Determining what truly constitutes as a sleeper is an age-old debate. Take Duke’s Bryce Jarvis from the 2020 MLB Draft class. About two months ago, I ranked him 15th in my top 25 college fantasy baseball prospects while other ‘perts’ were tabbing him with third round status at best. Was he a sleeper then? Maybe. Is he now? No, because he’s risen all the way to No. 25 on MLB.com’s top 200 rankings. How about Pete Crow-Armstrong in this year’s class? Is he a sleeper if he indeed falls to the latter half of the first round? Maybe he goes in the twenties and we spend the next 20 years comping the prep schooler’s draft fall to that of Trout’s in 2009 (unlikely, but you get the point). And what about your 57-year-old Uncle Ed who just passed out on his La-Z-Boy after pounding five Millers and ghosting a Juul hit? Now that is a true sleeper my friends.
For this segment, what qualifies as a sleeper is this: a player sitting outside the top 50 2020 MLB Draft prospects according to both MLB.com and Baseball America who is considered a long shot to be drafted in the first round by the industry consensus (with bonus pool tomfoolery, we can never ensure who won’t be a first rounder with 100% accuracy). Out of this group of players, I have selected several which I believe will outperform their draft position as a future professional. I then separated these players based on where I anticipate they will be selected in this year’s five round draft: early, middle and late.
But wait! It gets better. I’ve even expanded into the high school prospect pool by including one, yes you heard that right — one — prep prospect in this post. Although the college circuit is my specialty, I feel confident enough in my knowledge of the high school crop to dig into a name here and there. If you’re playing in a dynasty league and looking for some high-upside deep finds in this year’s draft to target moving forward, look no further. And wake up Uncle Ed while you’re at it. That guy needs all the help he can get.
Early: Clayton Beeter, RHP, Texas Tech
Enough with the chit-chat. Let’s not beet around the bush. Ha! That was bad enough, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t picture Beeter riding on a broomstick from time to time playing the role of Harry Potter’s bludger beater on Hogwarts grounds. Here’s what makes Beeter a 2020 MLB Draft sleeper: he’s not really in the conversation to become a first round selection, is ranked No. 51 in MLB.com’s top 200 and No. 80 in Baseball America’s top 500 draft prospects, yet possesses a four-pitch mix (60-FB, 60-CB, 60-SL, 50-CH) that includes three plus offerings while working 93-96 MPH with a fastball that tops out at 98 MPH. If there had been a complete 2020 college season, Beeter might have been able to pitch himself into the first round. After walking over eight hitters per nine innings in the closer role in 2019 (20 2/3 IP, 3.28 ERA, .167 BAA, 17.4 K/9, 8.7 BB/9, eight saves), Beeter put it all together in his four starts as the Red Raiders’ Friday night man in 2020, as the astronomical walk totals pulled a Bobby Fisher and disappeared off the face of the Earth. He finished with a 2.14 ERA, .169 BAA, 14.1 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 across 21 innings while also flashing some pretty sexy metrics on his fastball and curveball. On top of that, Beeter is one of the more refined pitch tunnelers in this class. This is about as enticing of a player as you’ll find with a second round ceiling. My advice? Go beet it!
Early/Middle: Tanner Witt, RHP, Episcopal (TX)
What makes Witt a sleeper is his strong commitment to Texas, which many MLB teams feel to be a major roadblock in potentially signing him this summer. If someone sacks up, reaches for him and draws him away from the Longhorns, the resulting haul could be heftier than John Kruk’s grocery list. Just imagine being the Shipt delivery person who has to carry those bags. As the son of a former big leaguer and current minor league hitting coach, Witt excels as a two-way player — but I’m just here to talk about the arm, which I feel projects much better than his offensive ceiling. At 6’6″ and 195 pounds, Witt already has the body of an MLB starter. He throws a 55-fastball, 55-curveball and 50-changeup, all of which have the potential to become plus pitches. This is most obvious with the heater, which falls in at 55 on the 20-80 simply because he sat 88-92 MPH with the pitch in the majority of starts the past calendar year. Still, he can already ramp that up to 93-95 MPH as someone still awaiting his 18th birthday, so to me, there’s plus-plus potential there with the fastball. As for the deuce, Witt has already exhibited spin rates in the 2,600-2,900 range while throwing it 73-78 MPH. To put that in perspective, the average MLB curveball had a spin rate around 2,500 RPMS last season, so Witt’s breaker might actually already be better than the scouting grade indicates. He’s also tinkered around with the pitch and proved himself capable of delivering a slider as well. Considering the family pedigree and potential in this 17-year-old arm, Witt might be one of the golden nuggets in this year’s draft pool if he does indeed get lured to professional baseball. If he doesn’t, snatch him up in open world leagues when the time is right.
