In a normal summer, the top story in the college baseball world would be surrounding the College World Series, originally set to begin this weekend.
Instead, in this anything-but-normal summer, the MLB Draft will serve as the first major event in the sport in nearly four months, with one current Texas Longhorns player and several signees likely to be drafted.
Starting on Wednesday, June 10th at 6:00 p.m. Central, the MLB Draft marks the first American-based baseball event viewable to the public, with Round 1 televised on ESPN and MLB Network, and Rounds 2-5 resuming on Thursday, June 11th at 4:00 p.m. Central on ESPN2 and MLB Network. The Detroit Tigers — who selected Longhorn alumnus Kody Clemens in the third round two years ago — are on the clock with the first pick in this year’s draft.
Despite the reduced amount of picks, Texas still may see plenty of players — both current and future Longhorns — hear their names called. After all, Texas is known for shuttling prospects into the draft and the minors season after season — since the original draft in 1965, at least three Longhorns have been selected in each draft. But before we get into names, projections, and who Longhorn fans should look out for, let’s run through the updated rules affecting the 2020 Draft.
2020 draft rules — What to know
Like the 2020 baseball season, the draft this year will be drastically shortened due to the lost spring and summer seasons in the MLB, NCAA, and high school ranks. Where a normal MLB Draft would consist of 40 rounds and over 1,200 players drafted, this year’s shortened draft will be just five rounds.
On top of the reduced amount of picks, the MLB issued a rule stating undrafted players could sign a minor league contract with any team, but only for a maximum salary of $20,000.
This rule, along with the additional NCAA ruling that granted an extra year of eligibility to all spring athletes means we should expect plenty of otherwise ready-to-play college upperclassmen reject signing contracts in favor of coming back to college for another season.
Lastly, as you may have heard (no pun intended), a certain cheating scandal was unearthed this past off-season, resulting in lost draft picks for both the Astros (1st and 2nd round) and the Red Sox (2nd round).
All of these changes mean that only 160 picks will be made in this year’s draft, an 87% smaller draft pool than 2019. The rules put into place by the MLB also means the teams are expected to save about $221 million, according to Baseball America.
With all that behind us, let’s move on to player projections. This draft preview will cover any draft eligible prospect who either played for Texas last spring, or has committed to play for Texas this upcoming season.
2020 draft preview
This year’s draft is chock full of unknowns given how much baseball we missed out on this past spring. However, there’s still a handful of Longhorns that should hear their names called over the five round draft.
For each player, included is their Baseball America Draft Ranking, their measurables, scouting report, Burnt Orange Nation’s pick prediction, and a personal “He Gone” Meter*, which shows the likelihood that player would leave for the MLB and not be in a Texas Longhorn jersey next year on a scale of 1-10.
*This is assuming the player is drafted and hasn’t told clubs he doesn’t plan on playing professional next spring, which happens but isn’t known by the public until after the draft.
Jared Kelley, RHP, Refugio
Baseball America Prospect Ranking: 12
Ht: 6’3 | Wt: 215 | B-T: R-R
Scouting Report: Last year, Texas’ top ranked high school commit was drafted in the first round and chose the MLB over the Forty Acres. The same could happen again this year, with Jared Kelley taking the spot as the highest ranked Longhorn in this year’s draft. Kelley is labeled by Baseball America as “the most MLB-ready prep pitcher” thanks in part to his size and his overpowering stuff on the mound. Kelley runs his fastball up to 97-99 mph with ease, and pairs that pitch with an excellent low-80’s changeup, and locates both those pitches with precision. This year’s pitching class is rated as one of the best we’ve seen in recent memory, but for teams looking for high upside, Kelley has one of the highest ceilings in the draft.
Pick Prediction: Round 1
“He Gone” Meter: 9. Despite it being a deep pitching class in a short draft where teams will take more college prospects than ever, Kelley is showing up in most mock drafts as a late first-round pick. It’ll be tough to turn down that kind of money and interest from a team and opt for Texas if that’s the case, but given the crazy times we’re in, anything is possible.
Jared Jones, RHP, La Mirada, CA
Baseball America Prospect Ranking: 41
Ht: 6’1 | Wt: 180 | B-T: R-R
Scouting Report: If you’re looking for a prospect with a great pedigree, look no further than Jones. The second Jared on our list, Jared Jones was tabbed as a future first-round pick back in his sophomore season by major scouts, and has done little to dissuade that projection. A three-time member of USA Baseball’s junior national teams, Jones stars both on the mound and in the outfield as a wiry athlete. Despite the smaller frame, his arm speed generates a lively mid-90’s fastball, and his above-average mid-80’s slider devastates batters. In the field, Jones is a great runner with an even greater arm, earning the maximum 80 grade on his throwing. His hitting tool needs to be worked on, as “he flashes big power at the plate, but he’s a free swinger who scouts aren’t sure will make enough contact against better pitching.” In addition, Jones comes from a family of baseball talent. His father Keith was a 1997 draft pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and his cousins Randy and Ron Flores both pitched in the majors.
Pick Prediction: Round 2-3
“He Gone” Meter: 7. The pitching talent in this draft has bumped Jones into the late second round in some mock drafts, and to the third in some others. There’s no telling what Jones will elect to do should he go in either of those rounds, but track record suggests that if he is picked in the first three rounds, it means he’s likely agreed to forego college and go to the MLB. Watch for Jones’ name on the beginning of Day 2.
