MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis says the Orioles shouldn’t get “cute” with the No. 2 pick in the 2020 MLB Draft by trying to save money for high school players later in the draft – and lays out why that potential strategy isn’t as feasible as it’s often portrayed to be.
Callis has the Orioles taking Vanderbilt’s Austin Martin with No. 2 pick in his most recent mock draft on MLB.com. Martin played mostly third base during his sophomore year in 2019, then played mostly center field as a junior in 2020 before the season was shut down. He hit .376/.479/.521 for the Commodores from 2018-2020.
But Callis also mentioned in his mock draft that “there’s a school of thought that the Orioles could cut a deal with similarly skilled New Mexico State middle infielder Nick Gonzales to save money to go big at picks 30 and/or 39.” Gonzales, who played second base from 2018-2019 and shortstop this year, was a career .392/.484/.690 hitter for the Aggies.
“But I think the thing is, to me, you cannot get cute with the No. 2 pick,” Callis said on Glenn Clark Radio May 14 regarding saving money by picking Gonzales. “If you think Martin and Gonzales are close or the same, then yes, that would make some sense. If you think there’s a gap between them, then you should take [the better player]. I fully believe you should take whoever you think the best player is when you’re picking at the top of the draft. I just think it gets too cute.”
Callis said Martin is generally considered the better prospect than Gonzales because of Martin’s track record of hitting in the SEC, the best conference in college baseball, while Gonzales’ production came in the hitter-friendly environments of the Western Athletic Conference. He also mentioned Martin has more potential defensive homes – he might be able to play center or third base – while Gonzales is likely confined to second base.
But Callis allowed that second base might also be Martin’s eventual position because his arm might not allow him to play center or third. And he said Gonzales proved he wasn’t just a product of a hitter-friendly environment when he was the MVP of the prestigious wood bat Cape Cod League last summer (he hit .349 with 28 extra-base hits).
Callis said the Orioles would take Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson, the consensus top player in the draft, if the Detroit Tigers were to pass on him at No. 1. But apart from that, who should the Orioles go with at No. 2? Probably whoever they think the best player available is, according to Callis.
“If it were me, I would take whoever you think the second-best player is, and there’s no way the second-best player isn’t going to be signable at No. 2 because you’re going to be able to offer him a ton of money,” Callis said, referring to the approximate $7.8 million slot value of the No. 2 pick. “That would be my sole concern is who’s the best player, let’s take that guy. Now if it were close, then I would start looking at the price tags more carefully.”
Callis also suggested that the Orioles might not necessarily see Martin or Gonzales as the second-best player in the draft. He said some teams view Texas A&M left-hander Asa Lacy as the second-best talent in the draft. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Lacy struck out 178 hitters and posted a 2.32 ERA in 128 career innings at A&M.
A future rotation that includes Lacy and top prospects Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall is an attractive proposition, though Callis said that since the draft is loaded with quality college arms, the Orioles could take a bat at No. 2 and address pitching with later picks. But if Lacy is their best player available at that spot …
“I just think when you’re picking two, you line up your board and you take whoever you think the best player is,” Callis said. “If you think Asa Lacy is the second-best player in the draft even though it’s a deep pitching draft — it’s not like you’re going to resurrect the Orioles in one draft, especially a five-round draft – I would take Asa Lacy at two if you thought he was the second-best guy.”
Regardless, what if the Orioles zero in on Martin and Gonzales? If they believe those two are close in talent and that Gonzales could be signed for less money than Martin, who would they target with picks 30 and 39 considering they’d have extra pool money to play with? Callis mentioned Doylestown, Pa., high school right-hander Nick Bitsko, a former 2021 prospect who reclassified in January and is eligible for this year’s draft. He is committed to Virginia.
Baseball America reported the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Bitsko offers an intriguing fastball-curveball-changeup mix and shined on the showcase circuit last summer. That said, teams haven’t seen much of Bitsko since then since his high school season was shut down before it ever started.
“Because he reclassified [in January], people saw him last summer but you weren’t really watching him with that eye of, ‘Hey, we might have to draft this guy next year,’” Callis said. “And there was no season this year, so you got to see him work out in a bullpen March 4 and that was it. High school righties are scary enough to teams and it’s hard to figure out where they’re going to go, but he could be really, really talented. Maybe he falls to 30.”
But Callis cautions that going the discount route at No. 2 to save money for a player like Bitsko is risky because there’s no guarantee the player the Orioles want will be available for them to draft — even if they’ve carved out the bonus pool money for that particular player. The Orioles could also bet that a group of players fall to them and come up empty.
Callis explained that the oft-discussed strategy to cut a deal early in the draft and save up for later picks stems from what the Houston Astros did in 2012, when current Orioles GM Mike Elias was a special assistant to then-GM Jeff Luhnow. The Astros took shortstop Carlos Correa at No. 1 and paid him $4.8 million, which allowed them to take two high schoolers with strong college commitments – right-hander Lance McCullers (Florida) and infielder Rio Ruiz (Southern Cal) – and pay them over-slot bonuses.
Callis said teams shouldn’t assume they can pull off something similar because Houston’s good fortune was based on Correa’s agent misreading the market before the draft and jumping on the Astros’ under-slot offer. Had Houston passed on Correa, the shortstop would’ve been taken with the next pick by the Minnesota Twins, according to Callis. The Twins eventually paid outfielder Byron Buxton $6 million to sign.
“I think there’s a little bit of revisionist history that this was brilliant,” Callis said. “… I think because the Astros did that with the first year of the bonus pool system, it’s this dream every year that the team’s going to make this shrewd pick and take a guy that the industry undervalues and just make a killing there and then crush it.”
To hear more from Callis, including his thoughts on David Samson’s theory on why a five-round draft might benefit the Orioles, listen here:
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