Middle: Anthony Servideo, SS, Ole Miss
If you can get by the ridiculous head of bleached blonde hair Servideo sported this past season, you’ll find a very intriguing player. Even though it’s an Ole Miss shortstop tradition, Servideo would have fit right in with the Joe Exotic fanboys in 2020. Despite being MLB.com’s No. 111 player and Baseball America’s No. 92 prospect in this draft, I think Servideo is one of the hidden gems in this class. True, he failed to hit .300 in his first two college seasons while popping just four homers. True, he followed that up with perhaps the worst 2019 performance in the Cape Cod League, slashing just .149/.277/.228. And true, Servideo’s a mere 5’10” and 175 pounds. But all those things only add to his status as a sleeper! With a third round ceiling in the MLB Draft, Servideo is exactly that. After respective slash lines of .226/.314/.306 and .287/.429/.388 as a freshman and sophomore, Servideo bounced back for an excellent 2020 college campaign after his dreadful showing on the Cape. Not only did he add power to his game by homering five times in 59 at bats (previously four homers in 271 career AB), but he hit .390/.575/.695 with more walks (24) than strikeouts (16) over the course of 17 games. Did I forget to mention the 60-grade legs that translated to 24 steals in 2019 and another nine in the abbreviated 2020 season? Five category sleeper! Servideo swiped 34 bags in just 117 career games. The hit tool is 50-grade and the power sits at a below average 40, but I forecast future values of 55-60 in the hit department and 50+ (gasp!) in-game pop. Don’t write off the 2019 CCL struggles with the wood, but don’t value Servideo as a third-to-fifth round pick in first-year player drafts, either. This is a worthy sleeper that deserves a boost if you’re a dynasty leaguer looking for cheap steals in a prospect with upside for more.
Middle: Trei Cruz, SS, Rice
If family pedigree factors into your process, then Cruz is for you. Both his grandfather and father played in the MLB, with the former enjoying a 19-year career and the latter lasting 12 seasons. Although Cruz has been drafted twice before (35th round in 2017, 37th in 2019), his stock should rise to the third-to-fourth round in this June’s draft. Equipped with a 50-hit tool, 45-power and 45-legs to go with a pedestrian defensive profile, it’s clear Cruz doesn’t have the flashy tools to warrant a first or second round selection. However, he’s enjoyed three seasons of above average production at Rice and also tore up the CCL in 2019, batting .307/.384/.429 with three home runs, 10 XBH, 11 steals, an 18.9 K% and 11.0 BB% over 164 plate appearances. His career college slash sits at .296/.405/.482 with 16 home runs, 55 XBH and nine steals, a 20.7 K% and 15.1 BB% after posting a .328/.487/.500 line as a junior in 2020. There’s some work to be done with his footwork and his future may be at second or third base, but regardless of where he plays, I think we’ll see a more refined power and speed combination by the time he develops through the Minor League ladder. His in-game power may be average at best at present, but there’s plus raw power in his switch-hitting stick, especially from the left-handed side. The best-case scenario here looks like a 20-20 player who is probably more destined to be a 15-10 type of hit-first guy. In the year 2020, I like to take my chances with the hit-first guys and leave it up to Rob Manfred’s balls to handle the rest. You can ask Colleen Manfred how that song and dance tends to play out.
