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2020 Draft Preview No. 10: Persons of Interest One

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Rolling out the later-round watch list.

Miami at St. Louis Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

I actually don’t know if I’ll get to doing a second persons of interest draft post; not a ton of time left between now and the day itself. I should probably, therefore, just call this persons of interest, no number. However, I will choose in this case to be optimistic.

As always, these are not first round players, or at least likely not. (Every once in a while a guy goes higher than I’m expecting, obviously.) What these are, then, are simply players from the lower reaches of the draft board that, for one reason or another, I find interesting. Or exciting. Or intriguing. But it’s persons of interest, not persons of intrigue. So interesting it is.

Blake Dunn, OF, Western Michigan

6’0”, 205 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 5th September 1998

So, what’s so great about this guy?

When you read a height/weight of six feet and 205, what do you think? I would imagine you envision something akin to a Dan Uggla type; slightly thick-bodied and not super athletic, particularly because six feet is baseball code for 5’9”, usually.

Well, Blake Dunn is basically everything you just didn’t picture. This is one of the most impressive athletes in the draft this year, bar none. He has run a 6.3 60, can throw 94-95 off the mound, and was a state championship hurdler in high school. He’s built like a running back, and he was a running back. Pretty much anything you ask Blake Dunn to do athletically on a baseball field, he can do it, and with aplomb.

...with one exception.

Blake Dunn may not actually be a very good hitter. And that’s why his future is somewhat cloudy, and why he shows up in a post like this, rather than looking like a future mid-second rounder.

To be fair, Dunn has put up solid numbers in college, but all with metal bats. And even with metal, he’s never really tapped into the raw power he’ll show off in bursts, or in batting practice shows. It’s with wood in his hands, though, that Dunn really struggles. And for clubs who value players showing an ability to hit with wood, whether that be international competition, the Cape Cod League, or something like the Northwoods League, a player struggling as badly as Dunn did in the summer of 2019 (on the Cape, specifically), is a real issue.

In terms of tools and potential, Dunn is very similar to Harrison Bader. Similar elite speed, similar plus or better defense in center field, big throwing arm, above-average raw power, lots of swing and miss. The one area Dunn actually has an advantage over Bader is in basestealing prowess; while Bader has shown very good baserunning ability at times, Dunn is a natural thief, one who might steal 50 bases a year if he could get on often enough.

If I thought that Dunn had the long-term outlook of Harrison Bader, he would be a slam dunk pick for me in this draft. The problem is, Harrison Bader is a fringy hitter in the big leagues. Blake Dunn was a fringy hitter in the Cape Cod League. It’s very scary trying to translate that level of performance (a .636 OPS, to be exact), up the ladder to anything approaching a big league player. Dunn’s swing could use some work, and the team that takes him will have to be one that believes they can help him unlock his offensive potential. He does have a good approach at the plate in terms of patience, which bodes well for his future. I would certainly be willing to take a chance on him in the fourth or fifth round, even in a year like this. The payoff could be huge if a team could help him refine his offensive game.

via 2080 Baseball:

Tyson Guerrero, LHP, Lower Columbia CC (Washington)

6’0”, 190 lbs; Bats/Throws: Left/Left

DOB: 16th February 1999

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Guerrero is another one of those players who I feel really got screwed over by the shortened college season this year. He made only two starts this spring, but showed markedly improved stuff, making me think he very well could have had some strong helium by now, had the season gone as things usually do.

Guerrero has been, up to this point, a two-way player, hitting and playing outfield in addition to pitching. He’s a plus runner and a decent hitter, but his future is most definitely on the mound. He began his college career at Washington State, then transferred to a JuCo to enter the draft a year early. He’s 21 already, so slightly old for the class, and might be better off getting into a pro program as soon as possible.

In the past, Guerrero worked around 89-90 with his fastball, but this spring that velocity was up, pushing 95 at times and parking pretty comfortably in the 92-94 range. He’s not a big guy, particularly by pitcher standards, but he’s worked hard to add strength to a fairly modest frame, and looked very strong in 2020. His best pitch is a plus or even better curveball, a power overhand job that he can throw in or out of the zone, and to either handed hitters. He has a changeup, but it’s nothing to write home about. In order to remain a starter long term (he started at Lower Columbia, but pitched in relief for Washington State), he needs to either improve the changeup or add something else to his repertoire, a cutter or something similar, to give hitters an extra look and to help combat right-handers.

I’m a big fan of Guerrero; he’s basically Rob Kaminsky with a less scary arm action, and you know I’m always going to be in for that. The track record is very short, particularly in terms of him touching the mid-90s as a starter, but he’s athletic and has less miles on his arm than many other pitchers in his demographic. Definitely worth a long look in rounds 4-5.

Luke Little, LHP, San Jacinto JC (Texas)

6’8”, 225 lbs; Bats/Throws: Left/Left

DOB: 30th August 2000

So, what’s so great about this guy?

What’s so great about this guy can be summed up in a single word: velocity.

Luke Little throws harder than pretty much any other pitcher in this year’s draft, lefty or righty. He’s on video touching 105 in an indoor workout, and on multiple occasions has been clocked as high as 102. If a physically huge lefty throwing 102 sounds a lot like Aroldis Chapman, well, that’s kind of what you’re hoping for.

