Written by Guest Writer Diego Solares (@deegsbaseball)
In any draft, regardless of what sport it is, most fans are eager to learn about the first or second player selected by their team. That player, in the eyes of each fan base, gives them a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel or potentially completes the missing piece to the puzzle that their team desperately needs.
What most people don’t realize, however, is that all championship caliber teams aren’t built on the first day of the draft. Sure, the basic foundation will always revolve around that sexy first-round pick, but the essential supporting cast is made up of players selected in the later rounds of the draft.
Baseball is no exception to this rule.
There are several baseball stars who were vastly underlooked by teams and not selected early on in the draft. Mookie Betts was a fifth-round pick by the Red Sox. Chris Paddack was an eight-round selection by the Marlins. Nolan Ryan, Albert Pujols, John Smoltz, Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff, and even Mike Piazza were all selected way past the first round in their respective draft classes.
Baseball scouts are extremely good at what they do and will find talent regardless of what round it is. There’s that “guy” in every single draft and this 2020 draft, despite it being incredibly unique, is no different. Here are 10 players that could be viewed as draft day steals a few years down the road:
Isaiah Greene, OF, Corona (CA)
Greene’s name has shot up draft boards and industry-wide ranks over the last couple of months. He’s a quick-twitch outfielder with borderline elite athleticism, although he’s extremely far away from being a finished product. The one standout tool with Greene is his 70-grade run tool that allows him to impact the game in multiple facets, most notably in the outfield, where he’s almost certainly going to stick in center field long-term. He has shown some feel to hit in the past with a contact-oriented approach that allows him to control his bat well enough to consistently put the ball in play. That bodes well in his favor given the speed and while you’re not getting much power production out of Greene right now, there’s certainly room for him to add muscle onto his 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame.
Greene’s name has been tossed around in the second-round conversation quite a bit over the last few weeks. He’s a California kid committed to Missouri, which doesn’t happen much, and a scouting director or organization could fall in love with his tools enough to lure him away from the Tigers. If he goes to the right developmental organization, which is the key here, Greene could put all his pure tools together and blossom into a quality major league regular.
Ian Seymour, LHP, Virginia Tech
Seymour’s professional stock wasn’t particularly high entering the summer season in 2019, but all of that suddenly changed when he made significant mechanical adjustments throughout this past off-season. He managed to add some muscle onto a strong 6-foot-1, 190-pound frame and impressed out the gates this season, sitting 92-95 mph with his fastball on multiple occasions. It plays with that highly coveted left-handed cut to it, allowing it to play up despite sometimes registering average-level velocities. Scouts have raved about Seymour’s changeup and some have even gone as far to grade it as a double-plus pitch. He also throws a slider that pairs off his fastball well, giving him three offerings that he’s more than comfortable throwing.
Take Seymour’s arsenal, pitch-ability, and the fact that he’s left-handed into consideration and you’re looking at someone who should probably go in the top 50 picks. Some professional teams could potentially still have some questions surrounding the fastball’s effectiveness, but I think you’re getting a back-end big-league starter with Seymour that’ll certainly eat innings. That profile obviously isn’t the sexiest, but to get someone who can compete at the highest level in the second or third round is excellent.
Casey Schmitt, 3B/RHP, San Diego State
There are several two-way prospects in this draft class, but none hold the pedigree or poise that Schmitt does on both sides of the ball. He’s likely the only prospect from this crop that’ll actually be able to pitch and hit at the start of his professional career.
Schmitt boasts an above-average feel to hit and his offensive game is just scratching the surface. He’s loose at the dish with a short swing that allows him to effectively punish baseballs on every corner of the plate. Despite being every bit of 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Schmitt didn’t hit for much power throughout his career at San Diego State. He showed signs of slowly tapping into that plus raw power earlier this year, but the cancellation robbed us of being able to see what he could do. Should he ultimately find a way to translate that power into gameplay, Schmitt could unlock an entire new aspect to his game.
While the bat is more advanced right now, Schmitt does have promise on the mound. He commands his low-to-mid-90s fastball well to either side of the plate and it’s effective at the top of the zone, too. His put-away pitch is a nasty splitter with natural downward tumble that somewhat resembles current Padres’ closer Kirby Yates’ pitch. He’ll also flip in a breaking ball every once in a while, but it projects as nothing more than a fringe-average pitch and he’s better off with the two-pitch mix right now.
Schmitt has mostly earned third-round estimations up to this point and I think he’s more valuable than that. He’s a mechanical tweak away from tapping into some pretty obvious raw power and holds value on the mound, something that teams will certainly value when constructing their 26-man roster. Be intrigued if your team drafts Schmitt.
Ben Hernandez, RHP, De La Salle HS (IL)
My most recent look at Hernandez came at the PBR Super 60 this February. There was a ton of buzz surrounding him going into the event, and after watching him throw roughly 20 pitches, it was certainly justified. He has that strong, sturdy build that scout’s covet and his delivery is pretty effortless, allowing him to consistently repeat it.
Hernandez sat at an easy 94-95 mph with his fastball and was able to throw it wherever he wanted to at the event. The pitch comes out of his hand so clean and effortless that there will probably be an uptick in velocity over the next few seasons. He pairs his heater with a true 70-grade changeup that is arguably the best changeup pitch in the class. It’s a bugs-bunny type of pitch that dances around the zone, getting plenty of awkward swings and keeping hitters off timing because they have no idea where it’s going.
