clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2020 MLB draft: A deep pool of pitching talent awaits in the second round

Will the Tigers hunt bats, or fortify their lead in the arms race?

MLB Opening Day postponed Due To Coronavirus Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

One of the overriding themes of the 2020 MLB draft class is depth, particularly in regard to pitching talent. Beyond the top guys, there are pretty deep second and third tiers that should provide multiple opportunities for the Tigers to add to a strong crop of pitching prospects.

With the draft now dialed in at a very abbreviated five rounds over two days starting June 10th, let’s take a look at the pitching talent the Tigers should have available to them with the 38th overall pick to lead off the second round.

Of course, pitching feels like the Tigers’ wheelhouse if there is one. This is where they’ve focused their draft capital and had the most success. Some of this is by circumstance more than design, but their rebuilding effort is based around high end starting pitching prospects. Maybe some of the personnel changes in player development and scouting will change that, but it will likely be some time before we really have a sense of their impact.

In each of the last three drafts, the Tigers have selected a position player in the second round. It hasn’t gone that well. There is time for Nick Quintana and Parker Meadows to right the ship, but right now their stock is down. Meanwhile, 2017 second round pick, slugger Rey Rivera, is barely hanging on to a job in A ball. This shouldn’t inform the Tigers decision, but it’s worth noting that despite their pitcher-centric reputation, they’ve taken some swings at position players in the second round, and may try to do so again.

This is an interesting time in which to scout and project young pitchers. Baseball’s information age continues to evolve, and in recent years, many college programs have helped lead the way in developing pitching labs to gather data and provide feedback to their pitchers in training. Players are working with Rapsodo units and high speed cameras at younger and younger ages and pitchers are throwing harder and optimizing their active spin.

All of which is to say, that well schooled pitchers may be closer to their ceiling than peers with less access to high tech coaching. Teams have to figure out how to weigh some of these factors without overemphasizing them. They’ll have to balance all the variables and go deeper than age and experience to see through to a pitcher’s actual remaining projection.

Obviously, within the context of baseball, few have been hurt as much as young amateur players by the COVID-19 pandemic. Tough, unexpected decisions have been forced on them, and it’s difficult to speculate what the effect will be on players’ willingness to sign if selected. Players, with input from their families and agents, will have to weigh a lot of extra layers of uncertainty. Maybe they’ll be tougher to sign as a group, maybe they won’t, but it’s definitely a wild card factor.

Teams themselves will also be working under a pretty unique set rules and challenges. Unlike most years, the draft will be conducted via virtual draft rooms. Whether teams will stick to their boards or talk things out as they go is an interesting consideration as the likelihood for surprises appears quite high. They also have to be ready on June 14th to convince unsigned players who would normally draw six figure bonuses to settle for a handshake and twenty thousand dollars.

As in the position player edition of this series, we’re not trying to be comprehensive here, nor is the following group simply composed of our favorites. BYB will be providing full profiles on many of the available guys we like in the coming weeks. For now, let’s just peruse some of the arms that could fit the Tigers’ eye, who are ranked near their second round slot by sites like FanGraphs, Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, and Prospects Live.

RHP Slade Cecconi- Miami

This tall, hard-throwing right-hander is probably out of reach, but he may be the one the Tigers would most like to see slip to them to begin the second round. Cecconi stands a sturdy 6’4”, 220 pounds and can run the heater into the high-90’s already. He was slated as a first rounder as a prep prospect back in 2018 before a minor injury derailed him a bit and he decided to head to college.

The fastball and frame are the big selling points, but Cecconi also backs it up with several quality secondary pitches. He’ll throw a good cutter that is generally average or better, with a slider and changeup that both have plus potential.

Cecconi uses his big frame well with a long stride and good extension. He repeats his delivery with consistency, pitching with balance and control, and has four pitches that are all pretty tangy at their best. He’s got the size and easy gas the Tigers, or anyone else, love to see in a starting pitcher. It doesn’t hurt that he’s younger than the juniors and has a fair bit of projection remaining.

FanGraphs has Cecconi all the way up at 21 and sure to go in the first round, while Baseball America pegs him at 31 in the Comp A round. The track record may be short, but the talent level is pretty high. Cecconi seems likely to go before the Tigers get a chance, but if he slips, they should do what it takes to land him.

RHP CJ Van Eyk- Florida State

Of the arms likely available to the Tigers at 38, Van Eyk feels like one of the safest. The right-hander has three average or better pitches and looks like an easy first-rounder at his best. However, while his results for the Gators have been rock steady, the command still varies and there may not be much projection remaining.

