The start date and length of the 2020 MLB first-year player draft may both be unknowns at this point in time, but that’s not stopping clubs from doing their due diligence ahead of the annual amateur selection process.
After not having any first-round picks last year due to luxury tax-related penalties from 2018, the Red Sox are slated to make their first selection with the 17th overall pick in this year’s draft. That being the case because at 84-78, Boston finished with the 17th-worst record in baseball last season.
According to Baseball America, the 17th overall pick in the 2020 draft has an assigned slot value of approximately $3,609,700, meaning that’s how much money the Sox will have to spend on that pick, although they can go over that allotted amount if they are willing to incur some tax penalties.
Personally, I’m no draft expert, but since the 2020 MLB Draft is right around the corner, I thought it would be a good idea to look into who Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. could be targeting in the earliest stage of this year’s draft. Let’s get into it.
Target No.1: RHP Nick Bitsko, Central Bucks High School East (Doylestown, PA)
In his mock draft from April 15th, CBS Sports’ Mike Axisa had the Red Sox taking high school right-hander Nick Bitsko out of Doyleston, Pa.
Bitsko, 17, was initially set to graduate from Central Bucks High School East in 2021, but he will instead graduate early, adding on to an already impressive list of draft-eligible pitching prospects this year.
A University of Virginia commit, Bitsko posted a 1.18 ERA over six starts during his sophomore season last year, per MaxPreps.
According to a Baseball America scouting report from 2019, “Bitsko has a great pitcher’s frame, standing at 6-foot-4, 220-pounds and has a smooth and easy operation on the bump, with an overhead windup and clean three-quarter slot.”
From that same scouting report, Bitsko’s arsenal includes a 92-96 MPH fastball, a 76-83 MPH curveball, and an 86-87 MPH “firm” changeup.
If drafted by the Red Sox over the summer, Bitsko would presumably become one of the top right-handed pitching prospects in the organization, although there certainly are some minor concerns given just how young he is and how he didn’t get the chance to really throw in front of scouts this year.
Target No. 2: C Patrick Bailey, North Carolina State University
Moving to the college ranks now, Dan Zielinski III of the Baseball Prospect Journal has the Red Sox taking North Carolina State backstop Patrick Bailey in his latest first-round mock draft.
The 20-year-old out of Greensboro was drafted by the Twins in the 37th round of the 2017 draft, but he opted to honor his commitment to North Carolina State instead, and it looks like that decision is going to pay off for him.
Although he played in just 17 games for the Wolfpack this year due to the college baseball season being shut down last month, Bailey produced over the course of that small sample size, as he slashed .296/.466/.685 with six home runs and 20 RBI.
Per a March scouting report from Perfect Game USA, Bailey “has significant value as a switch-hitting catcher with pop on both sides of the plate to go along with strong defensive skills.”
If taken by the Red Sox this summer, I would guess that Bailey would slide behind Connor Wong as the second-best catching prospect in Boston’s farm system.
Target No. 3: RHP Tanner Burns, Auburn University
The first college hurler on this list, My MLB Draft’s most recent 2020 mock from earlier in the month has the Red Sox taking Auburn right-hander Tanner Burns in the first round.
Another former 2017 37th-round pick, Burns was limited to just four starts and 22 1/3 innings pitched this season due to the aforementioned shutdown. In those four starts though, the 21-year dazzled by posting a 2.42 ERA and averaging nearly 13 strikeouts per nine innings.
Listed at 6’1″ and 205 lbs., MLB Pipeline has Burns ranked as their No. 28 draft prospect. They describe the junior as a hurler, who “can work at 92-97 mph with his fastball and locate it to both sides of the plate. His breaking ball can be a plus pitch at times, combining slider velocity in the low 80s with curveball depth, but it gets slurvy at others. He hasn’t had much need for his changeup, though it has some sink and shows some signs of becoming an average third pitch.”
Burns also comes with some durability concerns, as he dealt with right shoulder soreness throughout the majority of his sophomore season in 2019.
Like Bitsko, Burns would presumably become one of the top right-handed pitching prospects in the Sox’ farm system if he is drafted by Boston at some point this summer.
Target No. 4: LHP Garrett Crochet, University of Tennessee
Sticking with the Southeastern Conference here, Prospects Live has the Red Sox selecting University of Tennessee southpaw Garrett Crochet in their 2020 Mock Draft 2.0.
A native of Mississippi who turns 21 in June, Crochet was only able to make one start for the Volunteers this year due to upper back soreness. To add on to that, the left-hander broke his jaw last May after taking a line-drive to the face in his final start of the 2019 regular season that resulted in him missing two weeks of action.
According to a Prospects Live scouting report from Crochet’s lone outing of the 2020 campaign against Wright State in March, the junior’s pitch arsenal included a fastball that sat around 95-97 MPH and maxed out at 99 MPH, an 84-86 MPH slider, an 80-90 MPH changeup, and an 80 MPH curveball.
MLB Pipeline has Crochet ranked as their 18th-best draft-eligible prospect, so he could very well still be on the board by the time the Red Sox make their first pick at No. 17.
Target No. 5: OF Heston Kjerstad, University of Arkansas
Last but not least, we have the lone outfielder on this list in the University of Arkansas’ Heston Kjerstad, who Perfect Game USA’s Brian Sakowski has going to the Red Sox in the first round of his most recent 2020 mock draft from late last month.
The Amarillo, Texas native did nothing but rake in his three seasons as a Razorback, putting together a .343/.421/.590 slash line to go along with 37 home runs and 129 RBI over 150 total games dating back to 2018.
Sakowski’s scouting report for Kjerstad looks a little something like this:
“The left-handed slugger has double-plus raw pop along with the bat speed and impact generation to crush balls with wood. There are some positional questions long-term, but the Red Sox have shown the willingness to take prospects with big power and figure out how to get them into the lineup later.”
MLB Pipeline has Kjerstad ranked as their 10th-best prospect in this year’s draft, so he might not even be on the board by the time the Red Sox make their first selection at No. 17, but if he is, and the Sox take him, that would be quite the addition to an already fascinating mix of outfield prospects that includes Jarren Duran, Marcus Wilson, and Gilberto Jimenez to name a few.
Well, there you have it. Five prospects the Red Sox could take with the 17th overall pick in the 2020 first-year player draft. If they do wind up taking one of these five young players with their first pick, you can come back here and remember that I had it first.
Also, the 17th overall pick is the lowest first-round pick the Red Sox have had since 2016, so it’s probably important that they hit on it in order to improve a poorly-regarded, but steadily-improving farm system.