MLB Player Comparisons for Top 2020 MLB Draft Prospects
Does the 2020 MLB draft feature the next Mike Trout? The next Clayton Kershaw? The next Aaron Judge?
We won't know the answer to that question until several years from now, but that doesn't mean we can't make some reasonable comparisons for some of the draft's top prospects based on current skills and future upside.
Here, we've highlighted 10 of the 2020 draft's top prospects, including Arizona State slugger Spencer Torkelson, Vanderbilt outfielder Austin Martin and Texas A&M ace Asa Lacy, and selected one current MLB player to whom they compare favorably in terms of future upside.
Players are listed alphabetically and represent an even mix of position players and pitchers, including the top high school player from each of those categories.
RHP Mick Abel, Jesuit High School (Ore.)
Pro Comparison: Jack Flaherty
In a thin high school pitching crop, Mick Abel is the consensus top arm thanks to a tantalizing mix of remaining physical projection and current pitchability.
The 6'5", 190-pound right-hander has good life on his mid-90s fastball and uses his tall frame well to create a downward plane. He backs his heater with a plus slider that has a chance to be a go-to strikeout pitch, and he's also shown some feel for a changeup and a curveball.
St. Louis Cardinals budding ace Jack Flaherty is what the best-case scenario might look like for Abel.
Flaherty, the No. 34 overall pick in the 2014 draft, was a similarly projectable 6'3", 190-pound prep standout with smooth mechanics and a solid four-pitch arsenal. He has since tacked on 15 pounds and developed into one of baseball's best young pitchers.
During his breakout 2019 season, Flaherty heavily relied on one of the best sliders in baseball. It was the seventh-best slider among qualified starters in terms of overall pitch value, according to FanGraphs.
Likewise, Abel's slider was voted the second-best breaking ball among high school pitchers in the 2020 draft class, per Carlos Collazo of Baseball America.
LHP Reid Detmers, Louisville
Pro Comparison: Max Fried
Reid Detmers has perhaps the best breaking ball in the entire 2020 draft class in the form of a looping mid-70s curveball that has great shape and depth. That pitch helped him rack up 284 strikeouts in 191 innings at the University of Louisville, and it has made him a lock to be one of the first college pitchers off the board.
While a Clayton Kershaw comparison is tempting based solely on that excellent curveball, Detmers doesn't quite offer that type of upside. Instead, we'll go with Atlanta Braves left-hander Max Fried.
Physically, they are different pitchers, with Detmers checking in at a strong 6'2", 210 pounds and Fried pitching from a lankier 6'4", 190-pound frame. However, they attack hitters with a similar arsenal.
Detmers begins his pro career as more of a finished product than Fried was when the San Diego Padres selected him at No. 7 overall in the 2012 draft, but they could wind up reaching similar ceilings in the majors.
2B/SS Nick Gonzales, New Mexico State
Pro Comparison: Keston Hiura
Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Keston Hiura went No. 9 overall in the 2017 draft on the strength of an advanced hit tool.
"At 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, Hiura has a compact swing path, present strength and plus bat speed," Baseball America wrote at the time. "Combine that with a feel for the barrel and excellent strike-zone judgment, and Hiura was producing as much hard contact as any hitter in the country."
Despite some uncertainty of where he would fit defensively, his offensive profile was enough to make him one of the top prospects in his class.
New Mexico State standout Nick Gonzales is similar in more ways than one.
"Gonzales has elite bat-to-ball skills and plate discipline, and his strong hands allow him to make hard contact to all fields," per his pre-draft profile at Baseball America. He also has a similar 5'10", 190-pound frame and a stellar collegiate track record that includes eye-popping numbers in a hitter-friendly environment and Cape Cod League MVP honors.
There is also some question as to where he will ultimately land defensively, though he's a much better overall defender than Hiura. The debate is whether he can stick at shortstop or not.
Don't be surprised if Gonzales rockets through the minors the same way Hiura did.
RHP Emerson Hancock, Georgia
Pro Comparison: Zack Wheeler
Emerson Hancock looked like a candidate to go No. 1 overall in the 2020 draft before a lat injury cost him a significant portion of his sophomore season and he struggled a bit upon returning to the mound.
With that said, he still has legitimate frontline starter upside.
With a fastball that sits between 94-97 mph and a plus slider among his four-pitch arsenal, he offers a similar repertoire to Philadelphia Phillies starter Zack Wheeler, who cashed in this offseason with a five-year, $118 million contract.
Both pitchers have strong 6'4" frames and both throw a lot of strikes, with Wheeler posting a career-best 2.3 walks per nine innings in 2019 and Hancock walking only 21 batters in 114.1 innings over the last two years.
Health concerns loom over both pitchers, too. Wheeler has eclipsed 100 innings only three times in seven years since making his debut.
If Hancock can avoid further injuries, he has a chance to become a consistent performer at the top of an MLB rotation. That's exactly what Wheeler has been for the past two years thanks to a clean bill of health.
OF Heston Kjerstad, Arkansas
Pro Comparison: Austin Meadows
Heston Kjerstad might have the best mix of hit tool and power of any hitter in the 2020 draft class not named Spencer Torkelson.
The 21-year-old slugged 31 home runs in his first two seasons at the University of Arkansas, and he was batting a gaudy .448/.513/.791 with six home runs and 20 RBI in 16 games this spring.
He has an aggressive approach at the plate, and there will always be some swing-and-miss to his game, but he has a chance to be an everyday right fielder with the requisite power in the majors.
Austin Meadows looks like his best-case scenario.
In his first full season with the Tampa Bay Rays, Meadows finally delivered on the offensive potential that made him the No. 9 pick in the 2013 draft. He hit .291/.364/.558 with 33 home runs and 89 RBI, using a strong 6'3" frame and a smooth left-handed swing to earn an AL All-Star nod.