Still, the consistency of his college work has him pegged to go at 29 according to FanGraphs, with Prospects Live, MLB Pipeline and Baseball America all somewhat lower.

Van Eyk will dial it up here and there and has touched 98 mph, but he’s more typically 92-94. At 6’1”, 205 pounds, he’s a touch undersized by the standards of the modern starter, so expecting much more velocity is a stretch. Still he may sustain it better as he matures.

The featured secondary pitch is a fairly sharp power curveball. It doesn’t have huge depth but his size and delivery help him disguise it well off of high fastballs, and it bites well into the hitting zone. The hook will buckle a few hitters, but it has swing and miss potential too. The changeup has good depth at its best and may be a solid pitch for him eventually, but both offerings come and go.

Van Eyk has a a few issues in his delivery. He closes off and then over-rotates without a lot of leg drive to get the ball on line. As a result he’s sometimes off balance and will spin offline. Still he does throw a good ratio of strikes, and with some improvement he could see better command and more stable velocity.

As things stand, with an average or better fastball, solid control, and a pair of viable secondaries, the package gives Van Eyk a stable floor. He looks like a solid bet as a future backend starter with a chance for more if he can put the whole package together.

As a fairly hard-throwing right-hander from the SEC, with a good track record of performance, Van Eyk feels like he’ll appeal to the Tigers’ collective eye. On the other hand, the Tigers’ generally prefer their starters with a bigger frame and the upside here feels a little underwhelming. We wouldn’t be stunned if the Tigers called his name if he’s still available at 38, but there will probably be options they like better.

LHP Dax Fulton- Mustang HS (OK)

Fulton has huge potential, perhaps more than anyone in this article, but he’s also risky. The big prep southpaw stands 6’6” with all the projection a team could ask for, but his 2019 ended with UCL surgery in September. There is an opportunity to snag a legit first round talent here, but Fulton’s stock could vary widely as the draft nears as teams try to get a read on him now eight months into his rehabilitation.

Baseball America and FanGraphs currently rank Fulton 52nd and 51st overall in the draft, respectively.

Fulton’s modest crossfire motion gives him plenty of deception, and he manages quality extension with those long levers despite a compact stride. Before the injury he was sitting comfortably in the low 90’s, but his age and frame auger for much more to come. The fastball is backed by a nasty sweeping curve that could give hitters fits for years to come.

Fulton was still a bit raw prior to the injury and would probably be well served by a team willing to give him time. The Tigers have done a pretty nice job developing another fairly raw high school pitcher named Matt Manning over the past few years. Fulton doesn’t have Manning’s high end athleticism, but some of the challenges of mastering those long-limbs, and his high-end potential, ring similarly.

The unknown is exactly how Fulton is progressing. Eight months from surgery, a smooth recovery would probably have him toward throwing 100 percent off a mound in June. Fulton could move up or down substantially based on what teams see or don’t see from him in the next few weeks.

If the Tigers are comfortable with Fulton’s medicals and his throwing progress, this is an awful lot of pitcher to land in the second round. There is just a good deal more risk and uncertainty than with some of other top guys available.

LHP Jared Shuster- Wake Forest

Shuster is one of the fastest risers this spring. The tall southpaw impressed with his strike-throwing, deception, and one of the better changeups in the Cape Cod League last summer. When his top fastball jumped to 97 mph this spring it turned a lot of heads. He only made four starts before the 2020 season was rudely interrupted, but Shuster was an absolute buzzsaw for the Demon Deacons with 43 strikeouts to just four walks in 26 13 innings.

This feels like a good fit for the Tigers in a similar vein as Fulton. The Tigers have some success with a host of southpaws like Matt Boyd, Daniel Norris, Tyler Alexander, and Tarik Skubal, all of whom feature good deception and something of a crossfire motion. Shuster’s isn’t overly pronounced, he just lands a little closed while hiding the ball really well.

Film from his sophomore year compared to this spring illustrates gains in strength and balance in his lower half. With a changeup that flashes plus already and a high octane fastball that was regularly plus or better this spring, there is plenty to peak the Tigers’ interest.

Opinions still vary a little as to where he stands in the hierarchy of the deep second tier of pitching talent available. FanGraphs has Shuster pegged as a prospect on the rise, but ranked 56th at the moment. Baseball America has him 47th, while MLB Pipeline is our lagging indicator at 78.

The fly in the ointment is that Shuster breaking ball isn’t a consistent weapon for him yet. It’s a short slider that is barely average too often. Still, there is enough potential there that further development seems like a reasonable bet.

The overall potential is pretty impressive despite the lack of a high end breaking ball. Shuster has shown some feel for using his stuff and improved his command. He may well offer the best combination of floor and upside available beyond the first round in a pitcher. There may be a position player here we’d rather have, but the Tigers probably aren’t going to do better among the likely pitchers available.

RHP Carson Montgomery- Windermere HS (FL)

Montgomery is a Florida State commit, part of a group of prep pitchers slated late in the first and into the second round who may decide to go to college should they not ultimately land first round money. Teams like the Tigers and Orioles, picking at the top of the second round with the largest draft pools, may have the ability to go overslot to sweeten a deal, but the uncertainty level is higher than normal.

In Montgomery’s case the upside isn’t as convincing as some of the other prep arms, but he’s still only 17 years old for a few more months. There is easy armspeed and a powerful delivery in place already. There is more potential than his size and stuff may lead one to think at first glance.

The right-hander stands a slender but solidly built 6’2” and checks in at 195 pounds. He typically sits in the low-90’s with riding life, but he’s touched 96 mph already on numerous occasions and projects for a little more. Right now his changeup isn’t really a factor, but he does pack a potent, if inconsistent, slider that will draw plus grades at its best.

FanGraphs currently has Montgomery at 31, while Baseball America ranks him 36th.

There’s quite a bit to like here, but the Tigers are going to have to forecast a lot of growth here to take him at 38 and risk the signability issues. If Montgomery ticked the Tigers’ boxes for size and potential durability, this would seem a little more likely. Personally, I think there are likely to be a few more interesting prep arms available, but there’s certainly late first round caliber material to work with here.

With a bit of luck, the Tigers may see a comparable prep right-hander like Alex Santos, Carmen Mlodzinski or Tanner Witt in the Comp B round. Montgomery doesn’t really offer more in terms of potential.

RHP Cole Henry- LSU

The Tigers have a little history with this draft eligible sophomore right-hander out of LSU. They spent a “getting to know you” pick on Henry in the 38th round back in 2018, and he still seems likely to have their interest.

Henry has the classic starter’s frame, standing a sturdy 6’4” with room for a little more lean muscle. He brings mid-90’s velocity to the table, with a heater that tops out at 97 mph with pretty good ride. The breaker is a sharp, tilting power curve that should be a consistent plus offering. His changeup lags a little behind, but has a good chance to round into an average offering.

Henry has made great strides in his consistency and cleaned up his mechanics in his two years at LSU. He had some minor arm trouble in 2019, but has a pretty smooth upright delivery that bodes reasonably well for health, durability, and developing command.

There are a lot of talented college arms in this draft, but Henry is also year younger than most. That adds to his upside. It also makes drafting and signing him a little trickier proposition than normal. He has first round stuff with rough edges, and could simply return to LSU for his junior year and polish him game a little further. It wouldn’t take much for his stock to improve and buoy him into the first round in 2021, which could mean a difference of a million dollars or more in bonus money.

Still, in these uncertain times, yes I’m totally sick of that phrase too, and with the vagaries of arm health for any young pitcher at play, it’s pretty hard to imagine him being a tough sign for the Tigers here. He’s another one they’d love to land in the Comp B round, but presumably won’t get there.

J.T. Ginn- Mississippi State

Ginn is probably the most familiar name on this list, and with good reason. He was already a first round selection once as the Dodgers picked him 30th overall in 2018. The prep star had already given indications that he was on the fence, and ultimately turned down a reported $2.4 million to attend college.

After an overpowering freshman year for the Bulldogs, Ginn was another strong season away from top ten status in the 2020 draft. Unfortunately, he was shut down after just a couple of innings this spring, and ultimately had elbow surgery. He’s a legitimate first round talent, but the bet on himself didn’t go as planned.

Ginn’s consistency and strike throwing had developed nicely in his first college season. He carries a lethal 1-2 combo in a riding mid-90’s fastball and sharp slider that each draw double plus grades at their best. The talent is there but the combination of risk and bonus expectations leave some questions. Still, Ginn is no guarantee to pitch in his junior year, so presumably he’ll sign, and the Tigers could pick him and wait on August medicals to sign him.

Final analysis

The quality and number of good young pitchers available to the Tigers is pretty tempting, but also makes it obvious how much depth this class has. There are still going to be a lot of good arms available later on should the Tigers like a bat in the second round.

Cecconi, Shuster, Fulton, Ginn and Henry are the five I’m personally most interested in. There are some talented hitters the Tigers could get a look at here too, as we covered previously. Many of the other college pitchers available just don’t pop enough to stand out over the field until the later rounds.

Either way, the Tigers should be able to build on their stockpile of pitching talent in this draft if that’s what they choose. Just hope they don’t reach too hard to get there.