COVID-19 may end up taking away the baseball season, but MLB still plans on holding the draft. How will the New York Mets respond?
MLB is moving forward with the 2020 draft despite COVID-19 robbing prospects of a season. That’s going to make this annual event the most difficult to scout in MLB history, and the New York Mets are going to have to draft almost blindly.
High school players have missed out on a senior season that would’ve improved or hurt their draft stock. College players have some tape to watch, but they missed out on nearly a full year as well.
Baseball is a sport in which a single year of development can change a prospect’s outlook. Look no further than the Mets’ 2019 draft class for example.
Josh Wolf was a no-name prospect who likely would’ve either gone undrafted or been selected late during his junior season of high school. He came back his senior campaign throwing over 95 miles per hour and all of a sudden was a second-round talent.
This year’s crop of prospects has been robbed of the ability to have that kind of breakout period. That likely means teams will avoid high school prospects when possible. They’re already a riskier bet than college players, but add the lack of a season, and it’s hard to see many teams taking that kind of risk.
With that said, the Mets have loved to select high-risk high-reward players under Brodie Van Wagenen. In his first draft, the Mets picked three high schoolers in the first trio of rounds.
With that aggressive approach in mind, here are five prospects the organization could target come June 10.
Casey Martin, SS, Arkansas
Casey Martin was a borderline top-10 pick before the college season started. He possesses some of the best physical tools in the draft — elite speed, power, and above-average defense.
That isn’t enough to carry him though. Scouts were hoping to see improved contact rates in 2020. Before COVID-19 put an end to the college baseball season, Martin had the worst batting average of his collegiate career and his power numbers tanked nearly .100 points. He additionally struck out at an absurd 37.2% clip — nearly 10% worse than his 2019 K-rate.
Those numbers have tanked Martin’s draft stock, as he’s now a borderline-first round prospect and is expected to be a supplemental or second-round pick.
The raw tools are there for Martin to be a star. He has the potential to be a 30-30 player while providing strong defense at shortstop. Scouts just don’t trust that he’ll make enough contact to ever be that type of player though.
Van Wagenen showed during the 2019 draft that he isn’t afraid to take a risk. Martin has arguably the highest ceiling of any player in this class, so don’t be surprised if Van Wagenen gambles on Martin’s Trevor Story-esque upside at No. 19 overall.
Cole Wilcox, RHP, Georgia
Cole Wilcox was a first-round prospect coming out of his school, but a strong commitment to the University of Georgia and high contract demands caused him to slip. He eventually went to the Washington Nationals in 2018’s 37th round but opted to attend Georgia instead.
Wilcox struggled in his first year with the Bulldogs. He opened his freshman season in the bullpen but moved into the starting rotation by the end of the campaign. He appeared in 19 games (six starts) and recorded a 4.07 ERA, struck out 9.7 batters per nine innings, and walked 5.7 batters per nine innings.
His numbers as a starter were even worse. He recorded a 4.15 ERA while striking out 7.7 batters per nine innings and walking 4.5 batters per nine innings. Things only got worse in the Cape Cod League, where Wilcox made two starts and was shelled.
He didn’t look anything like the pitcher he was in high school, but everything changed this spring. Wilcox was able to make four starts before the season was shut down, having put together a phenomenal performance.
He pitched 23 innings, having recorded an ERA of 1.57 with 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings and 0.8 walks per nine innings. Needless to say, he looked like an entirely different pitcher.
Wilcox has some of the best stuff in the class. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and touches 97. He has two above-average breaking balls: a changeup and a slider.
Nonetheless, Wilcox had two big concerns entering this season: his control and motion. He showed improved control this spring, only walking two batters in 23 innings. His motion is a harder fix though, as it’s simple to read.
Batters pick up his fastball easily, which leads to Wilcox getting shelled. Thus, fixing his motion will be a long-term project.
The Georgia hurler will have ace-level potential with the correct coaching, and the Mets are known for their pitcher development. New York could look to take advantage of the shortened college baseball season and steal a much improved Wilcox at No. 19 overall.
Dillon Dingler, C, Ohio State
Dillon Dingler is one of many in a stacked 2020 catching class. He separates himself with his unrivaled athleticism behind the plate. Dingler played centerfield his freshman year at Ohio State before moving to catcher, which makes him a rare prospect with above-average speed and a plus-plus arm.
He isn’t going to win a Gold Glove behind the plate, but Dingler can do more than just hold his own. The Buckeye could be a plus defender with one of the best arms when all is said and done.
Dingler is a work in progress, which is true for most catchers. They spend so much time becoming good receivers behind the plate and learning how to handle pitchers that their offense tends to take a step back.
Dingler was more of a contact hitter during his sophomore year. He slashed .291/.392/.424 with just three home runs while also stealing eight bases in 49 games. J.T. Realmuto led catchers in steals with nine in 2019.
That season put Dingler on scout’s boards, but it was his eye-opening start to the 2020 campaign that placed him in the first round. Thirteen games is a small sample size, but Dingler was a different beast at the plate in those matchups. He put up a .340/.404/.760 slash line with a career-high five home runs in just 50 at-bats.
The potential he flashed in that short time span has caused scouts to reevaluate his bat. He looks like an average hitter from both contact and power standpoints, but his eye and discipline are both above average.
His talent behind the plate and his unique athleticism are enough to make him a first-round selection as teams dream of a Realmuto comparison.
The Mets only have one catcher in their top 20 prospects, making it one of the thinnest positions in the team’s farm system. Dingler isn’t the high-upside player that Van Wagenen is known to favor, but his unique skill set and versatility could make him one to watch.
Garrett Mitchell, OF, UCLA
UCLA’s Garrett Mitchell is one of the most polarizing players in the draft. He has five-tool potential, elite speed, plus contact ability, a plus arm, and he’s an above-average fielder. The one tool that scouts are waiting on is his power. Mitchell puts on a show in batting practice, but his in-game performance in those regards still leaves a lot to be desired.
Mitchell has just six home runs in his college career, all of which came during his sophomore year in 2019. He additionally hit 12 triples that same season on his way to slashing .349/.418/.566.
The power wasn’t the same in his short 15-game sample in 2020. He had just seven extra-base hits, six doubles, and a triple. That lack of home run power has some scouts concerned, as they see a player who could be something special but isn’t bringing that to the plate.
There are also questions regarding how well Mitchell will deal with MLB velocity. He has a long swing that leaves a hole in the upper part of the zone. College pitchers haven’t been able to take advantage, but MLB pitchers certainly will. Some believe he’ll have to rework his swing entirely, which he already did in high school.
If Mitchell’s power doesn’t develop, he could provide value with his contact ability, quickness, and defense. He could bat at the top of the order with his gap power and speed, two qualities that may assist in turning him into one of the premier leadoff hitters in baseball.
Scouts are divided on Mitchell. Some see a future five-tool MVP-caliber player while others see a guy who’ll never live up to the expectations placed on him.
If he falls to the No. 19 overall pick, expect the Mets to select him. Van Wagenen isn’t shy when it comes to gambling on elite tools. Mitchell could be the latest bet the 46-year-old general manager makes.
Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF, Harvard-Westlake HS
At this time a year ago, Pete Crow-Armstrong was the top prep player in the draft. He struggled on the summer circuit and his stock took a hit, but he was on the rise again prior to the season shutdown.
Crow-Armstrong isn’t your typical top prospect. His power is below average and his contact ability is just above average. He doesn’t provide a ton of offensive upside, but that could change as he grows into his 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame.
Crow-Armstrong thrives in the field as well as on the base paths. He has plus speed, plus arm strength, plus defense, and is an old-school leadoff hitter with the defense to make him an above-average player.
Pete reminds some scouts of Lorenzo Cain in terms of tools and Grady Sizemore in terms of playstyle. If he can add muscle and increase his power to an average level, he’ll have the potential to be a perennial All-Star centerfielder.
The issue is that if Crow-Armstrong’s power doesn’t develop, his offensive ability will be determined almost entirely by his batting average. That won’t bode well in a modern league where power is valued more than contact.
If the Mets go for a high school talent with the No. 19 pick, it may be Crow-Armstrong. The talent is real and Lorenzo Cain-esque players are still highly valued. If the gamble pays off and the power makes itself known, Crow-Armstrong could be the steal of the first round. That possibility will likely be tantalizing to the upside-chasing Van Wagenen.