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It’s not too early to start talking about the MLB draft

The Royals have the fourth pick this June, what are some names to know?

NCAA BASEBALL: JUN 01 Div 1 Championship Baton Rouge Regional - Arizona State v Stony Brook Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Royals lost a LOT of games last year, but one benefit to all those losses will come in June when they will have the fourth overall pick in the draft. With the college baseball season beginning in just a few weeks, Royals fans should know some of the names being discussed at the top of the draft to keep an eye on this spring.

The 2020 draft class is expected to be stronger than last year’s class, with a deeper pitching pool and a particularly strong college class that “could wind up being the strongest college class in five years”, according to one scout.

There seems to be early consensus on who will be among the top three picks chosen - Vanderbilt shortstop Austin Martin, Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson, and Georgia pitcher Emerson Hancock. Although there is a difference of opinion on which of these college players the Detroit Tigers will take with the first overall selection, all three are taken in the first three picks in mock drafts from Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, and Prospects Live.

Austin Martin was the starting third baseman on the Vanderbilt team that won a championship last spring. This year he is moving to shortstop, but there are still questions as to where he will end up defensively as a pro. He is said to have good instincts and footwork, but his lack of arm strength may push him to second base or the outfield.

Martin is an ideal table-setter, walking more than he struck out last year, while hitting .407/.495/.635 with 10 home runs in 80 games as a sophomore. The right-handed hitter has a short, compact swing and is able to barrel up on the ball consistently with a high hard contract rate. He is not a toolsy freak, but has an advanced feel for the strike zone and is a smart ballplayer, drawing many comparisons to former Commodores infielder Dansby Swanson. He did have minor knee surgery this off-season, but it is not expected to be an issue going forward.

Spencer Torkelson is said to have the best power bat in this year’s class, smashing 48 home runs over the past two seasons for the Sun Devils. The right-handed hitting slugger packs a lot of pop in his 6’1’’, 220 frame, batting .351/.446/.707 with 23 home runs in 57 games last year as a sophomore. He flourished in the elite wood bat Cape Cod League last summer and also hit well for Team USA.

Torkelson also bring a good eye to the plate, making him a solid three-true outcomes hitter and drawing comparisons to Kyle Schwarber. Kate Preusser at Lookout Landing describes his swing as compact, writing that he “keeps his hands fairly close to his body as he swings, moving the bat quickly but also keeping it in the zone for an extended period of time, but doesn’t sacrifice any power in that approach because he’s so naturally strong.” Torkelson is probably wedded to first base as a pro, but his bat should be good enough to play there.

Emerson Hancock is the consensus best pitcher available, and could even go first overall with a strong spring. The right-hander posted a 1.99 ERA with 97 strikeouts and 18 walks in 90 1/3 innings as a sophomore for the Bulldogs. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and he can run it up to 99 mph with movement and sink. He has and advanced four-pitch arsenal with a plus change, an above-average slider with an improving curve as well.

Hancock gained 15 pounds to his 6’4’’ frame before last year, which seemed to dramatically improve his performance. He shows good command on the mound and has the upside to become an ace, drawing comparisons to 2018 first overall pick Casey Mize. Hancock did miss a few weeks last season with a lat strain and did not pitch in summer ball.

There seems to be a bit of a drop off after those prospects. Fangraphs gives all three prospects a grade of 50 FV, but no other prospects receive as high a grade.

Nick Gonzales is the player that most mock drafts project the Royals to take at #4. The New Mexico State second baseman led Division I in hitting last year with a line of .432/.532/.773. He continued that strong performance into the Cape Cod League, where he hit .351. He walks more than he strikes out, getting free passes 20 percent of the time.

Gonzales is a bit polarizing among some evaluators, due to playing in a small conference in a very hitter-friendly environment. Some have said he is the best pure hitter in the draft, others have said he is a fourth or fifth-round pick. He did smack 16 home runs last year, but is probably more of a gap-power hitter as a pro. He has some speed, but is not a big basestealer. His defense at second can be inconsistent, but could improve with some professional coaching. Gonzales stands at just 5’10’’, but is considered a gamer and a high-character person, drawing comparisons to Brewers second baseman Keston Hiura.

Asa Lacy is probably considered the top lefty pitcher in the draft after striking out 13.2 hitters-per-nine innings as a sophomore at Texas A&M last year. He posted a 1.69 ERA with 83 strikeouts and 21 walks in 53 1/3 innings for the Aggies. Lacy works in the mid-90s with his fastball, with a “wipeout slider to go along with a power curveball”, as well as a change up. This will be an important spring for Lacy, if he can show improved command, he could rise up draft boards, but if he continues to have issues with walks he could end up in a bullpen as a pro.

Jared Kelley is the early pick for top prep pitcher, although Mick Abel could give him a run this spring. The Texas kid throws in the mid-90s, running it up to 98 mph with an advanced change up. He has good command for a prep pitcher and a big 6’3’’, 215 frame with a nice, easy delivery that could handle a professional workload. Mick Abel is not as polished, but is a higher projection arm with a mid-90s fastball and a plus curve. The Oregon native has yet to fill out his 6’6’’ frame, so some evaluators project even more velocity on his heater as he matures.

Other names to know:

LHP Garret Crochet, University of Tennessee - Lefty standing 6’6’ with a mid-90s fastball and plus slider working on a nuclear engineering degree, but he has yet to work much as a starter.

CF Pete Crow-Armstrong, Harvard-Westlake HS (CA) - Five-tool player who could excel defensively in center and has a lefty swing, but has yet to fill out his 6’1’’ frame.

LHP Reid Detmers, University of Louisville - Solid lefty with a track record of throwing strikes, but may have limited upside with no plus pitches.

RHP J.T. Ginn, Mississippi State University - Was a first-round pick out of high school, now a draft-eligible sophomore with high upside, but some injury concerns last year.

LF Austin Hendrick, West Allegheny High School (PA) - Top power bat among high school hitters with a smooth left-handed swing.

SS Ed Howard, Mount Carmel High School (IL) - Best high school infielder in a thin crop, toolsy with great defense but will need to develop bat.

SS Casey Martin, University of Arkansas - Solid power/speed combo with tremendous defensive tools, but doubts about his ability to make contact.

CF Garrett Mitchell, UCLA - Toolsy college outfielder with good speed, but power hasn’t developed yet.

RHP Carmen Mlodzinski, University of South Carolina - Mid-90s fastball with solid curve and change, but had injury issues in 2019.