The 2020 MLB draft will be an unusual one, if nothing else.
Reports today suggest that after some difficult negotiations between owners and the MLBPA, the 2020 draft will be shortened to five rounds. Teams will be able to sign non-drafted free agents for a maximum of $20K.
Reportedly, the Blue Jays were one of a number of teams that had pushed for a ten round draft, but a small and apparently vocal group of owners pushed for five. Over the past few seasons, the Blue Jays have found excellent value in the last few rounds of the draft, and the Relief Pitcher on MiLB’s All Star 2019 team, Jackson Rees, was a NDFA the Blue Jays scooped up in 2018, and Luis Quinones was dominant in Vancouver’s bullpen as a 34 round pick last year.
A group of 4-5 players have separated themselves from the pack, and most mock drafts have the Blue Jays selecting Georgia RHP Emerson Hancock, with a few having New Mexico State 2B Nick Gonzales landing in the 5th spot.
This is a draft that will probably lean heavily toward college players. Only the premium high schoolers are likely to sign, with most of the top prep players below the top tier in all likelihood headed to college. Many may opt for Junior College, which might make for an interesting 2021 draft crop.
Given past draft tendencies, Hancock does tend to fit the Blue Jays preference for long, lean Pitchers. Not the owner of one overwhelming pitch, Hancock relies on command of all four of his pitches to get hitters out. His best pitch is a plus fastball that sits 93-97, although some reports suggest a lower arm slot would give it more movement and swing-and-miss potential. He has the frame, athleticism, and command that make it easy to picture him one day somewhere in the middle of a rotation that includes Nate Pearson, Alek Manoah, Simeon Woods Richardson, and Adam Kloffenstein.
As an up-the-middle guy, there is some fit with Gonzales, but there’s probably not enough defensively to fit the mold of the players they’re after. There is no doubt about the bat, though – the MVP of the Cape league last summer, Gonzales tore up the collegiate ranks before play came to a halt in March. He was moved to SS this season, but the reviews on his performance their have been mixed. He has good arm strength and footwork, but may lack the quick-twitch reactions the Blue Jays prefer at that position. A smart baserunner, Gonzales is a pure hitter with plate discipline who could move through the system very quickly if he’s left at 2nd. Keston Hiura and Dustin Pedroia comps have been made with him.
For the Blue Jays, this will be the first with Shane Farrell, the new Director of Amateur Scouting, at the helm, after Steve Sanders opted to follow mentor Ben Cherington for an expanded portfolio in Pittsburgh. Despite the graduation of a number of top prospects over the past two seasons, the Blue Jays system is in very good shape, which should mean that the club will focus on the best player on the board when it comes their turn to select.
With an armada of undrafted free agents to choose from, the Blue Jays are no doubt supplementing their board with a huge section devoted to those players. While it’s disappointing to say the least that MLB has decided to cut costs in this way, it will be very interesting to see what teams to in the NDFA market. In the past, this was a route to fill out short season rosters; teams may be looking for hidden value this time around, as the minor league season continues to be looking less and less likely.