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Thoughts on the Rangers 2020 Draft

The 2020 MLB Draft is over, and AJM has some thoughts on the Rangers’ picks

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2020 Major League Baseball Draft Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The 2020 MLB Draft is over. Sadly, it was a very abbreviated draft, encompassing just 160 selections over five rounds. The Texas Rangers selected five players, and beginning Sunday, have the opportunity to start signing undrafted free agents, though with a cap of $20,000 bonus per player.

It is fair to say that this is the most controversial draft the Rangers have had since 2011, when, in one of the last years before draft bonus pools were instituted, they allocated their amateur acquisition budget primarily towards J-2 players (Nomar Mazara, Ronald Guzman and Yohander Mendez, in particular) and only budgeted for slot bonuses for their top draft picks. The result was Kevin Matthews, Zach Cone, Will Lamb, Kyle Castro, and Desmond Henry with their first five picks — guys who never were even prospects as professionals.

As a side note — and I’ve talked about this before, so you can skip this if you want — the 2011 draft was weirdly successful. The Rangers selected Kyle Hendricks in the 8th round, and getting a Kyle Hendricks makes any draft successful, regardless of when you pick him. But the Rangers also drafted and signed Jerad Eickhoff and C.J. Edwards, who each had several good years, as well as Nick Martinez, who was a useful major league pitcher for a couple of years as an 18th round pick, and Phil Klein, Ryan Rua, Andrew Faulkner, and Connor Sadzeck, all of whom have spent time in the majors. Texas also drafted Brandon Woodruff, Derek Fisher and Max Pentecost in the 5th, 6th and 7th rounds, and failed to sign them — Fisher and Pentecost became first round picks three years later, and Woodruff is now a solid major league starter.

The criticism of the Rangers’ draft is easy to lay out — the Rangers drafted guys way higher than they were ranked by the various ranking services. And maybe that’s okay if you have a history of doing that and drafting well — I doubt there would be this sort of freakout if, say, the Tampa Bay Rays made these same picks. But the Rangers have done a poor job with their picks in the top few rounds over the last decade-plus, and so they don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.

And that’s a reasonable complaint. Based on the information we have available to us, the Rangers reached on guys. Kip Fagg acknowledged that perception last night, saying that he felt the Rangers were ahead of other teams on their day two guys — in other words, the Rangers had hustled, had done more work on seeing where these guys are now compared to where they were six months ago, and grabbed guys who, in a normal year, would have moved up the ranking boards substantially due to their development, growth and performance in the spring.

Time will tell if the Rangers are right or wrong.

That being said, I do think it is worth taking a look at this draft, particularly in conjunction with the draft and the moves the team made in 2019, and figure out what it is they are doing. The Rangers aren’t just throwing darts at a dartboard, and aren’t just panicking and grabbing whatever name first pops to mind when their pick comes around. The front office has a strategy, and whether we agree with the strategy or not, its worth examining what it is that the organization is doing.

Justin Foscue was taken in the first round by the Rangers, and we had talked about him in the lead-up to the draft as a guy who would be very consistent with the Rangers’ 2019 moves. Like Josh Jung and Davis Wendzel, their top two draft picks from last year, Foscue is a player with a track record of success in college while playing in a high-level conference, who has strong contact rates and exit velocities, and who gets extremely high marks for makeup and work ethic.

Foscue, as has been discussed at length on here before, is also very similar to Nick Solak, who the Rangers acquired from Tampa Bay last summer — a second baseman with a strong hit tool, great makeup, and some defensive questions. When we look at Solak, Wendzel and Jung, and the traits they share, it is no surprise that Foscue, who checks all those boxes as well, was the choice at #14.

I’ve seen some criticism of the pick because Foscue, it is suggested, should not have been the top player on the Rangers’ board at 14, given the fact that the rankings generally had him anywhere from #19 (on Kiley McDaniel’s board) to the mid-60s (on Keith Law’s board). And based on the ranking services, that is a reasonable complaint.

However...the reports consistently indicated that Foscue was someone who the analytics loved, that the algorithms graded extremely highly. Texas was, I believe, not the only team that would have taken Foscue at #14, given who was left on the board. Keith Law said today that “Foscue was going somewhere in the mid-first round, given his EVs and low strikeout rate”. And Texas seems to have shifted to a much more analytics-driven approach to player selection, so it makes sense that they are going to take a guy that is graded much more highly by the algorithms than the ranking services.

In rounds three and four, the Rangers selected a pair of prep pitchers, righty T.K. Roby and lefty Dylan MacLean, who were on boards, but not ranked as high as the Rangers picked them. Roby was ranked #144 on the MLB Pipeline draft list and #156 on the Baseball America top 500 rankings. MacLean was ranked #195 on the MLB Pipeline list and #258 on the Baseball America list. And in looking at them, you see some commonalities and some factors that are consistent with the 2019 draft.

