The Diamondbacks will have their first chance to add to their steadily-improving farm system with the 18th selection of the 2020 MLB First Year Player Draft. Earlier this month, I highlighted ten players who are almost certain to be taken long before the D-backs’ top pick. Next up are ten players who could be available to the team with their top selection, although some are much less likely than others.
Austin Wells, C, University of Arizona, B/T: L/R
Wells is a bat-first catcher who has the physical tools to stick behind the plate if he can improve his receiving abilities. Wells would have been a Day 1 pick in the 2018 Draft out of Bishop Gorman HS (NV), but an injury caused him to fall out of that range and enroll at Arizona instead. Wells is a draft-eligible sophomore, but signability will not be an issue as a likely middle of the first round selection. His bat and arm strength also profile for a corner infield position or left field, where he’s played on days he’s not behind the plate. Even if he doesn’t remain behind the plate, the bat is worth the gamble plus there are 3-4 other positions to try him out at (3B, LF, 1B).
Patrick Bailey, C, North Carolina State University, B/T: S/R
Bailey has the best total package behind all the catchers with the draft with quality framework to go with the arm and bat to be an impact player at and behind the plate. Bailey is the least likely of the group to remain at 18 due to the demand of quality catchers in the draft. In a draft that has less overall depth, Bailey would be easily a Top 10 pick similar to Shea Langeliers last year. Bailey’s power tool took a step forward in the shortened 2018 season, which catapulted him to Top 15 status. With strong hit tools from both sides of the plate and very little questions about his ability to stick behind the plate, it will be very unlikely Bailey slips out of the Top 15.
Garrett Crochet, LHP, University of Tennessee
Crochet’s profile screams Randy Johnson-lite. In the fall and early part of the spring season at Tennessee, Crochet was hitting 96-100 with the fastball with a plus slider. The two biggest issues at play are the lack of an established 3rd pitch, although he’s been working on a change-up, and a lack of a track record as a starter at the collegiate level with only a handful of starts to his name. Had Crochet had a full year to showcase his abilities as a starter, he would have been a Top 10 pick. That concern could be what gets him to fall to the D-backs at 18. If Crochet falls to Arizona at 18, they should call up RJ to help work with him. Crochet has more significant bullpen risk compared to other first round arms, but the upside of landing a Chris Sale type talent is worth that risk.
Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF, Havard-Westlake HS (CA), B/T: L/L
The D-backs drafted a player with similar traits in the first round last year in Corbin Carroll. PCA is a bit taller than Carroll at 6’1” and projects to have some of the best hit, run, and defensive tools from the high school ranks, and gives the team security in case one of their top 3 prospects (Carroll, Alek Thomas, Kristian Robinson) flops down the road. Given the team’s abundance of outfielders already ahead of PCA, with potentially four of their top five prospects seeing significant outfield action, it may not be the best pick in terms of long term value.
Commitment: Vanderbilt University
Jared Kelley, RHP, Refugio HS (TX)
Kelley is the ultimate boom/bust arm from this year’s class, with a fastball that sits in the 94-97 range (T-99) with a plus change-up and a slider that could be above-average later down the road. His delivery and mechanics are smooth and relatively effortless, so there is less risk for an injury and upside for plus command down the road. Despite being a high school talent, he’s already filled out physically so he will be able to move up the system faster than your typical HS arm. It’s unlikely that Kelley drops to Arizona at 18, but that would be a great move for the D-backs if they’re looking for pitching.
Commitment: University of Texas
Robert Hassell III, OF, Independence HS (TN), B/T: L/L
Hassell has arguably the most advanced hit tool from the high school ranks, if not the entire draft, and profiles to be a solid defender in the outfield. The biggest concern will be projecting how much power he adds, as he’ll need to fill out a very lean 6’2” 190 frame. As he grows, I like him projecting towards a corner role, most likely right field due to an above-average arm, than center. Hassell very much profiles similarly to past selections from the prep ranks as a plus hitter who projects more power as he fills out and refines his approach. As I said with Crow-Armstrong, an outfielder with similar tools to Thomas and Carroll probably doesn’t yield the best return on investment either.
Commitment: Vanderbilt University
Heston Kjerstad, OF, University of Arkansas, B/T: L/R
Second to only Spencer Torkelson in the draft in terms of raw power, Kjerstad profiles as a bat-first left fielder who provides break-even value. There is a significant hitch in his leg kick, which causes timing issues and leads to a lot of swings and misses. That will be an issue that a pro hitting instructor will need to fix as I believe better timing with the leg kick will allow him to be in better position to strike the ball out in front to make more forceful contact. Kjerstad doesn’t really fit the D-backs mold for position players, so I’d be surprised if they take him.
Cade Cavalli, RHP, Oklahoma
Cavilli is a big righty that had ace-level stuff, but had a tough time staying healthy in college. He may have had a chance to rise in the draft had the game not been shut down, but he should be available perhaps at both of the D-backs selections on Day 1. Cavalli commands four average or better pitches, with his fastball and slider being plus pitches, with a relatively clean arm action. The biggest issue other than health is Cavalli gives up more hits and loud contact than his stuff suggests, likely due to lacking deception in his delivery. His red flags may cause him to slide out of the first round, although the upside may be worth a gamble at 33 for a potential #1/2 starter with plenty of fallback options.
Ed Howard, SS, Mount Carmel HS (IL), B/T: R/R
In a draft that’s light on up the middle defenders, Howard presents the best option in that area. He has the defensive tools to stick at the position, although 2B and CF are solid fallback options in case other players in the D-backs system force him out. His offensive upside is a bit of a question mark, as Howard will need to fill out more and add more power to his bat. The bar for offensive value needed to stick at the position is very low, especially as the projected value of the glove is better, as Nick Ahmed proved in 2019 with a 4.5 bWAR season despite an OPS+ of 93. The best case scenario for Howard could be the aforementioned Ahmed, which would be great value out of the first round.
Commitment: University of Oklahoma
Nick Bitsko, RHP, Central Bucks East HS (PA)
Bitsko could be an interesting alternative to Kelley and has a much better chance of being available at 18. Like Kelley, Bitsko has a smooth and effortless arm action (overhead windup) accompanying a mid 90s fastball and a low 80s hammer curve. He fits the mold of high 4SFB/CB spin combo that the team has targeted in free agency, although this is a different process of player acquisition. Both pitches project to be plus offerings at the MLB level while also giving him a floor of a late-inning arm. Even though he’s listed at 6’4” 220, there may be still a bit of projection in his frame although it isn’t likely to add any significant velocity bumps down the road. Refinement of his third pitch, a change-up, will be key for him to stick in the rotation long term.
Commitment: University of Virginia