A number of sites have published 2020 mock drafts. Who are they projecting the Jays to take with pick #5 overall?
This is the second in a three-part series about the Blue Jays and the upcoming June (July? August?) First-Year Player draft. You can read Part I (Strategy) here. Part III (the Dark Horses) will be published over the next few days.
A number of draft sites have already published mock drafts, predicting which players will be taken by the Blue Jays in the first round. You can see a table of these predictions here.
Note that in the case of two of the draft sites (Fangraphs and Keith Law at ESPN) the prognosticators did not provide a mock draft but rather a ranked list of prospects. In those cases, I took the #5 ranked prospect as the projected Blue Jays pick.
There are three players most frequently predicted for the Jays to choose: Emerson Hancock, a RHP (picked five times), Asa Lacey, LHP (four times) and Nick Gonzales, SS/2B (three times). Let’s look at each of these players in turn.
Emerson Hancock, RHP (University of Georgia, 20 years old)
Why might the Jays draft him? Hancock is generally regarded as the top pitcher in this year’s draft class. He is a true four-pitch pitcher. As one writer puts it:
"Emerson’s four-pitch repertoire is hilarious the deeper you dive. His double plus-fastball, in 733 Pitches as a SO & JR has been thrown 50%, glovestriked 69%, and chased 26%. His Hard-SL (working anywhere from 82-86, and even hitting 89) has been thrown 28%, for a strike 68%, with a chase-rate of 37.0%. His third best pitch, a “Bugs Bunny” changeup (thrown 182 times) thrown for a strike 57%, with a 33.0% chase-rate. And Oh, there’s more, his fourth pitch – a near plus-CB – was only thrown 9%, 60% for a strike, and a low (for him) 13.0% chase rate"
Toronto Blue Jays
And at 6’4″ and 213 lbs, Hancock has a strong, projectable physique, and he has been described as a “down-to-earth” kid.
Why might the Blue Jays hesitate? Hancock had a poor junior year (2018), with a 5.10 ERA in 77 innings pitched. He broke out with a brilliant sophomore year in 2019, with a 1.99 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 90 innings pitched. But his last two starts were poor, with a combined 8 ER in 7.2 innings. It was likely a blip, but scouts were hoping for a strong start to 2020 to alleviate any concerns. Unfortunately, the did not get it.
Hancock’s first 2020 game ended early, with 6 ER in 4.0 innings. His second game was outstanding – a 7-inning 2-hitter – but it was against Santa Clara, a team who finished dead last in the West Coast Conference in 2019 with a 5-22 record. His third game was against a much tougher Georgia Tech team, and he once again disappointed with four earned runs in 5.2 innings. As a result, Hancock’s stock has dropped to the point where he is expected to be available to the Jays at #5.
Prediction: If Hancock is still available at #5, it likely means that Martin, Torkelson, Lacy and Gonzales were taken ahead of him. If that is the case, then Hancock is likely a more attractive pick than (say) a Zac Veen or Garrett Mitchell, even with the questions that his recent performance has raised.
Asa Lacy, LHP (Texas A&M, 20 years old)
Why might the Jays draft him? In a sense, Lacy’s “helium” is the opposite of Hancock’s. Like Emerson, Lacy had an excellent 2019, pitching to a 2.13 ERA over 88 innings (albeit with a slightly troubling 4.4 BB/9). But Lacy was an absolute beast in his four games in 2020 – pitching to a 0.75 ERA with a BB/9 of 3 and a K/9 of 17 (no, that is not a typo). Plus, he is a lefty. Plus, he is 6’4″ and 215 pounds.
Why might the Blue Jays hesitate? Lacey’s delivery is atypical, with what fangraphs calls “a vertical arm slot created without spinal tilt (like Michael Wacha) — which makes his delivery look pretty violent about his head and shoulder”. Fangraphs goes on to say that:
"His best two pitches are better than any other college arm in the draft, but you have to be okay with the delivery and project on the tertiary weapon to like him more than some of the more traditional-looking prospects."
In combination, his issues with command, a violent arm motion and his reliance in college on two pitches have led some to suggest that his relief risk is “abundant”.
Prediction: If he is available at #5, Lacy will still likely be the best player available.
Nick Gonzales – SS/2B (New Mexico State, 21 years old)
Why might the Jays be interested? Nick can hit. In 2019, he had a crazy-good .432/.532/.773 line with New Mexico, and followed that up with a .351/.451/.630 line to win MVP honours in the 2019 Cape Cod League. In fact, he was named the minor league’s best hitter in the 2020 Baseball America rankings. And Gonzales has an excellent mindset:
"One thing about Gonzales not having the traditional first-rounder background—coming out of Arizona’s Cienega High, he was only offered the merest glimmer of a role at NMSU and Austin Peay, and chose NMSU because it was important to him his family be able to come see his games—is it’s created a player who is humble, hardworking, and thankful for every opportunity he gets. His Twitter timeline is littered with praise and thank-you notes to friends and fellow players mixed in with baseball content, and his college coach tells stories about the “baseball rat” Gonzales who seeks out every learning opportunity, even taking a lantern to the cages so he could hit at night."
Why might the Blue Jays hesitate? Gonzales is something of a one-trick pony, with hitting his only trick. He is small (5’10” and 190 pounds) and not particularly quick, either on the base paths or in the field. Most scouts doubt whether he will be able to stick at SS in the majors, and see him as a 2B long-term – maybe. Also, his home team of New Mexico State has one of the smallest parks at the highest altitudes in the Western Athletic Conference. His 2019 OPS (on-base + slugging) of 1.345 might seem north of human, but it is interesting to note that four of his teammates had OPS over 1.1. And he’s not a power hitter – his 16 home runs in 2019 were only 3rd best on his team. So – even with his excellent 2019 Cape Cod showing – his hitting stats need to be taken with a grain of salt.
Prediction: As with Lacy and Hancock, Gonzales would almost certainly be the BPA at #5.
The bottom line
The top five players in the 2020 draft are almost universally projected to be Austin Martin, Spencer Torkelson, Hancock, Lacy and Gonzales in some order. If four of them are picked in the top four picks (as seems likely) whichever player remaining will almost certainly be the best player available when the Jays pick at #5. Where it would get interesting would be if one or more of the top four teams chose a player outside this group – possibly to save bonus money. If all three of Hancock, Lacy and Gonzales were somehow available, I am not sure which one the Jays would choose.