Conventional wisdom is for the Toronto Blue Jays to take whichever of the “Big 5” prospects is remaining when it’s their turn. But what if they don’t?
There are generally considered to the five prospects who comprise the top tier in the upcoming draft. In some order, they are Austin Martin, a five-tool OF from Vanderbilt; Spencer Torkelson, a 1B from Arizona State with holy-cow-Batman power, Asa Lacy, a LHP from Texas A&M with perhaps the best first two pitches in the draft; Nick Gonzales, a SS/2B from New Mexico State who Baseball America named the best hitter in college ball; and Emerson Hancock, a RHP from Georgia whose stuff has been compared to Stephen Strasburg.
The conventional wisdom is that the Jays have the easiest job in baseball with their pick at #5 – just take whichever of these 5 budding Hall-of-Famers is left on the board.
But life, drafting and baseball is not that simple. First, because none of the “Big 5” comes without question marks. It is possible that the Jays could see Lacy’s injury/bullpen risk, or Gonzales’ defense, or Hancock’s recent mini-slide as being serious enough to consider other options. Or something could happen between now and the draft to add further issues.
Second, we do not know (?) yet know the salary demands of these players and of the second tier. What if one of the Big 5 were to price himself out of the draft, or if a top-of-tier-2 talent like a Garrett Mitchell or Zac Veen were to accept a substantial discount to the $6.1 million slot value for pick #5?
And finally, there is more to a (hopefully!) 10 round draft than the first overall pick – as the Jays demonstrated in 2018 when they opted for the Groshans/Kloffenstein combo rather than Matt Liberatore, who was more highly ranked than either of those players.
Toronto Blue Jays
The other wild card is Covid-19. Many of the MLB teams are said to be hurting financially big-time (which is why the reduced draft was negotiated). Their financial problems might have been exacerbated by MLB’s agreement to provide $170 million in advances to the players.
Those teams might be looking for draft-day bargains, which could mean that good players who are not willing to take a major discount could slip to later rounds. If the Jays and the players believed that to be the case, then Toronto saving money on their first pick might be both feasible and worthwhile.
And so, for the sake of the argument (as we Irish say!), if the Jays were to choose not to go with the obvious remaining Big 5 member, who might they target?
Garrett Mitchell, CF (UCLA, 21.8 years old)
If Mitchell did not have Type 1 diabetes (that is the kind of diabetes where the person takes insulin injections. With Type 2, they control blood sugar with pills) the Big 5 would be a Big 6. Mitchell is a true 5-tool player, and the closest thing to a lock to remain in centre field with 80-grade speed and a plus to plus-plus arm.
Mitchell also has plus/plus-plus raw power, although he has only begun to translate it to game power. Some would argue that his floor is an Ender Inciarte – type centre fielder, with elite defense and a below-average bat. But if he could tap into his raw power, his ceiling is an Acuna-esque 120+ wRC+ elite centre fielder with serious baserunning skills.
The diabetes is a legitimate concern, but not to the extent that it was decades ago. Modern medical advances have changed diabetes from a career-killer to a problem to be managed – but one that *is* manageable.
Mitchell has the further advantage that, at almost 22 years old and with his elite defensive skills, he might be closer to the majors than most of the other players in the draft. He could, therefore, be a contributor to the major league team in the Era of Vladdy Greatness.
A ceiling is not a guarantee. But if the Jays believed that their farm system was good enough to allow them to gamble on a player with ludicrous upside, Mitchell could well be their man.
Pete Crow-Armstrong, CF (Harvard Westlake HS, 18.2 years old)
Like Mitchell, PCA projects as an elite defensive CF. A year ago, he was in serious discussion to go first overall, but a lukewarm summer has dropped his stock to a projected mid-first rounder. PCA is one of the players who was arguably the most hurt by the Covid-19 shutdown of highschool athletics, as his stock could have dramatically improved with a hot spring.
I could see the scenario where the Jays invite Pete for a private tryout before the draft, and a combination of their tech and eyes tell them that the upside is still there. PCA is projected to go 20th-ish in the draft, which would translate to a slot of $3.24m. Suppose the Jays offered to take him at #5 and to pay him (say) $3.5m – leaving them with $2.6m to entice a hard sign in the second or third rounds. Might the combo of a PCA + hard sign be worth more than (say) Gonzales + ordinary second-rounder?
Mick Abel, RHP (Jesuit HS, 18.8 years old)
Abel is interesting in that he is the #8 prospect on the Fangraphs BOARD, but rated in the 15-20 range in many mock drafts. Abel is a clear projection play – he does not have a single 55-grade pitch right now, but both his fastball and curve are rated as 50/60 (i.e. current 50 with 60 upside). This might have hurt him with scouts that look for that double-plus 100mph fastball or Bugs Bunny change-up.
But with two fastballs and three offspeed pitches that all-flash plus right now (very unusual for a high school pitcher) and unusually good command (a common career-killer for young pitchers) Abel is remarkably advanced for his age.
Abel is also unusual in that he has a very smooth clean delivery – unlike many young pitchers (*cough*Asa Lacy*cough*). As one scout put it “long arm action from a 3/4’s arm slot, low energy release, looks like he’s warming up when he’s throwing 96 mph“. And Abel has all of this at 6’5” and 185 pounds – which leads many scouts to believe that (with added weight and muscle) he is still highly projectable.
Choosing a high school player, especially a pitcher, is often a high-risk, high-reward proposition. And, as I said with Mitchell, a ceiling is no guarantee. But an 18-year old pitcher who already has five pitches that flash plus, and that he can already command with an already clean, repeatable, low-energy-release delivery is almost too good to be true.
And, as with Mitch and PCA, the potential for a below-slot sign with Mick is very real.
The bottom line
The Big 5 are all good players, and it would be hard for the Jays to go wrong with choosing whichever one of them fell to pick #5. But Jays management have surprised us in the past (not always successfully, but still surprised). And some might argue that what the Jays need is not more solid 3 fWAR players, but rather one 6+ fWAR superstar.
They might suggest that it be worthwhile to take a player with crazy high upside, even if the odds of flame-out are even higher. Is it time, like Downtown Anderson, to swing for the fences even if you risk striking out?