Following the five-round 2020 MLB First-Year Player Draft, MiLB.com takes an organization-by-organization look at each pick with help from team scouting executives.
The 2020 Draft was going to be a different one for the Red Sox, no matter what. Back in April, Major League Baseball took away the organization's second-round pick as penalty for a sign-stealing scheme from the 2018 season. Not long after, MLB announced that this year's selection process would be limited to five rounds, giving Boston only four picks and a $5,129,900 bonus pool with which to sign them.
Add in that the coronavirus pandemic meant that the Draft room -- typically a physical area filled with scouts and front-office execs -- had to move to a virtual space and, yes, this was the distinctive Draft in franchise history.
"Probably the biggest challenge for us was the fact we didn’t have a second-round pick," Red Sox director of amateur scouting Paul Toboni said. "That restricted pool space placed restrictions on just how creative we could get with the reallocation of money and things like that. On the whole, I think we made the most of it, given the restrictions we were facing, but at the same time, I think you always leave every Draft with this feeling that you did great, as I’m sure every team thinks, and the feeling of, ‘I wonder if we could have done this differently.’ A number of challenges, but we feel good coming out of it."
First Round: Nick Yorke (17th overall)
This year's first round was full of surprises. The Orioles' decision to take Heston Kjerstad second overall. Asa Lacy and Austin Martin falling to the fourth and fifth picks, respectively. But at least from an external standpoint, Boston's decision to take Yorke, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 139 talent in this year's class, at No. 17 was right up there with the biggest shocks of day 1.
"When the perception of the industry undervalued Nick, we’d be naïve to not run through those thought exercises of what we could be missing, whether this could actually be true and if our process is robust enough that we should be fully buying into what we’re seeing," Toboni said. "Everything kept leading us back to this thought that, hey, we think we’re a team that we’re able to create a really good process on this kid while other teams might not have. Given a chance to scout him for a full spring, we thought things would have changed on him and he could have been a consensus first-rounder or comp pick."
With much of Yorke's final season at Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, California) High School canceled, whether that last statement would have been true or not is left to the imagination, but there are certainly aspects of his game that drew the Red Sox to the 18-year-old second baseman. Even externally, Yorke's calling card was his hit tool from the right side, which many saw as having above-average potential. He needed that bat in 2019 after undergoing shoulder surgery that forced him to play the DH spot as a junior. Even now that he's fully recovered, he's expected to be a second baseman in the pros after playing shortstop in high school. If the bat proves to be as solid as Boston projects, he could bring a good amount of offensive value to the keystone.
"With Nick, what we saw him was that he has a really good understanding of what he’s doing in the box," Toboni said. "Just an advanced feel with a clean and refined swing, a repeatable swing. On top of that, while it’s not a premium position, his chance to stick in the middle of the infield was important for us."
Yorke, who committed to play at the University of Arizona, hasn't yet signed with the Sox, but his bonus is expected to come in under the $3,609,700 assigned to his slot. The infielder indicated on Draft Night that he and the organization already had the framework of a deal, telling reporters on a conference call, "I’m not going to get into any of the numbers or anything, but once their requirements hit my requirements, it was just an opportunity to jump on and go play ball for them."
Third Round: Blaze Jordan (89th overall)
If the Sox were going to shock with their only day 1 pick, they were logically expected to snag a dropping high-ceiling talent with their second selection a day later. That was the design, but the club was still crossing its fingers through the middle picks in hopes it could pull it off.
"The public doesn’t talk about it much, but if you’re going to pay a player under slot and reallocate that money, it doesn’t always work out," Toboni said. "That strategy leads to risk. It was different for us. Nick was No. 1 on our board, and it made the decision easy. But if you’re going to reallocate money, there’s real risk where you get to the third round, and it’s a college player asking for slot. That higher upside high school player with a higher ask for signability is no longer there. We were very, very fortunate in that regard that a player like Blaze was there."
Indeed, Jordan was ranked as MLB Pipeline's No. 42 Draft prospect but had fallen 47 spots, allowing Boston to swing for the fences with the 17-year-old masher out of DeSoto Central High School in Southaven, Mississippi.
Jordan knows a thing or two about swinging for the fences, having built a legend around his power from the right side. He famously hit 500-foot homers on camera during a home run derby when he was 13 and even more notably won the High School Home Run Derby at last year's All-Star Game in Cleveland. He opened the latter with 20 blasts in the first two rounds and slugged seven more at Progressive Field, narrowly beating out 2020 fourth-rounder A.J. Vukovich, who hit six.
