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.
Call it beginner’s luck, but everything seemed to fall just right on Draft night for Toronto and first-year amateur scouting director Shane Farrell.
The Blue Jays not only nabbed four of MLB.com’s Top-200 Draft prospects, they secured three players who were projected to be first-round talents. Austin Martin, dubbed the “best pure hitter” by MLB Pipeline entering the Draft is considered the ultimate heist with his selection at No. 5 overall.
“Our staff did a great job adjusting to the constraints we were presented with this year," Farrell said. "Starting with the evaluation process, which moved more towards video scouting, to opening up a lot of communication between departments and using everyone’s networks to get to know players as best we can. This was a full organizational effort as we leaned on people in player development, pro scouting, athletic trainers in addition to our network of area scouts.”
Toronto has been in the midst of a rebuild that not only has put a premium on drafting well but also maximizing value from the international free agent market. The organization already has gotten a glimpse of that strategy paying off with the emergence of young talent at the Major League level in Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio. Add to that 2017 first-rounder Nate Pearson, who is knocking on the door of the Jays rotation after an impressive showing in the Grapefruit League this spring, and the team has a formidable nucleus for years to come.
And it just got stronger.
“We really didn’t go into this with anything premeditated in terms of a demographic. We didn’t see huge areas of need to fill, so we just focused on things we valued," Farrell said. "We like guys who have versatility defensively, guys who can manage the strike zone, make contact in the strike zone. On the mound, guys with good pitchability, guys who aren’t afraid to attack the zone” Farrell said. “So what happened wasn’t really planned, it’s just how it shook out, but we’re extremely happy with the five players we selected and excited to bring them into the organization.”
First Round: SS Austin Martin (No. 5 overall)
The Vanderbilt standout was the second-ranked prospect entering the Draft after absolutely obliterating baseballs over two-plus seasons as a Commodore. After a freshman season where he showed off his versatility by playing six different positions in the field, Martin paced the Southeastern Conference with a .392 batting average and .486 on-base as a sophomore, while sporting a 1.091 OPS. Before being shutdown this spring, he was hitting .377 with a 1.168 OPS while lining up at third base and in center field.
“We were prepared to make this decision,” Farrell said. “Watching how things were unfolding, the likelihood of him getting there was growing, and we were really excited to be able to select a player of his caliber. He checks off a lot of things we valued going in: his versatility and his ability to make contact in the strike zone, along with his strike zone awareness and overall approach.”
And although he appeared on the board as a shortstop, the likelihood is that Martin will see time in the middle of the field, whether it be second or center. Already drawing comparisons to Anthony Rendon and Mookie Betts for his plus-plus hitting ability, Martin also possesses above-average speed and solid baserunning instincts.
But, make no mistake about it, it will be his bat that puts him on the fast track to The Show and part of that feared young offensive nucleus already in Toronto.
“Whether he plays in the infield or the outfield remains to be seen, but we won’t make any plans for his development without his input first,” Farrell said. “But we will do everything we can to get him on his way to being an impactful player at the major league level for us.”
Second Round: RHP CJ Van Eyk (No. 42 overall)
Considered a late first-rounder entering the Draft, the righty provides excellent value (and a huge upside) for the Jays at No. 42. Van Eyk pitched out of the bullpen for Florida State his freshman season before transitioning into the Seminoles rotation as a sophomore. His best offering is a 12-to-6 curveball with late downward bite, and he pairs that with a mid-90s heater and an average changeup.
“Here is a guy we were familiar with and benefitted from seeing him early and often,” Farrell said. “We really like his pitchability, he’s got a good mix of pitches and has shown the ability to get to different parts of the zone.”
A key component of the rotation on the gold-medal winning Under-18 National Team, Van Eyk entered the year as Florida State’s ace and was off to a superb start with a 1.31 ERA in 20 2/3 innings this spring, however, he saw a spike in walks as he struggled to find the stellar control he exhibited last season.
“Getting the control back to where he was as a sophomore is what we were looking forward to,” Farrell said. “But, the scouting staff identifying him early in the process really helped us here with the season being cut short. We’re really excited to have him.”
While he projects as a mid-to-end of the rotation starter, Van Erk could move quickly through the system in a relief role.
Third Round: RHP Trent Palmer (No. 77 overall)
After a successful run out of the bullpen last summer in the Cape Cod League, where Palmer touched 97 mph -- and consistently sat in the mid-90s -- with his fastball, the right-hander grabbed the attention of pro scouts.
Sporting a four-pitch mix, Palmer moved into the rotation at Jacksonville University this spring and, after sporting a 1.30 ERA in four starts (27 2/3 IP) with 41 punchouts and only five walks, that attention amplified.
“He has a really big arm, high velocity, but has also shown value with his slider and the ability to manipulate the ball a little bit,” Farrell said of the 6-foot-1, 230-pounder. “Starting with what we saw from him in the Cape Cod League and then moving into the starting rotation, we saw him hold that velocity late into games and really liked the quality pitch mix and ability to hold innings.”
Palmer’s heater possesses late sinking action, and he combines that with a low- to mid-80s splitter-type changeup, a sweeping slider and a low-70s curveball that keeps hitters off-balance.
Fourth Round: RHP Nick Frasso (No. 106 overall)
Considered a first-round talent entering 2020, Frasso was shut down with forearm and elbow tightness after two starts this spring, which hurt his Draft stock. However, reports emerged that he was working his way through the injury and was almost healthy when the season was halted.
The lanky two-sport star -- baseball and basketball -- out of Palos Verdes Peninsula High School in Southern California turned his focus to baseball when he arrived at Loyola Marymount in 2018. He also added some weight to his 6-foot-5 frame.
Currently listed at 200 pounds, Frasso saw a spike in his velocity last season while he pitched out of the bullpen and mostly used a 97 mph four-seam fastball with late life up in the zone to amass 73 strikeouts over 56 2/3 innings while notching 10 saves.
But with a three-pitch mix, Frasso entered the spring as a starter and fanned 11 while walking three over 8 2/3 innings before being shut down.
“Nick is a really unique case, but his development track record was something we were drawn to,” Farrell said. “Walked on at Marymount, got that velocity spike, had a great showing with Team USA last summer, and we really would have loved to have seen him pitch this season, but the relationship some of our guys had with him really drove our process and gave us comfort in knowing his upside and his development track.”
Frasso threw four scoreless frames for the U.S. Collegiate National Team and can snap off a mid-70s curveball as well as a developing changeup.
Fifth Round: OF Zach Britton (No. 136 overall)
The scrappy outfielder out of Louisville led all of Division I with 11 doubles this spring. After going yard five times in 28 Cape Cod League contests last summer, Britton batted .322/.446/.541 with 12 RBIs in 17 games this year.
“We like his competitiveness. He’s a competitor on and off the field,” Farrell said. “He’s got the ability to drive the ball to left-center, can put the ball in the alleys, lots of doubles power, and we think he’s going to be a good piece on a Major League roster.”
Overall Outlook: It’s hard to imagine the Draft shaking out any better for the Jays. With a pair of top picks who are widely considered “steals” by scouts and talent evaluators across the Majors, to acquiring high-value/high-ceiling talent at every slot, Toronto didn’t replenish a depleted system but added bounty to an organization already rich with youthful talent. With any rebuild comes opportunity, so expect the names from this Draft to move quickly and potentially provide a impact sooner than later.
Rob Terranova is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @RobTnova24.