Late: Kevin Abel, RHP, Oregon State
Who remembers Kevin Abel? I sure do. I was munching down some wings at a local Raleigh bar when I watched the then-freshman Beaver toss a complete game, two-hit shutout against Arkansas to clinch the 2018 College World Series title. Yes, that was probably the first clean comment ever made about a freshman beaver. But now even that’s ruined, so let’s talk K. Abel, the pitcher. Entering that freshman season, Abel was the No. 110 high school prospect in the nation according to Perfect Game. That status earned him a big role with Oregon State in 2018, although he made just seven of his 23 appearances as a starter. By season’s end, Abel owned an 8-1 record backed up by a 2.88 ERA/1.19 WHIP and 12.0 K/9 vs. 5.1 BB/9 over 81 1/3 innings of work. As a result, Abel took home Freshman of the Year honors, but there was collateral damage. The 81 1/3 innings clearly tolled on his arm, as he threw just 16 1/3 frames in 2019 before being shut down for Tommy John surgery. Obviously, he hasn’t pitched since — hence why he is ranked No. 153 in MLB.com’s draft rankings, putting him on the outside-looking-in due to the five round draft. Abel didn’t pitch poorly as a sophomore, working to a 3.86 ERA/1.04 WHIP with 13.8 K/9, but the control issues remained prevalent to the tune of a 5.0 BB/9. Scouts don’t seem to be too concerned, evidenced by 50-grade command, with the only real question marks being Abel’s durability and the fact that he hasn’t thrown a pitch in a game since March 1, 2019. His three-pitch mix of a 50-heater (90-93 MPH), 55-deuce and 60-changeup has worked tremendously for him in terms of missing bats to this point, but with the TJS and lack of a lengthy college track record as a starter, his future role is still up for debate. Look for Abel’s name to get called near the end of the 2020 Draft, but know this might have been a first-to-second round talent if the season hadn’t been cut short and destroyed his chance to build back some stock.
Additionally, two players I want to briefly mention before signing off are RHP Joe Boyle of Notre Dame and LHP Levi Prater of Oklahoma. Both of these players are utterly tantalizing, albeit for completely different reasons. Shoot — was it utterly tantalizing, or tantalizing udders? I’m having trouble reading my notes.
Boyle gets mentioned because of his pure stuff, as he’s right there with Max Meyer for the top velocity in this draft. Boyle sits 96-99 MPH with his fastball and can crank it up to 102 MPH. Coming from a 6’7,” 240-pound behemoth, that’s intimidating stuff. While the heater sits at 80 on the 20-80, he’s a true two-pitch (55-grade slide piece) bullpen arm with almost no command, walking 48 batters in 36 career innings at Notre Dame (12.0 BB/9). Sure, the strikeouts are there at 14.2 K/9, but whether Boyle ever puts it together is more uncertain than Daniel Norris’ tea leaves.
Prater represents the lone name on this list that sits outside the top 150 on BOTH MLB.com’s and Baseball America’s draft rankings, meaning he is the longest shot to hear his name called from June 10-11. In my updated, Complete College Top 100, Prater just barely snuck in with the final spot at No. 100 overall. Call me a softie, but I’m a sucker for Prater’s story. At just two years old, Prater lost two fingers on his non-pitching hand in a lawnmower accident, forcing him to clinch the strap on his glove when he pitches for better grip (still just one career fielding error). That hasn’t gotten in his way to becoming a quality DI starting pitcher, one that outperformed slam-dunk first rounder Cave Cavalli pretty much beginning-to-end in Norman. Prater’s stuff (45-FB, 50-SL, 50-CH) is pretty uninspiring, but the low 90s fastball can reach 93 and misses more bats than one might think thanks to its running action. Most believe his ceiling is to become a middle reliever, and I would probably have to agree, although I do think there is serviceable back-of-the-rotation upside. Plus, who wants to bet against a guy like this?
More coming next week per usual, but please, feel free to pipe up in the comments section! I am more than happy to engage in a number of lengthy conversations as we await the 2020 MLB Draft.