Written by: Mason McRae
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One of the more popular things I’m asked is where I’d rank players had they been in another draft class. This question carried even more weight when comparing a 2019 class with a light college pitching demographic that was followed up by a historically deep 2020 college pitching class.
Lots of people enjoy the hypothetical “what if Leiter or Rocker were eligible in 2020” type of questions, so this should answer that and more.
In some cases my rankings are based on pre-draft evaluations, but with some 2020 guys, they might be shifting a spot or two, mostly because of Max Meyer. Included in the rankings are players from the 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 draft classes. Remember: this is not a fantasy-focused list; I used only my personal evaluations of real-life traits and perceived future value to compile this top-10 list. Enjoy!
1. Adley Rutschman, C, Oregon State (Orioles)
A stand-up human being, teammate, and player – Rutschman is the ideal poster boy for a team rebuilding. By far and away the consensus top prospect in 2019, he ended up breaking the all-time draft signing bonus record because of it. Destined by some to be the next generation’s Buster Posey, the switch-hitter is what you get when you place an elite hitter and plus defender at a premium position. Rutschman is the the type of player teams mold an entire organization around, similar to the Cubs with Kris Bryant (at his peak, which is certainly not in 2020), who eventually helped lead them to their first World Series in 108 years.
2. Austin Martin, CF, Vanderbilt (Blue Jays)
The best pure hitter I’ve seen in amateur baseball, Martin might have been the fifth overall pick but was far from the fifth best prospect in the 2020 draft class. Neck and neck with Spencer Torkelson on my board, Martin was one of three prospects with a 60 FV leading up to July’s draft. His defensive profile gave him a chance to stick in center field depending on his draftor, but Toronto has placed him in left field and third base so far, so the bat—which his biggest proponents were banking heavily on prior to the draft—is going to be even more so in the spotlight throughout his professional career. Similar to Rutschman, most accounts on Martin were one of the hardest working athletes some of the Vanderbilt coaches have seen.
3. Spencer Torkelson, 3B, Arizona State (Tigers)
The first time I’ve listed him as a third baseman anywhere, I had some hope Torkelson would play some second base or at the hot corner for Detroit, as his head coach from Arizona State suggested was possible prior to the draft. The likelihood he actually stays at third base is rather grim, but there’s plus plus hit and power tools in the profile. Torkelson is the last of the 60 FV prospects on this list and (in my opinion) the least exciting, but there’s at least a decent shot he outperforms both of the two guys above him statistically.
4. Max Meyer, RHP, Minnesota (Marlins)
Death, taxes, and six-footers. Meyer is my all-time favorite pitching prospect. A carbon copy version of Sonny Gray, but an even better athlete. Meyer’s slider could be the best pitch I’ve ever seen, and his fastball could end up being an elite offering when compared to its peers. A mechanical beast, there’s elite upper body rotation combined with advanced sequencing throughout the kinetic chain in his lower half. It’s a shame Meyer wasn’t my top arm pre-draft, which will likely be my biggest regret from the 2020 class.
5. Brady Singer, RHP, Florida (Royals)
Singer was my intro into amateur prospects. A story told to me by a scout who saw him in high school birthed the obsession, and it grew after seeing just how competitive he was at Florida. Not your typical data guy, he’s more of a sinkerballer that lived down in the zone for the Gators. Singer is a psychopath on the mound – which is a good thing – his intangibles are off the charts, and he’s an incredibly smart pitcher. The floor was always a bottom of the rotation guy, but there’s a shot he reaches the 4ish win projection I had on him in 2018.
6. Jack Leiter, RHP, Vanderbilt
Still first on my 2021 board, Leiter is very unique in the sense he’s undersized and doesn’t have much of a wow factor, but he can already throw five above average or better pitches including a pair of plus or better (60+) pitches. His kinetic sequencing is reportedly off the charts and his delivery score got near perfect scores out of high school. Makeup is fantastic by all accounts. He won’t be the top guy on a World Series contending staff, but he could be the Walker Buehler to your Clayton Kershaw.
7. Emerson Hancock, RHP, Georgia (Mariners)
After obtaining Hancock’s Trackman numbers post-draft, it’s insane how much people crushed Hancock after his four-start spring. His average fastball velocity ranked 7th in all of college baseball, and his average spin rate (2,515 rpm) was a touch ahead, ranking 4th in the same context. Because of the pitch’s flat characteristics, there’s a chance it can be one of the more unique fastballs in pro ball. The offering enjoys heavy run, plus spin and enough movement and velocity to pitch up, but not enough ride to pitch up consistently. His slider was drastically undervalued and the changeup is as advertised. It’s a good thing he dropped to Seattle, as he should complete a three-headed monster that also includes Logan Gilbert and George Kirby.
8. Casey Mize, RHP, Auburn (Tigers)
Behind Singer on my board was the seemingly consensus top arm, Casey Mize. There’s a borderline elite pitch mix and the splitter was some scouts’ favorite pitch in the entire class. He added a cutter pre-junior season and it was one of five above average pitches. The arm action didn’t necessarily scare me, but it was atypical and actually led to some health concerns that led to some missed time while at Auburn. He’s had to dodge a couple of arm ailments since becoming a professional, but we’ve all seen just how good the right-hander can be when healthy and sequencing to the best of his ability.
9. Jud Fabian, OF, Florida
Fabian is flying a bit under the radar as 3rd overall appears to currently be his ceiling within the 2021 class despite the argument he may be the best position playing prospect in this cycle. Fabian is a model darling who should go very high next summer. There’s plus power and an innate ability to drive the ball, but the profile isn’t without some swing-and-miss concerns. There’s heavy loft in the cut and ideal body proportions that should allow him to remain in center field for the majority of his professional career.
10. Kumar Rocker, RHP, Vanderbilt
Some say Rocker is both the top arm in 2021 and the top amateur arm since 2018; both are reasonable and not far out of the question. For me personally, there’s not enough swing-and-miss and his fastball’s a puzzling pitch as the characteristics are much better than the results suggest. There’s no physical projectability left, but that’s okay since he already possesses a starter’s build. The slider is one of the best pitches many scouts have seen, and his other pitches can play off it pretty well.
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Featured image courtesy of photographer Tommy Gilligan and USA Today Sports