A brief primer on three candidates for the Royals’ first-round pick in the 2020 draft

The MLB Rule 4 Draft (the official designation for the first-year player draft) is quickly approaching on June 10th, and as expected, many Royals experts and fans are giving their analysis in terms of what Dayton Moore will do with the fourth overall pick. Usually, the draft is lost or overlooked by most sports fans because it is one of the rare drafts that takes place during the season rather than in the off-season like most other drafts (such as NFL and NBA). However, with no baseball currently going on due to COVID, this draft will probably be one of the more anticipated and closely watched ones in the history of the draft.

Already there have been many changes to the draft, as MLB has shortened the draft from 40 rounds to 5 in order for teams to save money and cut costs. Players can be signed as free agents if not selected for no more than a $20,000 signing bonus. This could present a challenge to the Royals, as Moore has helped rebuild the Royals and found success in Kansas City (especially from 2013-2017) through the draft, so this modified format will put immense pressure on Moore and his scouting staff to draft players who can contribute and produce at the Major League level in the future.

So far, there seem to be three players that most prospect experts think the Royals will be targeting: New Mexico State middle infielder Nick Gonzales; Georgia pitcher Emerson Hancock; and Florida high school outfielder Zac Veen. I will take a look at each prospect, what the experts are saying, and then give my own analysis on the pick and how he could fit in the Royals organization if selected.

Nick Gonzales, SS, New Mexico State

What the experts are saying about Gonzales

Gonzales hit five homers in a game this season, albeit at 3900 feet above sea level; he can hit, and is likely to hit more for average than for big power, with a potential move to second down the road.

Keith Law’s Top 30 prospects for the 2020 MLB Draft“; No. 4: Nick Gonzales by Keith Law; The Athletic

Before play was halted in March, Gonzales was absolutely destroying college baseball pitching, with a line of .448/.610/1.155 with 12 home runs in just 16 games. He is not a one-year wonder either, hitting .432/.532/.773 with 16 home runs in 55 games as a sophomore last year, and he was named WAC Freshman of the Year in 2018, hitting .347 that season.

Gonzales is perhaps the best pure college hitter in the draft, but there are some concerns his gaudy numbers are due to a favorable hitting environment in the thin air of New Mexico, coupled with playing in a lesser baseball conference, the Western Athletic Conference. However Gonzales excelled in the Cape Cod League, an elite wood-bat collegiate league, hitting .351/.451/.630 with seven home runs in 153 at-bats, earning MVP honors.

2020 Draft Prospect: Nick Gonzales” by Max Rieper; Royals Review

The third best bat in this draft, Gonzales put up absurd numbers in his time at New Mexico State. Will need to see more against better competition, however, has hit well when he has played good competition, just hasn’t put up as good power numbers. Has an elite bat, but will need to work on his glove to become an elite overall player. Compares to Keston Hiura, great hitter at 2B, but average with the glove. Would be a solid pick for the Royals if Torkelson is off the board and they want a college bat.

Top 5 Options for Royals in 2020 Draft“; Nick Gonzales by Hayden House; Royals Farm Report

Royals Reporter analysis on Gonzales

There is no question that Gonzales is one of the most polished college bats available in the draft. His hit and power tools are definitely up there, and his position flexibility in the infield make him an intriguing pick that could pose a lot of immediate value for the Royals down the road. While he played shortstop in college, most scouts believe that he will eventually move over to second in the future at the professional level, as his fielding tool isn’t quite elite enough to stick at shortstop. Furthermore, the Royals are a little thin up the middle in the farm system, as really Gabe Cancel may be the best second-base prospect the Royals currently have. Gonzales helps booster that depth, and could give the Royals an intriguing combo up the middle for the future that could replace Adalberto Mondesi and Nicky Lopez when both become free agents.

The big question will be if Gonzales’ bat will translate to the Major League level. Many experts did credit New Mexico State’s high altitude and the questionable competition of the WAC as a primary catalyst in Gonzales’ breakout with the Aggies. However, Gonzales did hit .351 with 7 home runs in 42 games and 154 at-bats in the Cape Cod League in 2019, so there is evidence that he can hit with wood and against pretty good competition as well. One player that Gonzales may remind Royals fans of is Christian Colon, who also came into the draft with a heralded college and Cape Cod pedigree and ended up going 4th in the draft in 2010 as well. However, Gonzales’ might be a better athlete than Colon, and might have more defensive upside as well.

