As I sit at my laptop, staring aimlessly into an abyss of text, numbers and a series of minimized Incognito windows dedicated to my side-hobby of sending Trevor Bauer unsolicited romantic couplets, I find myself wondering how to properly attack my first article as a Razzball contributor. I debate whether Eddie Murphy felt this way before his public debut in a Gumby costume, or if Christopher Columbus experienced similar inner musings prior to the first time he pretended to discover a piece of land.
I’m sure they did. When it comes to matters as essential as fantasy baseball, impersonating a childhood cartoon character and kind-of discovering the free world, it’s only natural to want to put your best foot forward and start off on a positive note.
Amidst these trying times, I have prepared a list for the great readers of Razzball which may ordinarily seem premature, but in the age of Coronaphobia and near-world downfall, it unfortunately is not. Today, I present to you the top 10 college baseball prospects to target mid-season (and beyond) in dynasty formats.
In any other year, players in at least their third year of college would have, at minimum, two-plus months remaining to drive up their draft stock and improve their underlying ratios for MLB scouts. Those raw junior arms with overwhelming stuff, but issues with command that have them somehow owning sub-.200 BAAs to go with ERAs over 5.00 no longer have the advantage of the April and May months to showcase their ceilings for Major League brass. That senior shortstop with a world of pop and a program-record ISO but approaching four straight seasons of 50+ punch-outs? He won’t have the full opportunity to demonstrate how he advanced his approach in the off-season for that one final chance of hearing his name called.
Perhaps most importantly are the guys with the potential to go in the first two rounds, but now find that their stock has plateaued and will remain stoic until June. There’s a guy out there somewhere with a projection in the 20-30 overall range who may have gone top-15 with an added two months of quality performance, and there’s also someone positioned conversely whose ensuing play would have pushed him down the draft board.
What we’re left with is something unprecedented, but something that must be pieced together nevertheless. Although we may not know for certain when the 2020 MLB Draft will occur, we do know that the collegiate players eligible for it have now done everything possible (on the field) to hear their name called.
As a fantasy baseball owner in a keeper or dynasty league, all of this information is relevant to you. The level of draft stock a player has built and where they’re ultimately selected will determine which recent draftees your fellow league members deem worthy of scooping up in your league. Even if your league doesn’t allow non-drafted players to be kept, you’ll want to form your own opinions about these guys heading into next season.
Using the information and statistics available from players’ collegiate careers to date, here is your list of 10 players to target mid-season and stash come this summer and beyond. As a note, players who have proven to be more MLB-ready will be prioritized over those with higher ceilings, although both factors have been taken into account and will be explained thoroughly. These are not rankings of the top college players in this year’s draft, but rather an attempt to reorder such rankings as it relates to future fantasy output.
To be consistent with Major League Baseball policy and precedent set forth by Commissioner Rob Manfred, I have omitted several key details from the public eye.
1. Spencer Torkelson, 1B, Arizona State
Torkelson represents the most polished, complete hitter we’ve seen emerge from the college ranks since… well, Andrew Vaughn in 2019. Although that may appear to be a tempered compliment, it isn’t. Vaughn reached High-A in a half-season last year, slashing .278/.384/.449 with six home runs and 36 RBI. If you’re the type who prefers to pounce on a high-ceiling prospect who will likely require minimal seasoning in the minors, like you should, Torkelson is right up your alley.
Following his freshman season at Arizona State in which he hit .320/.440/.743 and broke Barry Bonds’ freshman home run record with 25 big flies, Torkelson responded for a .351/.446/.707 line with 23 more home runs (40 total XBH) as a sophomore. Through 17 games in 2020, Torkelson was off to another great start, posting career highs in every slash category en route to .340/.698/.780 mark.
If being projected unanimously as a top-three pick in the 2020 Draft doesn’t sell you, consider the fact that he’s a right-handed hitting first baseman with no realistic potential for defensive versatility moving forward. Sure, that makes it easy to comp him to Vaughn (who admittedly, hasn’t accomplished anything at the MLB level yet), but it also speaks to the degree of his upside and advanced approach as a hitter. The bat speed is elite and Torkelson has shown maturity in properly recognizing balls and strikes during his college career – the strikeouts are high (104 in his career), but outweighed by 110 walks that illustrate that this is what many refer to as a “professional hitter” coming out of college. He projects as a middle-of-the-order Major League bat with a 55-grade hit tool and 70-grade power on the 20-80 scale.
