Though baseball is currently shut down in North America, the 2020 MLB Draft will go on. The event will likely start June 10, with the Orioles holding the No. 2 overall pick behind the Detroit Tigers. The draft will be five rounds, and the Orioles will have about $13.9 million to spend.
MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo joined Glenn Clark Radio May 5 to discuss the Orioles’ options with the No. 2 pick, including Arizona State’s Spencer Torkelson, Vanderbilt’s Austin Martin, Texas A&M’s Asa Lacy and Georgia’s Emerson Hancock.
This has been edited for clarity and content.
PressBox: In your most recent mock draft, you have Spencer Torkelson one and Austin Martin two. Why is Spencer Torkelson so good that he demands being No. 1 despite playing first base?
Jonathan Mayo: I would start with the caveat that demands is an awfully strong word, and I love Spencer Torkelson. But he’s not Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper in terms of, ‘Oh, there’s no question that he is the only choice.’ Now, it does seem that he is the most popular choice, the one that everyone thinks in this draft class should be the top pick.
Now, I really like him, don’t get me wrong, but I just wanted to give that little qualifier before answering your question more fully, but I think that he is such a good hitter. It’s plus hit and plus power, and he’s more athletic than you’d think, so you don’t necessarily have to play him at first base. Maybe you try him at third. Maybe he plays left field. I think there are more options there. Now in all likelihood he’s probably a first baseman, but he’s also the kind of hitter that if you told me in a year he’s in the big leagues I’d believe it. He’s going to hit in the middle of the lineup for a really, really long time.
PB: Is it Torkelson and Martin one-two and everybody else? If Torkelson doesn’t go No. 1, the Orioles take him at No. 2?
JM: … I don’t have any inside information in terms of what the Orioles are looking at, but it does sound like that would be the case, but if the Orioles decide, ‘You know what? We got advanced college hitter last year — not that they would draft based on that, but all things being equal we’re going to take the arm and they take Asa Lacy or Emerson Hancock, it’s not like they’re reaching. They’re two really, really good pitchers. They’re the two best pitchers in the class.
They’re going to go in the first four or five picks, so no one would be raising an eyebrow or scratching their head over a decision like that. It’s just that I think Torkelson’s combination of hit plus power, approach, all those things make him stand out. It would be hard to pass up. If I’m the Orioles and let’s say Detroit takes Martin or they decide to go on a big arm, then suddenly you’re faced with a big-league lineup in about a year or so that has Adley Rutschman and Spencer Torkelson in the middle of it. That would excite me.
PB: We had a discussion here about the Orioles’ timeline for their rebuild, and it was a question that we asked in 2019 when it was pertaining to Adley Rutschman and Bobby Witt Jr. Do you think that factors into the discussion? Would the Orioles, should Martin be available – and certainly the potential is interesting for him – take the chance on a middle infielder as opposed to the first baseman?
JM: That argument could very easily be made. When you’re picking up top, you take the best player. If it happens to be the best player who’s also going to get there quickly, great. … The Royals were in a good spot [last year] like the Orioles are now. They can kind of react to what happens right above them and have the best of all possible worlds. They can take whoever Detroit doesn’t take if they happen to be on the same page. I think the benefit of this year’s draft class being so college-heavy is that … the Orioles again for the second year in a row are going to be able to pick both the best player available and the college player who is going to move relatively quickly.
Will Torkelson move more quickly through a system than Martin? Probably. One of the things with Martin, as exciting as those tools are – no one saw anybody for any length of time this spring, but he didn’t play an inning of shortstop this spring. So if you’re drafting him as an exciting potential shortstop, you’re doing that without having seen him play the position this spring. Now, he’s been seen plenty so that may not matter. But I think that does make some people pause. You throw in the fact that Torkelson was playing his games in the backyard of all the spring training facilities in Arizona, he got seen a lot. He was going to be seen a lot anyway, but it was an easy get for general managers even. I think all of that figures into it.
PB: Let’s just say Torkelson goes one and the Orioles are sitting there looking at Martin at two. It feels like the conversation has shifted in that he’s being looked at as a center fielder. Is that the best bet for Martin and where he ends up playing?
JM: That’s the likelihood. I gave the sort of very, very small negative to the fact that he hadn’t played shortstop this year. The positive is maybe he could play center field. Maybe he can play third base. I think whoever drafts him will send him out as a shortstop and then you’ll see what happens. If it doesn’t work, he can play center. I think he’d be pretty good out there. The tools all play out there, and then maybe, what, you’re faced with an Adam Jones kind of player, and yes I did cherry pick that name for Orioles fans. But I saw Adam Jones in the minors as a shortstop, so it took me a second to be like, “Oh, he’s going to play center?” And then he turned into a good big-league center fielder. I think that if that’s your worst case, that’s still a really exciting player with an unbelievable feel for hitting who will play up the middle somewhere in all likelihood.
PB: You mentioned the two pitchers, Asa Lacy from Texas A&M and Emerson Hancock from Georgia. If you decided pitcher was the route you wanted to go, is there any compelling argument that either of those two pitchers just might be the second-best player in this draft beyond wanting to draft a pitcher specifically?
JM: Asa Lacy is a little difficult because the way he started out this spring, if he continued, that argument would probably be stronger. And it’s not that he wasn’t good last year, but he looked like one of those guys that just took a huge leap forward this year and scouts only got to see a little bit of it. Hancock was the best pitcher in college baseball last year as a sophomore. He was unbelievable. This year, you look at the numbers and they seem pedestrian. He started out a little bit slowly, but he did that in 2019 also, and it sounds like he kind of uses the beginning of the season, the non-conference games, almost as a spring training where just gets himself up to speed.
[Hancock’s] last start was like a seven-inning shutout, 12-strikeout, no-walk kind of deal. He’s sort of like [2018 No. 1 pick] Casey Mize. You’ve got a lot of track record in the SEC – a longer track record of dominance in a bigger conference than Lacy. But he’s also had, like Casey Mize, some very small injury hiccups. Not anything that’s concerning, and obviously you answer those questions the best you can just like the Tigers did with Mize a couple years ago.
I think you could make an argument for either one of them. They’re both big. They both throw a lot of strikes. They both have three or four above-average to plus pitches. Lacy’s biggest step forward this spring was with his command and control, and you didn’t see as much of that so maybe that makes you pause slightly, but either one of those guys you could certainly make an argument. They’re three and four in our rankings. It’s not like someone two is going down and picking a guy we have ranked 30th. It’s not that our rankings are the be-all, end-all, mind you. No one anyone would really scratch their head if the either the Tigers or the Orioles were to take one of the arms.
This has been updated since its original publication to reflect the news about the five-round draft.
To hear more from Mayo, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Sun Devil and Vanderbilt Athletics