Both Roby and MacLean are high spin rate guys — BA, for example, notes that over the summer Roby had a low-90s fastball “with spin rates in the 2300-2500 range.” Out of 270 major league pitchers who had at least 250 batters faced in 2019 and threw a four seamer, a 2400 average spin rate pitcher was 54th in average spin rate. Both BA and MLB Pipeline say his curve profiles as better than average in the future, as well.

BA mentions that Roby “has some starter vibes that teams might want to take a chance on before letting him get to Troy, where he could blow up.” MLB Pipeline says that “the early end of the season kept him from being as seen as much as he would’ve been under normal circumstances, when scouts would’ve headed to Pensacola as word of Roby’s stuff spread,” and that “teams considering him in the top few rounds [see] a potential No. 4 type starter in the future.”

MacLean, like Roby, made strides this winter, but unlike Roby, whose season started and then was cancelled, MacLean’s high school season didn’t start before there was cancellation due to the COVID-19 epidemic. MacLean profiled last summer as a projectable lefty with a quality curveball who threw in the mid-80s with good feel and command, but who had the build that would lead one to think that he could add velocity.

This winter, however, in workouts, MacLean was showing increased velocity, touching 92 — a pretty significant jump.

In addition, while MacLean’s curve ball over the summer had a 2500 rpm spin rate, per BA, which would be about average compared to the 2019 Statcast data group I mentioned with Roby. However — and as would be expected, given that he’s gotten stronger and is throwing harder — he is apparently getting better spin in workouts right now as well — you can see this tweet (part of a thread of MacLean pitches with accompanying Rapsodo data) where he has a 2787 RPM spin rate on a curve ball. An average spin rate of 2787 would put up right around the top 10% mark on that data set.

The tweet thread also shows video and Rapsodo data where he’s 91-92 on his fastball with spin rates of 2445, 2515 and 2590 the middle point 2515) would have him at around the top 5% mark in our 2019 data set.

This, of course, is in a workout setting, in controlled conditions — we have to see if MacLean can do that in game action as well, and maintain it over a full game. But a 6’3”, 180 lb. 17 year old lefthander who throws 91-92 with that sort of spin, has the type of command MacLean has, and has two secondaries as good as MacLean’s grade out to is generally going to be a first round pick, not a fourth rounder.

So we have two spin rate guys who have a good feel for pitching the Rangers grabbed at a time where they are potentially on a significant upswing. That is similar to the profile of 2019 second rounder Ryan Garcia, a smallish lefty out of UCLA who was a high spin rate guy who was said leading up to the draft to be moving up boards compared to where he was expected to go — he was specifically mentioned by one of the BA guys last year the day before the draft as someone who would surprise folks by being picked higher than expected.

In the second and fifth rounds, the Rangers took a pair of high school hitters. Evan Carter, the second round pick, has been identified as possibly the biggest surprise of the entire MLB Draft — he was not on the BA top 500, and the folks on MLB Network didn’t know who he was. Thomas Saggese, a shortstop from Carlsbad, California, was the team’s fifth round pick.

Saggese is not a college guy like Foscue or the other hitters I mentioned above, but he gets praise for his hit tool and contact ability, and he is considered a high makeup guy. He may not stay at shortstop, but its not a given he will have to move, and he again checks the boxes the Rangers have prioritized for their hitters.

He sounds, really, a lot like 2019 fourth rounder Cody Freeman — a California high school shortstop who gets high marks for his makeup and instincts, who is more contact than power at the plate but makes good contact and has a quality approach, and who may not stick at shortstop but who can be expected to get the most out of the tools he has.

I don’t really know what I can say about Carter, given how little outside information is available on him. Carter didn’t do the summer showcases that most top high school players attend, and where they usually first start garnering serious notice from scouts, so the book on him was fairly light. He is the type of player who could have moved up draft boards with a strong spring, but of course, baseball got cancelled this spring.

The Rangers were very bullish on him in talking about him after yesterday’s draft, and he’s made clear he will forego his commitment to Duke to sign with Texas. He doesn’t turn 18 until this fall, making him one of the youngest players in the draft, and he’s big (6’4”) and athletic, throwing righty (and he has hit 88 mph with his fastball when he has pitched) and hitting lefty.

I have no clue about his hit tool...but I am going to guess, based on what we have discussed up to this point, that he has great exit velocities, solid contact rates, and the scouts feel he has great makeup.

Carter is, to me, the guy who makes this draft so controversial. Every other player picked was selected in the vicinity of where they were expected to go. If the Rangers had taken Casey Martin or Logan Allen or Jeff Criswell we’d sort of be shrugging and saying, okay, whatever. We would be disagreeing about whether it was a good or bad draft and about specific picks, but there would not be, I think, this general freakout we have seen occur.

But looking at this draft as a whole, especially when also factoring in 2019, it seems pretty clear the Rangers have a strategy in terms of their premium talent acquisition. High makeup guys who, on the position player side, make contact, have solid approaches and have good EVs, and on the pitcher side, have excellent spin rates and are trending upward.