Little has steadily increased his velocity the last couple years, and has done so in two ways. The good way is by getting himself in excellent shape, slimming down from the ~250 range to his current 225 while adding muscle and explosiveness. The bad way is by delaying his arm, utilising a plunge at the back similar to both Chapman and Carter Capps. Now, Chapman is working on a decade in the big leagues with no major arm issues, while Capps’s career has fizzled out due to injuries after what was essentially one brilliant season (using one easy trick!), in Miami. What I’m saying is, not all velocity-adding gimmicks will lead to injury. Some will, some won’t. He also creates elite shoulder/hip separation in his delivery, so it isn’t just all arm he has going for him.

Little’s height allows him to both get far down the slope of the mound but also stay on top of the ball, giving him good movement on his heater. His slider is pretty good, his curve and changeup less so. He’s more of a mid-90s guy as a starter, but I don’t think very many teams are really looking at him in that capacity. If you’re drafting Luke Little, you’re drafting a lefty with 100+ in his pocket, putting him in the bullpen, and letting him air out the fastball and slider as long as his arm holds up, I believe.

Zavier Warren, SS, Central Michigan

6’0”, 190 lbs; Bats/Throws: Switch/Right

DOB: 8th January 1999

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Zavier Warren is one of my favourite players in this draft, relative to where he’ll likely be drafted. He’s one of the smartest hitters in college baeball, and has offensive upside that’s rare in a middle infielder.

To start off on somewhat of a negative foot, Warren is not likely going to play much shortstop long term. His footspeed is fringy, and he just doesn’t really have the range to cover short at the pro level, definitely not at the big league level. That’s the bad news. On the upside, Warren looks like he could be an above-average defender at second base, has enough arm he could handle third, is fast enough to play either corner outfield spot, and caught in high school. So there’s certainly some versatility built in to his profile. And really, he isn’t going to spontaneously combust at shortstop, so if he was the backup shortstop for a club in addition to holding down multiple other positions — or just second base — it wouldn’t hurt you once a week to have him out there.

It’s on the offensive side of things where Warren really jumps off the page. He has both above-average patience and contact ability, and while he’s not a masher, he drives the ball in the gaps consistently and could be a doubles machine down the road. He beat up on MAC pitching his sophomore season, but actually had a bit of a down year in 2020, albeit over a pretty small sample. His peripherals were all really good, but he just didn’t hit for much power over about 80 trips to the plate this spring. Nothing else was really out of whack, so I’ll chalk it up to a few weeks of not-great contact early in the Michigan cold.

The Ben Zobrist comp is, by this time, very much a cliche. He’s become a type, much like Andrew Miller has become a proxy for the multi-inning shutdown reliever, despite only really being used that way in pretty limited situations. Still, when we’re talking about Zavier Warren, you have a plus second baseman or four- to five-position utility guy with outstanding plate discipline and middling power. It’s a comp that’s very difficult not to trot out. I have a hard time gauging when Warren will be drafted; he’s #111 on MLB.com’s board, and #170 on FanGraphs’s. The Cards have a pick at 122, and Warren would maybe be my guy there, if he’s still around. Number 93 might be a little early, but it also might not be.

via D1Baseball.com:

Mason Erla, RHP, Michigan State

6’4”, 215 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 19th August 1997

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Mason Erla has not had a particularly easy road to get to this point. He was a two-sport athlete in high school and hurt his knee on the football field, tanking his baseball draft stock. He suffered a lat injury as a college freshman at Michigan State, and the arm strength never really seemed to improve any after he came back from it. He threw 88-90 in high school, and he threw 88-91 as a redshirt sophomore in 2019.

Things changed this spring, and while Erla is older, nearly 23 already as a redshirt junior, the stuff he brought to the field this spring was markedly different than what he had in the past, and points toward upside not at all in line with where he appeared to be even one year ago.

Erla spent the summer of 2019 working on his arm strength, though I haven’t been able to find any info on whether he did so through one of the big velocity-building programs (the Driveline types), or in a more DIY fashion. The results were plain to see on the field this spring, as he worked at 92-95 with his fastball, touching 97, and used his increased arm speed to spin a better breaking ball, a hard slider that’s nearly a cutter, than he had shown in the past. His best pitch previously was a wicked changeup that drops out of sight at the plate, and he still has excellent feel for the pitch, though it was flattening out a little more at times with increased velocity. I feel like that’s the sort of thing a pitcher with good feel can work out over time, and time was really what Erla didn’t have this spring considering how things went. All told, he could have three ~55 grade pitches to go along with above-average control and command down the road. He does drop his arm just slightly on the slider, it looks like to me, but not much.

Considering his age, it would seem to behoove Erla not to want to reenter the draft next year at almost 24, even though he has another year of eligibility. Because of that, he would seem to be a money-saving pick some team could grab in the 2nd-3rd round range and go underslot with him in order to take a risk somewhere else. He has one of the simplest deliveries you’ll ever see, and I don’t think there’s really a ton of health risk here.

via Perfect Game Baseball: