With the draft just hours away, many teams will be licking their chops over the robust crop of quality high school arms that are available. While high school pitching, especially of the right-handed variety, is typically evaluated with an err of caution within the industry, the lack of more than a truncated season for many of these top prospects could only further accentuate this perceived risk. It would be unsurprising for a handful of the top prep arms to slip past the picks at which their ability level would warrant their selections, with some risk-averse teams instead preferring to have their pick of the litter in Round 1 from one of the deeper collegiate classes of arms in recent memory. It would be stunning for someone like Jesuit HS right-hander Mick Abel to slide out of the first round (most outlets currently have him slated to go somewhere in the teens), but teams with multiple early picks like the Orioles, Royals, and Pirates are likely to view Nick Bitsko, who never even had an opportunity to throw in a game since reclassifying to become draft-eligible in January, and athletic projection RHP Tanner Witt as two over-slot candidates who could fall into their nest at their second selections due to signing bonus demands.
While Abel is leaps-and-bounds above his counterparts in terms of the combination of a track record against top competition, present tools, and projectability, there are still many exciting arms with projection remaining who progressive teams should covet in the early rounds. These rankings will utilize the 20-80 Future Value (FV) scale, where 50 is league average (FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen and ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel thoroughly explain their coined Future Value system here for those interested).
1. Mick Abel, RHP, Jesuit HS (Ore.)
Abel was dominant on the showcase circuit last summer and has only continued to raise his stock since, showcasing two pitches that should grade out above plus (Fastball and Slider) in recent bullpens. It is no secret that some teams are hesitant to take high school RHP off of the board due to their inherent risk, but Abel is a Player Development department’s dream. He was sitting in the low 90s last summer, occasionally running his FB up to readings bordering the fringes of triple digits, but Abel appears to have already begun tacking on muscle to his uber-projectible frame. Teams may be skeptical of selecting a high school arm who they haven’t seen attack batters since last calendar year, but the Rapsodo information on Abel from recent bullpens shows that his stuff has continued to progress on an encouraging trajectory, with him showing increased velocity in these sessions. This should be taken with a grain of salt to some degree because it does little to divulge how Abel will sustain the velocity deep into games, which is a necessary characteristic for Starting Pitchers. Abel has top tier spin on his fastball, which takes two forms (Four-Seam and Two-Seam) and his Spin Efficiency (the percentage of raw spin that propels transverse spin, which is the type of spin that contributes to movement) is acceptable, if unspectacular. However, Abel’s vertical movement is only slightly above-average, with slight tweaks that could be made to the mechanically sound teen’s fastball to improve its spin efficiency and thus translate into more “ride” on the FB. Abel’s slider is up there with any secondary offering of any pitcher in the prep class, a firm, tight-spinning.
Now THIS is a fun bullpen.
Mick Abel, our top-ranked prep arm and currently @BeaverBaseball commit, throwing to Adley Rutschman, last year's No. 1 overall pick.
Abel is touching 100 mph this spring ?
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) May 20, 2020
2. Nick Bitsko, RHP, Central Bucks East HS (Pa.)
The fireballing Bitsko is a progressive draft room’s dream; he reclassified this January to become eligible for the 2020 draft so he is extremely young relative to his peers, has a repertoire consistent with modern-day pitch characteristics (mid-to-upper 90s FB has plus ride to it with Vertical-Movement readings approaching 19 and a 12-6 CB that should tunnel well, and his age and hailing from a cold-weather state has limited the mileage on his right arm). Bitsko has been trying to improve his stock by showcasing jaw-dropping stuff in recent bullpens, which will assuredly give Player Development departments something to dream on. His curveball is still a work-in-progress but has the potential to develop into a plus pitch that plays well off of his FB. Bitsko’s spin efficiency has moved fluidly as he has been experimenting with sculpting the ideal shape and speed of the pitch, but was mostly in the upper 60-70 % range in a recent May 29 bullpen, which leaves some room for improvement (the higher the spin efficiency on a CB, the larger the percentage of raw spin that contributes to movement). There’s still room for the 6’4″, 220 lbs right-hander to improve this pitch, which would currently grade out as fringe-average, but is likely to improve in pro ball. Beyond these two offerings, Bitsko also possesses a slider that exhibits a large gyro degree and he has made a concerted effort to reduce his spin efficiency on the pitch towards the ideal measurement of 0 % that creates pure bullet spin. His last pitch, a CH, lags behind the other offerings in his arsenal, but could also become an effective weapon in the future. Overall, Bitsko’s command is his biggest blemish as a prospect, but he is mechanically sound, which should enable the Central Bucks East High School product to become at least average in this facet.
Bitsko was never able to take the field between reclassifying and the shutdown of his high school team’s season from COVID-19, so many teams may lack the normal extensive rapport and history with the Virginia commit that they normally possess from watching the top HS prospects with a keen eye in the summer leading up to their senior year. However, the nearly physically maxed out, athletic right-hander’s talent is undeniable and he’s right up there with Abel for the highest ceiling in the crop of prep pitching. Bitsko’s draft outcomes range from an early 1st Round selection to a slide all the way to the Compensatory Round where a team with a large bonus pool could meet his signing bonus demands.
More virtual baseball today! pic.twitter.com/ICEnLp9T5O
— Nick Bitsko (@NickBitsko14) May 29, 2020
3. Dax Fulton, LHP, Mustang HS (Okla.)
Fulton is one of my favorite prospects to watch pitch, as the lanky, projectible 6’6″ southpaw has an extremely advanced arsenal for such a young pitcher. Fulton’s stock took a massive plummet when he needed to go under the knife for Tommy John surgery last September, but with the 2020 MiLB season seemingly a longshot to occur, he may not end up missing any time. Before his surgery, Fulton attacked hitters with a unique delivery that created deception and allowed the lanky LHP to generate significant extension on a downhill plane, albeit while putting tremendous stress on his elbow that was likely the root of his injury. The Mustang High School product would definitely be the beneficiary of a mechanical modification to better maximize the power supplied by his lower half and mitigate the stress put on his newly-repaired arm. This, combined with the high probability of Fulton tacking additional muscle onto his frame upon entering an organization, indicates a likely jump in velocity the 89-93 MPH 4-Seam Fastball that he previously threw. Fulton’s bread-and-butter offering is a deep-diving CB that consistently stifled hitters on the showcase circuit last summer and has shown impressive spin characteristics. He also has a tremendous feel for commanding the pitch within the strike zone, which is extremely atypical of a prep pitching prospect who has a breaking pitch with that much movement. Fulton will need to improve his fringe-average changeup in pro ball to have a shot at sticking in a big-league rotation, but he has two pitches that clearly project to grade out as plus in the future, so he has a solid foundation. Fulton is widely rumored to be under consideration by many teams picking in the 30s.
4. Tanner Witt, RHP, Episcopal HS (Tex.)
Witt is a prototypical projection arm who I’m much higher on than most. The 6’6”, 198 lbs right-hander is ultra-athletic and has been touted by many teams on both sides of the ball, but his future is clearly higher on the mound, where he flashes the potential for three future plus pitches. As one of the few top draft prospects who will turn 18 after the draft, this combination of youth and projection makes it all the more likely that Witt tacks on significant weight to his currently slender frame in pro ball. He has a repeatable, sturdy delivery that mandates minimal effort and bears resemblance to Justin Verlander, featuring a very efficient lead leg block. The Episcopal High School product regularly throws high spin rate heaters from his high three-quarters arm slot in the low-90s but has been up to as high as 95 mph. Witt’s arsenal will be enticing to progressive teams, as he pairs his already average fastball that will improve after he gains strength with two distinct breaking balls, a 12-6 bender of a CB and a sharper SL. While the CB down in the zone could ultimately form a lethal tunneling pair with Witt’s riding fastball up, the pitch needs more power to become a true plus offering. His SL will likely be utilized as his third-best offering at the next level, but its shape and speed are different enough from the CB that it should be another solid pitch. Witt’s mechanical efficiency will enable his command to be above-average, with his youth and prowess as a two-way prospect serving as a reminder that the 17-year-old has yet to solely focus on pitching, and could make quick strides. If matched with the right Player Development group, Witt could end up looking like the steal of the draft, but some teams may be tentative to select the right-hander due to the fact that he never took the mound this spring. Witt is rumored to have lofty signing bonus demands that may force teams to swoop in and take him before the start of Round 2 if they are going to be able to sign him.
