best chance to.
MLB.com rank: 22
Cavalli certainly looks the part, at 6’4”, 224 lbs and has a great fastball, curveball mix with a potent slider that can be just as good at times and a developing changeup. His delivery is beautiful but also hard to watch sometimes as it looks a bit painful, explaining some of his injury history. I take Cavalli over a fast riser like Texas Tech’s Clayton Beeter because they have similar stuff and I trust him to stay healthier. There is a chance his development and trajectory in the majors could look like Charlie Morton’s, a pitcher that represents what he can one day be, but he is an athlete who makes it look easy and played the field in college when he was working his way back to pitching. I’ll also say that his potential is significantly higher than arms who are projected to go around him like Carmen Mlodzinski, Chris McMahon and Bobby Miller.
MLB.com rank: 23
Georgia’s number two starter, Wilcox has the chance to be that and better for a team. His delivery reminded me a lot of Gerrit Cole’s when he was in college, although the other Cole has changed it a whole lot since. He can also reach back for a fastball in the upper nineties when he needs it and, like Gerrit, has been easier to hit than one would think. These issues mechanically are fixable, especially when Wilcox has improved his control like he has in a short season. He was undoubtedly better than Hancock, my top college pitcher, in 2020 and walked just 2 batters in 25 innings and struck out a whole bunch of batters out. Like Cavalli, he’s an athlete (can you sense a pattern with me?) and I would resist the urge to send either of them to the pen no matter how tempting it is.
MLB.com rank: 25
No college pitcher in America has catapulted more than Jarvis. A year ago, he was considered a fringe starter who not many heard about and was a 37th round pick. The Duke right hander worked on his craft like few have or can and invested fully into pitching labs that try to get the best out of pitchers biomechanically speaking. His fastball velocity has improved in spades and he got in better shape as well. Jarvis threw a college no-hitter and has continued to be overlooked as much as he has risen. This is one of the safest arms in the draft with a top notch changeup and resembles another Dukie, Marcus Stroman. Both are super smart pitchers who get the most out of their talent. Playoff teams and those wanting to compete soon should take him and be surprised with how he comes along, with his likelihood of reaching MLB quickly.
MLB.com rank: 28
A lot of what I just said about Jarvis can be applied to Burns and I feel even more strongly about him because of the track record he has shown at Auburn. Tanner was on the same pitching staff as Casey Mize, last year’s number one overall pick, and it shows in his mannerisms. He has taken Mize’s number 32 jersey and copied his delivery almost perfectly – to the point where you think you are watching Casey. The difference, of course, is in their size as Burns is smaller but they both have gifted arms that will have long MLB careers, health permitting. I am also not too concerned about his shoulder issues. If the medicals check out, I would not hesitate to pull the trigger almost anywhere in the first round. It would be a big mistake to let him fall out of the first 30 picks. He too should move quickly through a system and not be affected by no MiLB.
CJ Van Eyk
MLB.com rank: 39
I have been following Van Eyk for several years now after he was drafted by the Mets and did not sign in 2017. A touted high school prospect, he came to Florida State and has progressed well. He’s become more of a crafty pitcher than I would have thought at the time but can hey excellent spin on a baseball. Like Zack Greinke, there are times where it seems he is experimenting on the mound as it is hard to guess what CJ will throw next. It’s fun to watch but not fun to hit I imagine, even with just a slightly above average heater. When I saw him try to lock in, he consistently hit his spots and flashed much better control and command in those situations. I much prefer him early in the second round over more talented arms like Slade Cecconi who haven’t put it together and probable mid-rotation guys like Michigan’s Jeff Criswell and LSU’s Cole Henry.
MLB.com rank: 50
The lefty with a hammer, Lonsway is taller, and better, than he looks. The Ohio State product has continued to battle issues with walks and I attribute much of that to his delivery. If it can be streamlined and simplified a bit more, he will find more success and be the type of pitcher that James Paxton has become. Seth was striking everybody out in 2020 without Paxton’s premium fastball and would be higher on boards if he didn’t lose his ability to locate in his final game. How well he can repeat his motion will determine how good he will be as Lonsway has continued to tinker with pitches and look for a strong third pitch, which would make it unfair. I do not see him in the bullpen because he should be able to figure things out, and if anything, just throw his fastball a little less.
MLB.com rank: 59
Another former Met draftee, Eder has found success in Vanderbilt, the absolute best school to go to if you are a pitcher. He’s won a College World Series and pitched in the biggest moments, not letting the pressure get to him early on. I’m bullish on his chances to throw even faster and become something like a Patrick Corbin, which would be a huge win. I like how he works on the rubber but like a young Corbin, he can sometimes lose the strike zone. Similar to Lonsway, he has a plus curve that he can release at any count and is hard for hitters to pick up as a result. At this point of a draft, taking players with first round flashes who are inconsistent is the way I would go by trusting coaches. A talented lefty, after all, is harder to find than righties due to fact they are rare.