It's the type of pop that clubs dream about in today's world of high exit velocities, but there remain a few reasons why the Mississippi State commit fell to the third round. His hit tool isn't nearly as mature as his power and the bat wasn't as consistent as scouts would have hoped against high-level arms on the showcase circuit. Defensively, the 6-foot-2 slugger is considered a third baseman for now. But an average arm and below-average footwork and glove are likely to send him across the diamond to first, meaning he'll really have to hit to be of value at that spot.
It's all going to come down to how the Red Sox system can mold Jordan to get the most of that value while keeping what makes him special, and it's a process they were willing to take on full bore once they saw him -- he reclassified from 2021 to 2020, making him one of the youngest players taken this year -- still on the board.
"We understood there was significant risk because of how young Blaze is and while he carries some really unique attributes, mostly his bat speed and his power, it comes with risk," Toboni said. "At the end of the day, there were really interesting qualities outside of the swing, [like his] maturity for how old he is. We think he’s got good pitch recognition and feel for the zone. He just needs more exposure to that high level of pitching for an extended period, and we’ll bet on the kid to continue to make adjustments as he gets that exposure."
Jordan is expected to sign for $1.75 million, according to MassLive.com's Chris Cotillo, which would be well above the $667,900 allotted for his slot -- an indication that the front office's strategy did come to fruition.
Fourth Round: Jeremy Wu-Yelland (118th overall)
The Sox took college left-handers with their last two picks. Wu-Yelland draws praise for a low-90s fastball that has touched 96, decent slider and solid changeup, and while that three-pitch mix seemingly points to a starting role, the University of Hawaii southpaw has played a variety of roles the last two seasons. He started and relieved for the Rainbow Warriors in 2019 but experienced some control issues, walking 32 in 46 1/3 innings. Wu-Yelland was primarily a reliever in the Cape Cod League last summer and impressed there with a 3.16 ERA, 26 strikeouts and 15 free passes over 25 2/3 innings, and he was on a roll back in the Hawaii bullpen this spring, compiling a 0.69 ERA, 16 strikeouts and five walks in 13 frames.
Though his 2020 performance was a small sample, the Sox saw enough to grab Wu-Yelland with their third pick and seemed excited to mold the southpaw, likely first as a starter to see he can crack it there, knowing the bullpen will remain an option.
"I think the thing to consider is that we’re entering this time in baseball where roles are becoming less defined," Toboni said. "For us, we’d rather take a chance on a kid that we think can throw a good amount of strikes and has three pitches we think could be better than average and play to both sides of the plate. From there, we can carve out a meaningful role for him."
Fifth Round: Shane Drohan (148th overall)
Much like Wu-Yelland, Drohan has been dinged for his control numbers at Florida State, but the Sox believe the other parts of his game could turn him into a professional asset on the mound. He struck out 71 but walked 48 in 51 2/3 innings in his sophomore season with the Seminoles and put up a 4.08 ERA with 27 K's and 11 walks in 17 2/3 frames this spring before things shut down. His fastball and curveball both draw above-average potential grades and he gets added points for his spin rates, which the Sox hope they can use to translate into better results as a pro. Drohan has more experience starting than his fourth-round counterpart and also is expected to get a long look in that role, even if his control causes some bumps in the road along the way.
"One of the big things that stood out to us with Shane was the fact that we all felt like there’s a lot left in the tank," Toboni said. "With all this runway left and the fact that it’s coupled with performance trending positively, we thought his best days are ahead of him. He’s the unique college junior that we think is just scratching the surface and has the chance to be pretty darn good."
For all the talk about this being a unique Draft, the Sox entered it with baseball's 27th-ranked farm system, meaning the core could use some help. While it was a journey to get there, the organization walked away with some of the best prep power the Draft had to offer, what it hopes is its second baseman of the future and two arms who remain raw, despite coming from the college ranks. In other words, the Draft was just the start of the evaluation process for these new Red Sox prospects.
"The way we’ve attacked it is just trying to capture as much value as we can over the course of the Draft," Toboni said. "That can come in a bunch of shapes and sizes. For these guys, we dumb it down to the fact we think that – maybe not in year one or two but maybe five years down the line when we look at it – these were the best risks for us to take in terms of their expected value and what they’ll bring. … This wasn’t by design, but at the end of the day, there’s a nice combination of really intriguing, unique tools that are really tough to develop. It gives our player development a real chance to work with what we can develop from there."
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.