5. Jared Kelley, RHP, Refugio HS (Tex.)
Kelley is a big-bodied flamethrowing prospect who hails from Refugio High School (Texas). While he is nearly a fully developed product physically, the 6’3”, 215 lbs right-hander already possesses the makings of a big-league arsenal. Kelley will sit 93-95 with his sinking fastball that has reached as high as 98 and pronates one of the best changeups in the entire draft class, both offerings that could grade out as plus in the future. Progressive teams may not view Kelley’s draft profile as auspiciously as it appears on the surface, as there’s little remaining room for projection in his thick frame, and the sinking nature of the RHP’s fastball plays differently than the back-spinning fastballs that many of counterparts like Bitsko throw, better suiting them into the modern-day strategy of attacking up in the zone with the pitch. Teams may also be skeptical about Kelley’s ability to spin his SL, which was inconsistent throughout his outings on the showcase circuit last summer. Kelley demonstrates at least average control and has dominated against the top prep competition, but his profile as a predominant Sinker-Changeup guy may dissuade teams from picking him as early as you would expect someone with his stuff and track record to go. Kelley’s present tools on the mound are as good as any other prep arm, but for a team to select him early, they will need to buy into his ability to develop the SL into a plus offering and maintain his fastball velocity.
6. Alex Santos, RHP, Mount St. Michael HS (N.Y.)
Santos is another projectible arm that boasts an exciting profile, with a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a plus curveball that both generate ridiculously high spin rates. Santos has also flashed some feel for a fading changeup, which could give him three potentially plus pitches at the next level. Although the Maryland commit’s fastball has progressive raw characteristics, he has yet to fully capitalize due to inefficient spin efficiency on his fastball that leaves room for improvement. Santos has a long arm stroke that creates some deception and has shown an improved ability to throw strikes. The right-hander has looked impressive in bullpens over the past few months and could sneak into the back of the 1st round.
A quick snapshot of 2020 RHP and Maryland commit Alex Santos (Mount St. Michael) in his 3rd bullpen session leading up to the #MLBdraft
FB peaked at ? 94.8 MPH ?with an average spin rate over 2600 RPM via @TrackManBB .
— PBR New York (@PBRNewYork) May 29, 2020
7. Markevian “Tink” Hence, RHP, Watson Chapel HS (Ark.)
Hence is another ultra-athletic, projectible right-hander who uses efficient mechanics to generate explosive torque. Hence, who is commonly referred to by his nickname, “Tink”, jumps off of the page with lightning-quick arm speed and an impressive scapular range of motion that produces mid-90s fastballs. Hence has already begun filling out his frame and looked extremely impressive in his Prep Baseball Report session from May, showcasing a potential plus curveball and a changeup with solid horizontal movement. Hence currently gets pedestrian levels of vertical movement on his fastball, which has an axis that could be altered upon entering the pro ranks to spin with more backspin (an axis of 12:00, compared to Hence’s axis that was consistently 1:00 or greater in the recorded bullpen, which generates some side-spin resulting in arm-side run). The Arkansas commit has a solid feel for spinning a slider, but the pitch can occasionally take on a slurvy shape. Hence’s youth, repeatable delivery, and athleticism should give the Player Development departments something to dream on as a potential middle of the rotation arm in the future.
An electric arm with high-end athleticism that shows promise with all pitches.