Kjerstad is also 6'3" with a pretty lefty stroke, and a similar level of production looks like his MLB ceiling.
LHP Asa Lacy, Texas A&M
Pro Comparison: Blake Snell
Left-handed pitchers with premium velocity and the durability to be a starter at the MLB level don't exactly grow on trees.
According to FanGraphs, Blake Snell (95.6 mph) and James Paxton (95.5 mph) were the only southpaw starters to work at least 100 innings and average at least 95 mph with their fastball in 2019.
With a strong 6'4", 215-pound frame, a fastball that touches 97 mph, and a well-rounded repertoire that includes a slider, changeup and curveball, Asa Lacy has a chance to join that exclusive group in short order.
Snell uses a curveball rather than a slider as his go-to breaking ball, but there are a lot of similarities in their pitching style beyond that one notable difference.
Both Lacy and Snell have a quality changeup, and both pitchers change speeds effectively to keep hitters off-balance while racking up strikeouts. Snell had a career-high 12.4 K/9 last season, while Lacy went 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and a 46-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 24 innings over four starts this spring.
Snell also has an identical 6'4", 215-pound frame.
IF/OF Austin Martin, Vanderbilt
Pro Comparison: Nick Senzel
Nick Senzel has yet to establish himself as an impact player at the MLB level since going No. 2 overall in the 2016 MLB draft.
With that said, there's nothing wrong with being compared to him.
Senzel is still more than capable of developing into a star, and he showed flashes of that as a rookie when he tallied 20 doubles, 12 home runs and 14 steals in 104 games while hitting .256/.314/.427 over 414 plate appearances.
Coming out of the University of Tennessee, he was viewed as one of the best pure hitters in his draft class and a potential future batting champion. The question was where he would play defensively after primarily playing second base and third base while showing the tools to potentially handle shortstop.
Austin Martin has similarly bounced around the diamond at Vanderbilt, spending time in the outfield early in his career before moving to second base and eventually settling in as the starting third baseman as a sophomore. He lined up primarily in center field this spring, and there was some expectation that he was going to get a shot to prove himself at shortstop.
Regardless, his hit tool is what drives his value, much like Senzel at the same point in his career.
Martin hit .368/.474/.532 with 57 extra-base hits in 140 games while tallying more walks (85) than strikeouts (82) in his three seasons at Vanderbilt.
RHP Max Meyer, Minnesota
Pro Comparison: Edwin Diaz
Max Meyer will be given every opportunity to prove he can stick in the starting rotation upon joining the pros, and he has shown the ability to maintain his fastball velocity deep into starts.
He has an undersized 6'0" frame and he's still refining his changeup as a viable third pitch, but he has smooth mechanics and uses his athleticism well on the mound after playing some outfield during his sophomore season.
Still, if a team wants to rush him to the majors, he could at least begin his MLB career in a bullpen role.
With a fastball that touches 100 mph and a lethal wipeout slider that sits in the low 90s, he has prototypical late-inning stuff that would likely play up even further in shorter stints.
Edwin Diaz had a rocky first season with the New York Mets, but he's only a year removed from being baseball's most dominant closer when he racked up 57 saves with a 1.96 ERA and 15.2 K/9 in 73 appearances.
There's a lot more effort to his choppy delivery, but the end result is a similarly overpowering fastball-slider pairing and elite velocity.
1B Spencer Torkelson, Arizona State
Pro Comparison: Pete Alonso
After hitting .374/.469/.659 with 18 doubles, 14 home runs and 60 RBI in 58 games during his junior season at the University of Florida, Pete Alonso was widely regarded as one of the top college hitters in the 2016 draft class.
His profile as a right-handed-hitting first baseman with zero defensive versatility ultimately caused him to slip to the second round, and he continued to rake in the minors before slugging a rookie-record 53 home runs last year to win NL Rookie of the Year honors.
Spencer Torkelson offers a similar profile with an even more impressive track record of collegiate success.
The 6'2", 215-pound slugger has a similar build to Alonso and New York Yankees first baseman Luke Voit, and he's an average athlete with middling speed and passable glove work at first base.
But he can absolutely rake.
After crushing 48 home runs his first two collegiate seasons, he hit .340/.598/.780 with four doubles, six home runs and an absurd 31 walks in 17 games this spring.
He has easy power to all fields, an advanced approach and a legitimate 60-grade hit tool. There will be no reason to rush him to the majors, but a 2021 debut is not at all out of the question.
OF Zac Veen, Spruce Creek High School (Fla.)
Pro Comparison: Kyle Tucker
Zac Veen enters the draft in a tier by himself as the No. 1 high school position player in the 2020 draft class.
The Florida prep standout already checks in at 6'5" and 200 pounds, and he has further room to add strength to his long frame.
He turned heads by homering off top 2019 draft prospect Matthew Allan as a junior, and he then shined on the showcase circuit throughout the summer to solidify his standing as a first-round talent.
His big frame, smooth lefty swing, advanced approach and plus power potential all compares favorably to Kyle Tucker during his time at H.B. Plant High School in Tampa, Florida.
The No. 5 overall pick in the 2015 draft, Tucker posted a .909 OPS with 34 home runs and 30 steals at Triple-A in 2019 before playing well enough during a September call-up to earn a spot on the playoff roster.
Veen is not quite as athletic as Tucker, and he will likely need to move to a corner outfield spot after playing center field to this point, but he offers similar hit and power potential.
Prep hitters always come with a certain amount of risk, but Tucker and Veen stand as two of the safer high school bats in recent memory in terms of present tools and long-term floor and ceiling.