The only thing holding him back from being in the first-round conversation is his complete inability to spin a breaking ball, but that to me isn’t really that much of a concern. Teams have plenty of player development and technology available to them in order to develop spin that going to the right organization, like Cleveland or Houston, could greatly benefit him. All he needs to do is have at least an average breaking ball and Hernandez will be a competitive big league starter. He’s projected to go somewhere in the early third-round and that could end up being a major steal should he sign.
Markevian Hence, RHP, Pine Bluff (AR)
Hence is another prep arm that’s been on the rise as of late after several videos have surfaced on Twitter of him showcasing some pretty electric stuff. One big thing going for Hence is that he’ll still be 17 years old when he’s drafted and teams covet that greatly. There’s plenty of room for him to add muscle onto his athletic 6-foot-1, 175-pound frame as well.
His fastball usually sits in the mid-90s but has consistently touched 100 mph on video in the recent weeks. The biggest reason why Hence’s stock is on the rise is the development and advancements made to his slider, which has legitimately flashed plus with swing-and-miss actions. His curveball has also improved, mostly in the spin rate department, but it still takes a seat to the aforementioned slider. Hence is still raw as a prospect and teams would be taking on a project pitcher, but it’s hard not to envision the upside in him given the current stuff.
Freddy Zamora, SS, Miami
Zamora almost certainly would’ve been a first-round pick and firmly in the conversation for the top shortstop in this class had some unfortunate circumstances not occurred. He was suspended by Miami’s baseball team and then suffered a season-ending injury that tanked his draft stock completely.
When he’s right and on the field, Zamora is a do-it-all type of player that impacts the game in multiple different areas. His approach at the plate is impressive as Zamora doesn’t strikeout much and owns an advanced recognition of the strike zone. He swings a quick bat with loose hands and has flashed at least above-average power in the past, suggesting Zamora could hit 15+ home runs on an annual basis. There was no concern about Zamora sticking at shortstop prior to the injury, and with the medical advancements that have been made over the years, he should be considered a capable defensive shortstop for now. Zamora has the talent to be an impact player, there’s just too many question marks in an already shortened draft for someone to take him high. Snagging him at his current projection could end up paying some serious dividends, however.
Ricky Tiedemann, LHP, Lakewood (CA)
Just like the aforementioned Hence, Tiedemann will be 17 years old on draft day. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Tiedemann is an exceptional athlete that controls his body incredibly well for how young he is. His athleticism shows on the mound, allowing him to repeat his low-effort mechanics consistently to fill up the zone with strikes.
It’s all about projection with Tiedemann. His fastball sits in the low-90s right now but could easily be touching 96-97 mph in as early as two years. Both his slider and changeup are project pitches as well that just need more development despite flashing above-average potential at times. The current product isn’t all that special, but the finished product could end up being an impressive southpaw with an easy feel for three pitches. If he gets drafted it’ll be on the upside alone with that specific team hoping their player development team can get the most out of him. Should he go to college, however, Tiedemann is a super interesting name to follow as a potential first-round pick come the 2023 MLB Draft.
Milan Tolentino, SS, Santa Margarita Catholic (CA)
Tolentino is the sculpted version of what an old-school shortstop looks like. He doesn’t hit for virtually any power, but he always battles at the plate and works deep into counts. His bat-to-ball skills and contact abilities are advanced for his age, giving Tolentino the textbook definition of a contact-only offensive threat. Tolentino is about as safe of a bet to stick at shortstop as anyone in this class and might be the best defender of the prep middle infielders. It’s his glove that’ll carry him to the big leagues, with the bat being a running mate unless it takes some significant strides once a development team gets his hands on him. Some people may not think that drafting the 18-year-old version of Nick Ahmed is awesome, but getting that player later on in a shortened draft is an absolute bargain for your buck.
Zach McCambley, RHP, Coastal Carolina
McCambley does one thing better than almost any other arm in this class: spin. His fastball is incredibly spin efficient and has that natural flat elevation that analytical teams covet. He also flips in a plus, potentially double-plus, curveball that spins at upwards of 3,000 RPM with excellent depth and it’s his swing-and-miss pitch. Outside of those two pitches, however, McCambley doesn’t have much of anything left in the tool belt. He’ll need to develop another pitch if he wants to stick as a starting pitcher long-term, but moving him to the bullpen in an Aaron Sanchez type of role could be incredibly intriguing for whichever team gets their hands on him. I would immediately circle him as a name-to-know if he gets drafted by the Astros or Dodgers.
Kale Emshoff, C, Arkansas – Little Rock
Emshoff is the only player on this list that doesn’t fall inside my personal top 100 prospect rankings for this class. He’s a physical freak that’s built like a brickhouse from top-to-bottom and brings a different kind of physicality into the batter’s box. Emshoff missed all of the 2019 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, but it was the way he started this 2020 campaign that caught scout’s eyes. He slashed .417/.527/.800 with seven home runs in 17 games against quality competition for the Trojans and vaulted himself onto everyone’s draft radar.
Emshoff is more bat strength over bat speed, but his pure physicality and power allow him to get away with it. His swing isn’t overly long and he doesn’t try to hit for power, instead letting his size and strength do the work for him. There isn’t much swing-and-miss to his offensive game either, which is rare for a college power hitter, and Emshoff’s overall offensive profile is fairly well-rounded. He’s probably going to stick behind the plate moving forward as a serviceable catcher, but could move over to first base should a team need him to fill that role. You’re looking at someone that is capable of hitting 30+ home runs if given the opportunity at the catcher position that’ll either go in the fourth or fifth round. Whichever team gets him is getting a low-risk, high-reward prospect that could skyrocket up team lists two or three years down the road.
Diego Solares writes for Prospects Live and can be found on Twitter @deegsbaseball.
(Photo Credit: Getty)