Should you elect to bite on Torkelson once he hits the fantasy free agency pools this summer, you’ll likely only have to wait until 2021 to see him on a Major League diamond – opening month 2022 at the very latest. He possesses a safe floor and should be quick to the Bigs, making Torkelson an easy choice for the number one collegiate prospect to target moving forward. Then again, all of this depends on how much organized baseball these athletes have access to in 2020, which may represent even less access than my AOL account had to the interweb in fourth grade in 2003. Neopets and SI Kids. Times were tough.
2. Reid Detmers, LHP, Louisville
There are several players on this list that would be ranked ahead of Detmers if this were solely about upside, but it’s not. I’d be hard-pressed to tell you to pick up and hold a prospect not destined to reach the pro circuit for several years. So although many feel Detmers projects as a middle-of-the-rotation guy who sits around 90-94 MPH with his fastball, he has elite command and pitchability and should move more quickly through the minors than many of the arms that are drafted before him this June (or July? Or August?).
Detmers is a southpaw with three pitches that all grade at 50-plus on the 20-80 scale. As mentioned previously, he sits low-to-mid 90s with his fastball, which is paired with a mid-70s curveball and sinking changeup. He’s a strike-thrower with a smooth, repeatable delivery, meaning he already possesses many of the attributes most other college pitchers will spend added time in the minors smoothing out.
Still, his readiness as a MLB-caliber starter alone isn’t quite enough to rank him here. So why then? Because Detmers struck out 167 batters in 113.1 innings in 2019 (13.29 K/9) en route to a 2.78 ERA and .177 BAA, while setting 48 batters down on strikes in just 22 innings (19.64 K/9) to begin the 2020 campaign. At the college level, we don’t always possess the advanced metrics to evaluate players to the same ability as we do at the professional level, but allow me to unpack this one for you: we’re being told Detmers projects as a middle-of-the-rotation starter with comps to a Brendan McKay with less stuff, yet the guy is sporting a curveball that eclipses 2,700 RPMs and sports elite K/9 numbers while showing an increased ability to miss bats as he matures as a pitcher.
Remember when Yu Darvish was being scouted by MLB teams in 2011 and was projected as a No. 3-4 starter in the big leagues? Or when Aaron Nola was drafted seventh overall in 2014 despite being saddled with a No. 3 starter ceiling? Yeah. I see room for steady and rapid growth by Detmers here, and if he fails, he can always pair that wicked breaking ball with a couple ticks up on the heater and become an elite bullpen weapon.
Jump on Detmers if you’re looking for someone primed to move more quickly through the farm, but be warned that he isn’t ranked as highly in other draft pools as many of the players to follow.
3. Austin Martin, SS, Vanderbilt
I know, I know. Buying on a highly-touted shortstop out of Vandy fills you with some scary feelings of déjà vu. Admittedly, recommending Martin makes me feel like I’ve just responded to a Craigslist ad from Mark Duplass and now find myself sitting in Aaron’s living room wondering whether or not I’m about to be the star of Creep 3.
Even though the warning signs say to stay away from Martin and run away screaming once Mark Duplass puts on that hideous wolf mask, I’m not – because I’m too intrigued by what Martin, or Duplass, might do. And just to clear things up, by warning signs, I mean the incredible mediocrity that embodies Dansby Swanson. Seeing as Swanson’s OPS+ reached a three-year high of 89 in 2019, that’s being kind.
To be fair, Martin’s hit tool is further along than Swanson’s was in 2015. This bodes well, as Swanson moved quickly to the Majors, registering 145 plate appearances for the Braves as early as the 2016 season. If Martin can find a true defensive home (listed as a SS, played 3B in 2019, logged starts in CF in 2020), he may be able to move just as fast as Swanson through the minors.