Emerson Hancock, RHP, University of Georgia

What the experts are saying about Hancock

Hancock is a scout’s dream.  If you were building a right-handed pitcher on MLB The Show, you would basically be cloning Hancock’s attributes.  He stands 6’4”, weighs 215 pounds, and has a power pitcher’s build.  He has been very durable except for one little incident last season.  Hancock had a little bit of a lat injury as a sophomore and was shut down for a short time.  He had no issues this spring.  

As a sophomore, Hancock gave up just 58 hits in 90.1 innings.  That equates to just 5.79 H/9.  Hancock also posted a measly 1.80 BB/9 and a hearty 9.68 K/9 rate.  This year, that strikeout rate has ballooned to 13.9 K/9 while the walk rate has actually diminished to 1.23 BB/9.  That type of strikeout rate paired with such a low walk rate is absolutely amazing.  Pair that with the fact that Hancock does not give up a lot of hits and a team really has to have their A-game to beat him on the mound.  That is why you are hearing about a potential ace in Hancock. 

2020 Draft Profile: Emerson Hancock” by Drew Osborne; Royals Farm Report

Hancock’s pitch arsenal is what has scouts raving about in addition to his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame. His fastball can sit anywhere from 94-99 mph with a mid-80s slider that is his best off-speed pitch. Per his MLB.com scouting report in April, Hancock’s “best offering is a fastball that sits at 94-97 mph and peaks at 99 with riding life, and all three of his secondary pitches grade as at least plus at their best.” That fastball grades out as a 65 and his slider and change-up grade at 60 respectively. Additionally, his scouting report labels him a “frontline starter if he stays healthy.”

2020 Draft Prospect: Emerson Hancock” by Jack S. Johnson; Royals Review

Hancock was mentioned by scouts as a possible 1-1 pick before the season, but hasn’t come out strongly, between a rougher delivery, reduced command, and a lot more use of his two sliders than his plus (or better) changeup.

Keith Law’s Top 30 prospects for the 2020 MLB Draft“; No. 5: Emerson Hancock by Keith Law; The Athletic

Royals Reporter Analysis on Hancock

The Royals’ crop of pitching prospects, especially Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, and Kris Bubic, is one of the strengths of a Royals farm system that has gained some momentum the past couple of seasons. After whiffing in a couple of drafts during the “competitive years” (2014-2017), Moore went all-in on college pitching in the 2018 draft, and it’s already starting to produce fruit at the Major League level, as Singer probably will get called up in some fashion should play resume in 2020. However, as baseball fans know, pitching prospects are volatile, and it wasn’t too long ago that John Lamb, Danny Duffy, Chris Dwyer, and Mike Montgomery were being discussed with the same kind of reverence and excitement as this core four. Hence, if an organization can keep stocking their pitching depth in the farm system, they have to do it.

And Hancock looks like he would fit with this current crop of Royals pitchers lighting up the Minor Leagues. Hancock has a big body (6’4, 213 pounds) and he pitched in the best conference in college baseball. There is a lot of Singer in him, even if he may not have the competitive makeup that Singer possesses. Hancock does flash plus control and command, though he proved to be more hittable in 2020 (8.25 H/9 and 3.75) than 2019 (5.78 H/9 and 1.99 ERA). That being said, Hancock only pitched 24 innings, and it would have been interesting to see how his metrics would have progressed over the season had college baseball not got cut due to COVID. While Hancock is somewhat cooling with experts in the Royals slot, if selected, he could help provide insurance for the Royals’ future rotation, especially if one of the core four prospects falters or is unable to stick in the rotation in the next year or two.

Zac Veen, Outfielder, Spruce Creek High School

What the experts are saying about Veen

Veen already has an advanced feel for hitting taking a patient approach.  He doesn’t swing at what he can’t hit very often.  I’ve been told by several really good MLB hitters that the key to hitting is swinging at good hitters pitches.  Veen seems to have this ability.  He consistently seems to get to a pitch that he can square up.  Because of this, he should be able to keep hitting as he moves up level by level.  

Veen has been clocked in the low-90s with his throws from the outfield so he has good arm strength.  Scouts think he will be a corner outfielder in pro ball even though he plays center for his high school team.  He has the arm to play right if he doesn’t end up having the speed to play center.  

