With college baseball’s opening weekend in the books, several of the nation’s top prospects were in action, kicking off their 2020 campaigns. With Seattle selecting no. 6 overall in this years draft, we’ll be highlighting three players each week who’s stock is rising and who’s stock is falling. It’s one of the strongest draft classes in quite some time, maybe the best since 2012, or 2013. The class is absolutely stacked with advanced college arms, of which whom will likely anchor the first round.
The general consensus headed into the opening weekend festivities was the top of the draft was pretty well held down by a three-headed monster. Georgia starting pitcher Emerson Hancock, Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson, and Vanderbilt shortstop/third baseman Austin Martin. Let’s see if that changed...
Nick Gonzales - New Mexico State - 2B/SS
Gonzales finds himself ranked as the fourth or fifth best prospect in most scouting circles, so there’s not all that far he can climb. The book on Gonzales is he has an advanced hit tool with a power tool that is difficult to grade in hitter-friendly Presley Askew Field.
He’s destined to play second base at the next level as he lacks the quickness and arm strength to play shortstop or third. Playing in such a hitter-friendly park, and against lesser competition in the WAC, Gonzales is going to have to repeat, or come close to his 2019 campaign. Last season he led college baseball in batting average (.432) whilst hitting 19 balls out of the yard.
He’s off to a *good* start in 2020. In four games this weekend, Gonzales went 8 for 14 with 4 home runs, two doubles, 17 RBIs (!!), and six walks. It’s a short sample, but the NMSU Aggie is running a slash of .571/.727/1.571
A lot can change between now and June 10, but from this chair, it would appear doubtful Gonzales makes it to Seattle’s pick. As hitters, there are striking similarities between Gonzales and former Rice standout third baseman Anthony Rendon at a similar stage in his career. Anthony Rendon was the 6th selection in the 2011 draft. Food for thought.
Heston Kjerstad - Arkansas - OF
If Kjerstad’s name sounds familiar, it’s because Seattle previously selected him in the 36th round of the 2017 draft. Kjerstad’s name has been ever-prominent since stepping foot on campus at the University of Arkansas. He’s got a beautiful left-handed swing and one of the best power strokes in college ball. His 31 home runs over the past two years rank among the most for any player over that two year span. It’s easy to envision the former Mariners’ draftee turning into this year’s version of Hunter Bishop, or even 2018’s Trevor Larnach — two guys that simply slugged their way into much higher draft slots than originally anticipated. That’ll be a tall task with such a deep talent pool this year, but he too is already raising eyebrows.
In three games, Kjerstad posted an insane .583/.643/1.667 with 7 hits, 4 homers, and 10 RBIs. He also robbed a home run.
It’s possible Kjerstad works his way into the top 8-10 picks this year, but with his limited ceiling in the field, I don’t think the Mariners would reach for him at six. He may very well have a 55-grade hit tool and 60-grade power, but he’s a fringe-average runner with an average arm that will likely land him in left field or at first base at the next level.
CJ Van Eyk - Florida State - Starting Pitcher
Van Eyk jumped into the Seminole’s rotation last year and really began to jump off the page with his three-pitch mix and advanced sequencing. As of last season. Van Eyk featured a mid 90s fastball with good arm-side ride, as well as a plus curveball and average to flashing-above average changeup. That seems to have taken another step this season as he’s now featuring a low 80’s slider with great depth and lateral break. The curveball was on full display as well, so he’s working with a complete four-pitch mix. All four pitches flash 55-grade or better, the curve being a 60. Niagara really didn’t stand a chance.
Van Eyk threw 5 innings of 2-hit ball while striking out 8 and walking just one batting. He picked off two of the three baserunners he allowed on.
Van Eyk is legitimately one of those guys that could raise his stock from a mid-to-late first round talent into the top five of this year’s draft. He’s certainly a name to watch in Seattle, especially if he holds his command and velocity throughout the rigors of the SEC schedule.
Garrett Crochet - Tennessee - Starting Pitcher
It’s hard to be critical of guys after one start, so this section will be far more brief. Crochet burst onto the scene last spring after seeing his velocity spike from 91-94, into a more consistent 95-97. As a result, the lanky lefty now possesses a plus fastball, with a stellar changeup to match. He also throws an above average breaking ball that hasn’t yet developed into an out pitch.
Unfortunately, Crochet is dealing with shoulder soreness right now and, according to one source, he’s expected to miss a few weeks, if not more. Crochet has dealt with durability issues in the past, and his newfound velocity will obviously come into question with a balky shoulder.
Emerson Hancock - Georgia - Starting Pitcher
It’s only been one start, so it’s far too soon to panic, but this was not Hancock’s best performance. The University of Richmond, not a storied baseball program, were all over Hancock, collecting nine hits and driving in six runs, all earned, in just four innings. Hancock’s command for his fastball was shaky as best, finding middle-middle for much of his start. Furthering the issue, the late life he usually features on the pitch was non-existent.
Hancock will have plenty of opportunities to prove Friday’s start was a fluke, and everybody has a bad start now and then. The bigger concern is the stuff wasn’t there for Hancock, so that’ll need correcting.
Aaron Sabato - North Carolina - 1B
Sabato was drawing some comparisons to Torkelson after a huge 2019. There are some who believe the hit and power tools are both legitimate 60-grade offerings, but like most first baseman, if the bat is playing, it’s a huge issue.
Sabato did start 2019 hitting .186 with one homer in his first 14 games, but figured it out, and then some, batting .380 with 17 homers the rest of the way. He’d end up claiming the ACC Freshman of the Year award, but had to have surgery on his right shoulder, eliminating him from summer ball, and the Cape Cod League.
Sabato would go just 1 for 10 this weekend, adding four strikeouts and hitting into one double play. He did have a double and three walks, but his advanced approach wasn’t there as, frankly, he looked lost at the plate at times. Chalk it up to early season jitters. After all, he did this last season for 14 games before breaking out. Sabato is a preseason finalist for the Golden Spike award, so don’t be surprised if he turns it on.
There’s almost no way he could work his way into consideration for the no. 6 pick in the draft, but may very well be an option for Seattle at pick no. 43 if he sputters.
Final Thoughts and Honorable Mentions
As previously said, it’s awfully early and a big chunk of college baseball hasn’t even played their very first games yet. We’re three games into a ~60 game journey. Tons of time to turn on the jets.
Weekend One Stock Watch— Joe (@JoeDoyleMiLB) February 17, 2020
OF Heston Kjerstad⬆️⬆️⬆️
2B/SS Nick Gonzales⬆️⬆️⬆️
SP Max Meyer⬆️⬆️
SP CJ Van Eyk⬆️⬆️
SP Reid Detmers⬆️
OF Zach DeLoach⬆️
SP Cole Wilcox⬆️
C Austin Wells⬆️
SP Jeff Criswell⬆️
OF Nick Loftin⬆️
SP Cole Henry⬆️
SP Jack Leftwich⬆️
OF Ben Anderson⬆️
On the other side of the coin— Joe (@JoeDoyleMiLB) February 17, 2020
SP Emerson Hancock
SP Garrett Crochet
1B Aaron Sobato
SP Kevin Abel
SP Gavin Williams
SS Nander De Sadas
It's very, VERY, early. Incredibly small sample size.