Martin slashed .387/.478/.598 as a sophomore in 2019 and was off to a .377/.507/.660 start in 2020, having popped three long balls in just 53 at bats. He’s projected as a 60-grade hit tool guy who some scouts even have pegged as high as 70 to pair with a 50/55 power-speed combo. Considering he posted an average exit velocity over 95 MPH in 2019, Martin has shown a natural ability to make consistent, hard contact with the barrel of the bat.
If the past doesn’t scare you, play this one by the numbers and show up to Aaron’s cottage in the woods for the casting of part three.
4. Emerson Hancock, RHP, Georgia
MLB Pipeline has Hancock tabbed as the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, but I’d be surprised to see a name other than Martin or Torkelson called in that spot. Still, Hancock commands four quality pitches, with his 65-grade fastball peaking at 99 MPH and typically sitting 94-97 MPH during starts. His slider and changeup both received grades of 60, while his hard curveball is a 55.
The consensus seems to be that Hancock often relies too much on his duo of breaking pitches and needs to trust his changeup more, which in itself is a plus pitch. If he does so as he develops as a pitcher, his stuff and natural build give him the ceiling of the top-of-the-rotation power pitcher.
Since he got roughed up in two of his four 2020 starts by Richmond and Georgia Tech, he’s unlikely to go number one overall in the 2020 Draft. His college track record (16-7, 3.47 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 206 K) still provides enough evidence to illustrate the upside Hancock possesses when taking into account his steady arsenal of pitches. What’s more, he improved both his K/9 and BB/9 from his career totals in his shortened 2020 campaign (12.8 K/9, 1.1 BB/9). When it comes to an arm like this, it’s often most important to see evidence of the guy harnessing his stuff and going after hitters because they simply outmatch the competition the majority of days they’re on the mound.
Although Hancock won’t be the best bang for your buck (depending on how your waiver wire functions) and there may be someone in your league who values him too highly, he’s too good to be any lower on your radar than this spot indicates.
5. Max Meyer, RHP, Minnesota
You better strap in because this is going to be a wild one. Wild as in how long it took for the Pirates to realize Ray Searage was a terrible pitching coach. Strap in as in the feeling you get every time Christopher Russo begins talking but you just can’t change the channel.
Meyer presents the most polarizing case of anyone else on this list. Keith Law has the junior righty tabbed as the 2020 Draft’s No. 6 prospect overall, while Fangraphs and MLB Pipeline have him pinned at 20th and 24th, respectively. Why the discrepancy?
For one, they’re all wrong. Meyer sits 94-97 MPH with his 60-grade fastball and he touched triple digits as a starter with the pitch in 2020. At the same time, his 70-grade slider is considered to be the best of its kind in the entire draft and he recently developed a changeup that has transformed into a plus-pitch as well. Even with these weapons, he’s not going anywhere nearly as high as sixth overall, but he shouldn’t make it to the twenties. Key word is shouldn’t.
Although the aforementioned weapons are no farce, Meyer is six feet even and 180 lbs., meaning you don’t need Alex Bregman-esque recognition skills to see this one the way many scouts do. Meyer has the potential to start at the big league level, evidenced by a strong track record in that role in both 2019 (5-3, 2.11 ERA, 76.2 IP, 87 K) and 2020 (3-1, 1.95 ERA, 27.2 IP, 46 K), even throwing 118 pitches in a start earlier this month. But if a team feels strongly about committing him to being a reliever, even in the short term, Meyer might represent the closest comp to a Brandon Finnegan-type project over the past five seasons. In other words, Meyer could step into a Major League bullpen tomorrow and thrive, but it would have clear consequences as it relates to his long-term development and ceiling.
Bottom line: approach with caution and know his role may not be clear until he arrives at Minor League camp, but he could have the quickest ticket to the Major Leagues of anyone on this list should a team have a vision for him as a reliever. Even as a starter you may see big dividends, but you’ll have to wait more than twice as long (likely longer than Detmers and Hancock) and there’s most-certainly at least double the risk as well.