2020 Draft Profile: Zac Veen” by Drew Osborne; Royals Farm Report

Zac Veen, the hitting machine, might have the best swing in the draft class, a smooth, fast left-handed stroke that produces hard contact and big power. He’s a center fielder now with above-average speed but his reads aren’t great and he might just outgrow the position in time.

Keith Law’s Top 30 prospects for the 2020 MLB Draft“; No. 7: Zac Veen by Keith Law; The Athletic

Veen is getting a lot of love from #RoyalsTwitter and I don’t disagree with it. I wouldn’t take him over Torkelson, Martin, or Hancock but over Lacy/Gonzales? I think I would, even with the additional risk that prep bats bring over college guys.

The Christian Yelich comps are probably a bit too rich unless we are talking more Marlins Yelich than Brewers Yelich (I’m not sure Veen is going to ever post a .342 ISO) but there is that mold of an already good contact/approach left handed hitter who is going to get bigger and add power. The career path of Veen defensively will probably be close to Yelich, who just wasn’t good in centerfield and moved to left. It obviously didn’t matter because he was such a good hitter than he could have played 1B and been an above average player.

Names to know for the 2020 draft“; Zac Veen by Shaun Newkirk; Royals Review

Royals Reporter Analysis on Veen

Veen has gained tremendous momentum on Royals Twitter as Newkirk alluded to above, and right now, it seems like it’s between Veen and Gonzales for the pick. Moore has been a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to drafting high school position player talent in the first round, as he hit it big early on with Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, (2008 and 2007, respectively), but he whiffed with Bubba Starling (2011) and Nick Pratto (2017). While Witt Jr. seems to be more in the former camp than the latter, it would be interesting to see if Moore would have the gall to go with a high school position player pick in the first round two years in a row, which he hasn’t done since he drafted Moose and Hosmer in 2007 and 2008, which were his first two drafts with the Royals (though he was hired in 2006, he did not help with the draft).

Veen has the look of a potential All-Star, maybe more, in the future. He’s long and lanky at 6’4 and 195 pounds, but he is strong for his size, and he has a smooth swing that will carry over well as he garners more weight and strength. The Yelich comps may be rash, but Royals fans can see the glimpses, and the idea of a 3-4-5 trio that could consist of Witt, Veen, and 17-year-old prospect Erick Pena in Kansas City should make Royals fans eager with excitement. Without a doubt, Veen is probably the riskiest pick of the three, as he is not only a high school pick, but a high school outfielder who lost a lot of playing time due to COVID. Thus, there just hasn’t been a lot of scouting or data on Veen this season (as there would be in years past prior to COVID), and that may make the Royals and Royals fans nervous, even though Veen may have the highest ceiling of the three.

Royals Reporter Final Analysis

This could be the most interesting draft in the history of its existence, and it could be one that could either boost the Royals’ farm system further, or perhaps sink it a bit if they whiff on their early picks. The Royals do have six picks in this draft, and are third in bonus pool money, so they are definitely in good shape in comparison to most when it comes to adjusting to this abbreviated format. However, the beauty of the MLB Draft, especially with the Royals, is getting those later round picks who over-achieve, with Whit Merrifield (9th round pick) and Jake Junis (29th round) being recent examples. The fact that Moore won’t have those later picks that could produce value down the road definitely makes this draft probably the toughest in his career as GM of the Royals.

In terms of preference, I would go with Veen, then Gonzales, and then Hancock. Without a Minor League season, all picks in this draft will be behind the 8-ball when it comes to development. Thus, I think it would be best for the Royals to draft someone who possesses the most long-term value to the club, which would be Veen. Yes, he carries the most risk of the three, but I would rather see the Royals shoot for the higher ceiling here, especially since games won’t be played in 2020 in the Minors most likely. That being said, if they do pass on Veen, I would rather seen Gonzales over Hancock, as I like the polish that Gonzales brings as an overall prospect, and he would make a bigger impact on the Royals’ system needs than Hancock.

Whatever Moore and the Royals do, this much is certain: they will have their work cut out for them when it comes to developing their picks this year, and other lower level prospects in their system in 2020, with how COVID has affected Minor League baseball.

One thought on “A brief primer on three candidates for the Royals’ first-round pick in the 2020 draft

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s