— PBR Texas (@PBR_Texas) May 19, 2020
8. Jared Jones, RHP, La Mirada HS (Calif.)
Jones might have the best stuff in the entire prep class of pitching, with a blazing fastball that can run up to 100 mph, a plus slider that will dart away from righties and into the hands of lefties, a 12-6 hammer of a CB that he has been developing in recent bullpens which could become an above-average offering and a fringe above-average changeup. You may be wondering why a pitcher with these traits is this low on the list. The answer is simple: command. Jones has a violent, high-effort delivery that features a significant head whack which has hindered his ability to attack hitters with accuracy that even flirts with grading out as average. Despite his clear deficiencies with strike-throwing and placing the ball within the zone, Jones should appeal to a broad scope of teams, both traditional and progressive, with his undeniably dominant pitch mix. Given the effort needed for the operation, it seems extremely likely that Jones will end up in the bullpen as a high-leverage reliever in the long run. However, in an era where the lines between roles within a pitching staff continue to become more blurred every year, Jones could be an incredibly valuable asset as a late-inning arm. Jones’ control will need to improve marginally for him to reach his potential as a relief ace, but he has a tremendous work ethic and has already begun making encouraging strides towards cleaning up his delivery. Teams will be kicking themselves for passing on Jones on the off chance that he develops average command, which would give him a chance to be an SP. Jones could be plucked as a sandwich pick between the first two rounds or early in Round 2.
FB: 92.4 AVG/ 95.1 Peak
SPIN: 2554 RPM
CB: 76.04 AVG/ 79.25 Peak
SPIN: 2659 RPM
SL: 81.94 AVG/83.32 Peak
CH: 83.96 AVG/85.15 Peak
SPIN: 1821 pic.twitter.com/DHpBA3lWVg
— ??? ?????? (@LesLukach) May 30, 2020
9. Carson Montgomery, RHP, West Orange HS (Fla.)
Montgomery is another one of the younger pitchers in the crop of prep arms, but the 6’2″, 195 lbs right-hander has little projection remaining. His repertoire features two future plus pitches, a fastball that he throws from 92-94 regularly and runs up to the upper-90s and a tight-spinning slider, which he used to dominate when the lights were brightest on the showcase circuit last summer. Consistency is one of the main concerns with Montgomery as a prospect, as the Florida State commit draws command grades ranging from below-average to plus depending on the day and sometimes throws his SL with more of a slurvy shape. Some scouts are concerned with his ability to make mechanical and physical improvements in pro ball due to his strong, well filled out frame.
10. Justin Lange, RHP, Llano HS (Tex.)
Lange has become somewhat of a household name to prospect followers, regularly throwing absolute bullets exceeding 100 mph (like in the PBR Texas TrackMan session linked below). While this is tremendously impressive, feats like this are an embodiment of taking information from pre-draft bullpen videos with an eye of caution, as the athletic righty sat in the low-90s last summer and this footage offers little indication of the sustainability of this velocity as he goes deep into games. Regardless, Lange still has some projection remaining, and clearly has the potential to throw flames in short stints if he is unable to stick in the rotation as a starter. His fastball has advantageous raw spin, but his spin axis yields running two-seam action on the pitch that forces it to play slightly down. Lange’s control and command will both need to improve for him to have a chance to be an SP, and he will also need to find a consistent arm slot, as he released the ball from a lower point than in recent bullpens from where he was at when seen in games.
▫️Full Draft Report
▫️Data from @TrackManBB
— PBR Texas (@PBR_Texas) May 5, 2020
Masyn Winn, RHP, Kingwood HS (Tex.)
Grayson Hitt, LHP, Houston HS (Tenn.)
Ricky Tiedemann, LHP, Lakewood HS (Calif.)
T.K. Roby, RHP, Pine Forest HS (Fla.)
Hunter Barnhart, RHP, St. Joseph HS (Calif.)
Alejandro Rosario, RHP, Miami Christian HS (Fla.)
Nate Wohlgemuth, RHP, Owasso HS (Okla.)
Jake Misiorowski, RHP, Grain Valley HS (Mo.)
Cade Horton, RHP, Norman HS (Okla.)
Kyle Harrison, LHP, De La Salle HS (Calif.)
Will Sanders, RHP, Woodward Academy (Ga.)
Nick Griffin, LHP, Monticello HS (Ark.)
Ben Hernandez, RHP, De La Salle HS (Ill.)
Cam Brown, RHP, Flower Mound HS (Tex.)
Carter Baumler, RHP, Dowling Catholic HS (Iowa)
Max Rajcic, RHP, Orange Lutheran HS (Calif.)
Ryan Hagenow, RHP, Farragut HS (Tenn.)
Dylan MacLean, LHP, Central Catholic HS (Ore.)
Josh Swales, RHP, Grace Brethren HS (Calif.)
Marco Raya, RHP, United South HS (Tex.)