Carson Tucker, SS, Phoenix (Ariz.) Mountain Pointe HS
Baseball America Prospect Ranking: 61
Ht: 6’2 | Wt: 180 | B-T: R-R
Scouting Report: Carson Tucker is one of the top short stop prospects in this year’s draft. A quick riser up draft boards due to a late growth spurt, Tucker is looking to follow in his brother Cole’s footsteps and become a first-round draft pick (Cole was taken 24th overall in 2014 by the Pittsburgh Pirates). Tucker isn’t a flashy tools guy, but rather a steady player who makes the game look easy at one of the toughest positions in the sport. He projects to stay at shortstop due to his reliable defense and above average arm. Tucker’s bat should also project to the next level thanks to an overhauled swing this past off-season that showed promise in the few high school games that were played this spring.
Pick Prediction: Round 1-3
“He Gone” Meter: 7. Tucker is one of the hardest players to get a read on due to his meteoric rise up the draft board. His retooled swing combined with the late growth spurt means that Tucker is just now popping up on a lot of draft boards. His mock draft range is anywhere from the late first round to not drafted at all. I expect Tucker to be taken within the first three rounds of the draft, but don’t be surprised if he falls further than that.
Petey Halpin, OF, Manhattan Beach (Cali.) Mira Costa HS
Baseball America Prospect Ranking: 82
Ht: 6’0 | Wt: 180 | B-T: L-R
Scouting Report: Another California kid slated to go to Texas, Halpin is “an above-average runner with a short, line-drive swing with solid plate coverage.” While he projects as an above-average hitter, it isn’t due to his power. He doesn’t have a track record of showcasing much power, but scouts believe that he can add strength in the future to put some pop with an excellent approach and above-average contact. A fielder who projects to one of the corner outfield positions, his arm is wildly inconsistent, but his high-energy play style puts him in position to make plays in the outfield. Halpin’s bat has him “in second-to-fourth round consideration even with questions about his power and future position,” according to Baseball America.
Pick Prediction: Round 3-5
“He Gone” Meter: 5. There’s the chance that Halpin isn’t selected in this year’s draft, which would greatly improve Texas’ chances at retaining another high-profile recruit. Halpin is more of a high-risk, low-reward type prospect compared to some names above, and that uncertainty may scare some more conservative teams off. However, as Baseball America and other sites have projected, Halpin’s bat may be enough for him to get drafted and play at the next level next spring.
Bryce Elder, RHP, Jr., Texas
Baseball America Prospect Ranking: 83
Ht: 6’2 | Wt: 220 | B-T: R-R
Scouting Report: Right behind Halpin is a name many Texas baseball fans should be familiar with. Spoiler alert — Elder will be the only current Longhorn with a strong chance at getting drafted this year. But that honor was well earned by the junior after pitching as the Longhorns’ ace last year and in this shortened season. A polished college pitcher with an MLB frame, Elder isn’t the sexiest pick in the draft, but he’s a solid, reliable arm that has a great track record and will be ready to play at the next level. After an iffy freshman season coming out of the bullpen (5.55 ERA in 35.2 innings), Elder came into his own as a starter in his sophomore year, posting a 2.93 ERA in 13 starts and 83 innings. This past season was shaping up to be even better, with a 2.08 ERA in 26 innings with 32 strikeouts to just seven walks. Elder’s bread and butter on the mound is a sinker/slider combo that both top out at 88-92 mph. However, Elder is a smart and calculating pitcher who constantly mixes up his pitches based on what works each day. Elder’s track record should be enough to get him drafted — it’s just a shame we didn’t get to see him finish off what was shaping up to be an incredible season this year.
Pick Prediction: Round 4-5
“He Gone” Meter: 7. The only college name on the list is also the lowest ceiling on the list. However, Elder has had undeniable success against some of the best talent and competition in the nation, and that should be enough to get him drafted. If he is drafted, it’s most likely that we’ve seen the last of him on the Forty Acres, as there is more risk draft-stock wise for Elder to come back to school than there is to just take the money and go pro.
Tanner Witt, 3B/RHP, Bellaire Episcopal
Baseball America Prospect Ranking: 92
Ht: 6’6 | Wt: 195 | B-T: R-R
Scouting Report: Yep, you read that right. Standing at a towering six-foot-six-inches at just 18 years old, Tanner Witt is one of the most physically imposing high school players in this year’s draft who possesses pro potential as both a hitter and a pitcher. Currently playing at third base, many expect that he’ll eventually move to first base or a corner outfield spot due to his size. And while most teams like his upside as a pitcher opposed to as a hitter, his father, Kevin, played in the big leagues and is currently a hitting coach for the Jupiter Hammerheads, a Florida Marlins minor league affiliate. On the mound, Witt is a projection arm that should improve with more weight added to his frame. His fastball tops out in the low 90’s, and his best pitch is a curve ball that hits 73-78 mph with excellent location and movement.
Pick Prediction: Round 4-5
“He Gone” Meter: 5. Witt is the player who would most benefit from skipping the invitation to go pro and develop in college instead. He’s massive for a graduating high school senior, but needs to add weight to his body in order to develop power at the plate and speed on the mound. However, it’s tough seeing anyone turn down a signing bonus and MLB salary if they’re taken in the first five rounds of the draft. Witt is a borderline draftable player this year, who projects in the late fourth/fifth round in many mocks or is not drafted in others. Witt’s case mostly comes down to whether or not other teams believe they can develop him in their minor league programs given the current state of minor league baseball.
In conclusion, we know that a few Longhorns or Longhorn-bound signees will hear their names called during the 2020 Draft. Of course, we don’t know what conversations these players are having with teams right now — there’s always a chance any of these players will have told MLB clubs they are forgoing the majors and instead going to college. We’ll find all that out in the next few days, though.
For now, we just get to sit back, tune into the draft, and picture the day real baseball returns into our lives.