MLB.com rank: 77
My run on lefties continues with Wake Forest’s Shuster. By the way, they have the best uniforms in college baseball! Jared has burst on the scene kind of like Jarvis has but Jarvis was decent before while he almost certainly was not. His transformation has been wonderful to see and I really do believe it is real as he’s turned into one of the more fearsome southpaws in the country. He won’t overpower you with the fastball but it moves. His changeup is special and enough to compare him to Hyun Jin-Ryu, a pitch worthy of working off for him. Jared would be a heck of a pick at this range and should be scooped up earlier since he is not a lefty like Nick Swiney who is more of a David Peterson type. Almost no one cut his free passes mores or improved as Jared did on the Cape.
MLB.com rank: 91
The righty from Michigan State has multiple things working against him but they are rather unimportant in my view. Erla’s advanced age should not be a factor because that is precisely what people criticized about Jacob deGrom. Now I’m not saying he will be the next deGrom, but how cool would it be if he was and I caught lightning in a bottle twice? Anyway, Mason, like Jacob, has fought through many injuries that have delayed him but he’s come back stronger. Like I just did with Shuster, I buy his success this year and going forward. He’s looked like a different pitcher and his cut slider has clicked. His presence on the mound is better as is his follow through. The fastball is legit as he has added several ticks to it like his vastly improved strikeout rate shows.
MLB.com rank: 152
It is shocking that Abel (no relation to Mick) even though they both reside in Oregon, may not see his name called and be among 160 picks. This is my biggest sleeper and a name someone everyone should remember. It seems as he has been forgotten about following Tommy John surgery in 2019 after his epic performances as a college freshman where his dual role as a starter and reliever did not help his health. This can be useful to a team that agrees with what I saw and takes him hopefully in the third round. When I say his offspeed is insane, not even that does it justice. Batters can’t even swing at it so they wait it out, leading to walks that don’t illustrate his control or command. If he learns to establish counts with his fastball that he can locate, he will give up even less hits and strike out more than he already has. Corey Kluber anyone?
Honorable mentions: Nick Garcia (ranked #70) from Chapman University is another one of these athletes that I have discussed and someone who has little mileage on his arms since he was a former infielder. His delivery and stuff are close to Seth Lugo, one of the bigger weapons in the league today. He can be a starter as Lugo always wanted to or that kind of swingman. Bryce Elder (#109) just knows how to pitch, plain and simple. He gets through his windup quickly and plays pitch and catch effectively. Elder is a sinkerballer who has four firm pitches and can surprise many as he anchors the backend of a rotation and helps to stabilize it. Landon Knack (#112) is older and has more potential but with age also comes his own ability to pound the zone. He’s gone through his share of injuries like Erla too and never been drafted before. A former hitter, he can focus on pitching and get even better as he has this year. He’s on the bigger side and durable like Knack but has implemented a athletic delivery, getting more consistency out of his fastball. Virginia Tech lefty Ian Seymour (#115) pitches above his height and a lot like a similarly built Gio Gonzalez. He too has seen an uptick in his fastball and pairs that with a deceptive delivery as well as a strong changeup. Currently, these are his two best pitches and above average as he works towards a third that would really solidify him as a starter. Shane Drohan (#147), another lefty, from Florida State has not pitched to his capabilities but has always been talented. On good days, he throws like Mike Minor, a pitcher who also struggled with repeating and building on solid performances when he was on the Braves and has broken out in a big way. Someone would be well served taking a flier on him in the fourth or fifth round.
It would not shock me to see teams taking relievers earlier than they have in recent years. The reason for this is the possibility of a short MLB season and need for major league ready relief talent. Luckily, there are more than a few available in the college ranks that could potentially contribute to clubs quickly. The first person that comes to mind is Loyola Marymount righty Nick Frasso (#98). He pitches free and easy, with the potential to be used as a starter even after he is deployed to the pen thanks to his above average size. He’s pitched in both roles before and can throw straight gas as a reliever. His delivery is a lot like Johnny Cueto’s and Jered Weaver’s, and can turn into Tyler Clippard later. Andrew Abbott (#116), Virginia’s do it all arm, is one of true tried and tested relievers in college baseball and one of the scariest to hit against as a lefty. Delivery-wise, he reminded me a lot of Scott Kazmir and his power arsenal and I would be excited to see him turn into a starting pitcher for the 2021 season. R.J Dabovich (#120) from Arizona State is the safest option to pitch in the majors this summer as he can throw as fast as 99. His delivery is David Robertson to a tee and he may never have to go back down if he is brought up. Vandy’s Tyler Brown is a bulldog suited well as a late-inning reliever as few have been through more personal tragedy and still managed to perform admirably. He leaves it all out there on the field, is not scared to come into any situation or unfamiliar challenge and gives you everything he has, which is exactly what anyone should want out of their relievers. Lastly, Holden Powell (#134) is not the biggest or strongest reliever out there but definitely one of the most accomplished as one of the top closers in college for UCLA. His slider is up there as his number one and go-to pitch and that should remain the case in the Majors. There are more than a few similarities between him and Addison Reed, one of the very solid relievers of this past decade. He could be used as a setup man or in middle relief and easily hold his own while there, pun intended. Regarding the two best flamethrowers in the draft, Joe Boyle and Luke Little, I am just not convinced that either will be able to pitch without serious control issues because of their gigantic frames as they have yet to be able to do so.