6. Nick Gonzales, SS, New Mexico State
I’ll likely catch some flack for ranking a guy who blasted five home runs in a double-header earlier this year this low, but if you know anything about the college circuit, you know that New Mexico State is a hitter’s paradise. Gonzales possesses a 60-grade hit tool and 55-grade legs, but your guess is as good as mine what the power (45 on the 20-80) looks like as a professional. He did hit 16 home runs last year to accompany a .432/.532/.773 clip while being the 2019 MVP of the Cape Cod League, so if the power does end up translating to the next level, Gonzales could be a superstar. I’m not betting on it, but he projects as a hit-first second baseman at the big league level and although that is far more common than it used to be, he’s still a guy you should have on your radar with his refined swing likely needing only one-to-two years of seasoning in the minors.
7. Asa Lacy, LHP, Texas A&M
Lacy sits five spots below Detmers on this list for the simple reason that his command, control and delivery need more smoothing out and therefore project him to require more time in the Minor Leagues. His delivery is straight whack, yo. Like that hoodlum in The Rookie that keeps badgering my man Dennis Quaid about the field needing grass. Didn’t you see Frequency? Wouldn’t mess with my boy D-Q. No one calls him that, but seriously, Lacy delivers the ball straight over the top and there are only two ways to look at his release point. One, it raises questions about his control and the repeatability of his motion. Two, it means he’s releasing the ball from an unfamiliar release point to Major League hitters, which is a plus and something scouts are finally beginning to take into account in this day and age. Lots of upside with a guy who has a prototypical MLB frame (6-foot-4, 215 lbs.) with four plus-pitches (FB: 60, CB: 55, CH: 55, SL: 50) and sits 92-97 MPH on the gun, but my recommendation is to dedicate your energy on some of the other names above him that may garner less attention from your league-mates.
8. CJ Van Eyk, RHP, Florida State
Van Eyk also falls into the same boat where we really don’t know if his professional future will embody that of a starter or reliever. He pitched primarily out of the pen as a freshman before moving to the rotation as a sophomore in 2019. Although Van Eyk had success in both roles, he was more dominant as a reliever, which is why he sits here at No. 8 despite his rocky (albeit brief) 2020 campaign. The right-hander was good but not excellent during his first two NCAA seasons and walked 12 in 20 frames as a junior, but his stuff plays. His fastball (93-95 MPH), changeup and 12-6 curveball (76-79 MPH) are all plus-pitches and he mixes speeds effectively, but the changeup is the clear tertiary pitch with Van Eyk. I’d be surprised if we saw him in an MLB uniform before 2022, but he could be up faster if put in a relief role – and perhaps more dominant given he can crank the heater up to 98 in short stints to mix with that slow, 12-6 curve.
9. Garrett Mitchell, OF, UCLA
I originally didn’t have Mitchell on my top-10 list at all, but eventually came around to acknowledge that he’s simply too toolsy from a fantasy perspective not to be included. He’s a 70-80-grade runner depending on where you look, with a 60-hit tool and 50-grade power. The swing is a bit raw and certain teams have concerns about him having diabetes, but the tools provide a formidable floor from a fantasy baseball perspective. Even if the bat takes a while to develop and delays his arrival to the Major Leagues, Mitchell should at the very least provide 15/15 production from the left side of the plate for your squad. Just don’t add him this summer with the expectation you’ll see him in a big league uniform before 2022.
10. Garrett Crochet, LHP, Tennessee
At this point we’re just splitting hairs between the end of this list and the guys who just missed the honor of a thrilling player profile, but Crochet is an intriguing guy to look at from a fantasy perspective nonetheless. That and ranking two Garretts back-to-back really gets me going. Love me a good Garrett. Gerrit Cole. Garrett Gilbert. That kid Garrett whose mom drove me to school through the second grade. There’s simply too many great Garretts, or Great-retts, in this day and age. But as for the Crochet of Garretts, this one wields a deadly fastball from the left side that has typically sat 92-95 MPH but improved to 96-100 MPH during the fall season. Whaaatt? Yeah, that certainly makes a difference, but was it legit? Well, he hit 99 MPH just this month over a three inning outing, but we won’t have two more months of college baseball to use in our favor to assess Crochet the Garrett. At a 65-grade, pair that fastball with a plus-slider (55) and changeup (60). The delivery is smooth enough and although some have concerns about his command, there’s too much upside here. Regardless if he figures it all out as a reliever versus a starter long-term, not to include this southpaw in the top 10 would be wrong.