The 2020 MLB draft is in the books, though it was much shorter than usual due to the coronavirus pandemic. This year’s edition lasted five rounds, giving the Oakland A’s five picks to work with.
The A’s went bold with their first selection, taking a high school catcher with the No. 26 overall pick. After that they chose four college players, three of them pitchers. Here’s the full list, including links to our full coverage of each (which feature much more detailed scouting reports):
- Round 1 (No. 26): Tyler Soderstrom, C, high school (CA) (full coverage)
- Round 2 (No. 58): Jeff Criswell, RHP, Michigan (full coverage)
- Round 3 (No. 98): Michael Guldberg, OF, Georgia Tech (full coverage)
- Round 4 (No. 127): Dane Acker, RHP, Oklahoma (full coverage)
- Round 5 (No. 157): Stevie Emanuels, RHP, Washington (full coverage)
The main splash is Soderstrom, who receives praise from scouts for his mature, polished hitting. It’s unclear if he’ll stay behind the plate on defense, but reports indicate that he’s athletic enough to play corner positions and he has enough offensive potential to profile well at those spots. High school draftees are longer-term projects and thus carry extra risk, but the A’s are gambling on Soderstrom’s considerable upside.
Next up is Criswell, a big righty with highly regarded stuff. His arsenal includes three potentially above-average pitches, and he can maintain mid-90s velocity on his fastball in longer outings. The downside is his shaky control, and his ability (or not) to consistently find the strike zone could help determine whether he settles in as a starter or a high-octane power reliever. Fortunately, he got experience succeeding in both of those roles in college.
The 3rd-round pick, Guldberg, is similar to Soderstrom in the sense that his bat is the highlight while his defensive future is more of a question mark. Guldberg doesn’t have much power but posted monster batting averages throughout his college career, and he showed a mastery of the strike zone by totaling more walks than strikeouts overall. However, his defense is less certain, not due to ability but health. He could possibly be an up-the-middle player, including CF or 2B, but a shoulder injury limited him to DH duty for much of his time in school, leaving him something to prove in the field.
The next pick, Acker, is the opposite of Criswell. Instead of flashy velocity that he’s still learning to control, Acker has a more modest arsenal that he can already command to its full effect. That profile lowers his upside, but his polished, durable arm gives him a real chance to make it as a starter in the pros. He showed a prime example of his pitchability in March by throwing a no-hitter against LSU.
As for Emanuels, his future role is less certain, though he was last seen dominating as a starter in the brief 2020 college season. His height and length help his low-90s fastball play up, and reports indicate he could still add some velocity as time goes on. Factor in decent control and a couple encouraging secondaries, and he’s earned the chance to start in the pros. If he does end up in the bullpen, though, then at least he got experience there in college as a sophomore.
As an extra fun fact, both of the top picks are sons of former pro players. Soderstrom’s father, Steve, was a 1st-round pick by the Giants in 1993 and pitched for San Francisco in ‘96. Criswell’s dad, Brian, was drafted by the A’s in 1984 and spent five seasons in their minor league system.
Here’s where each player rated on the various pre-draft boards, which each ranked the top couple hundred available names.
Guldberg is notably absent from most of the lists, presumably at least partly because of his injury, and Acker is missing from a couple as well. However, it’s not surprising to see the A’s buying low in the later rounds, as 1st-rounder Soderstrom is expected to command a “considerably above slot” bonus. Going over on that pick will mean they need to go under-slot on at least one other, to keep within their total bonus pool of $5,241,500.
Of course, that’s all assuming that everyone signs, rather than going back to college for another chance at playing a full season there. At the very least, though, Soderstrom and Criswell sound like locks to go pro.
Overall, this A’s draft class appears to follow the team’s recent trend of gambling on upside. They maximized the opportunity of their top pick by rolling the dice on a premium prep talent, one who was universally ranked higher than their No. 26 position but fell to them for various reasons. Meanwhile, they saved the safe, high-floor, possible fast-track option for Round 4.
Even their other picks fit the mold. There’s a pitcher with big stuff but an uncertain future role, another pitcher who recently showed flashes of brilliance but didn’t yet get the chance to do it long-term, and a promising hitter coming off an injury that affected his game. Each has raw skills above their draft placement, suppressed by flaws or potential downsides or insufficient track records that drag down their value — but which could potentially be overcome to turn them into relative steals.
It will be years before we know how well this 2020 class pans out, and it’ll likely be next summer before we even see them on the field at all. In terms of a rapid reaction, though, this is an easy group to get behind, full of intriguing talent and plenty of upside.