TORONTO – Day one of the 2020 draft could hardly have gone better for the Toronto Blue Jays, who landed a player widely considered a top-two talent despite picking fifth overall.
In Austin Martin, they selected someone whose contact skills, plate discipline and emerging power make him one of the best pure hitting prospects in the game. On defence, he’s versatile enough to play centre field, second base or shortstop – the position at which the Blue Jays officially drafted him.
But of course selecting Martin only gets the Blue Jays so far. Next up, they must sign a player who may have been expecting a larger payday. If Martin had been selected second overall, the recommended bonus would have been $7.79 million. Three spots later, the suggested bonus is $6.18 million. But each additional dollar the Blue Jays allocate to the Scott Boras client comes out of their total draft pool of $9,716,500.
Clearly, there’s some accounting work ahead for the Blue Jays, yet the front office was aware of all this when it was their turn to pick. And still, they wanted Martin.
“We were extremely happy that Austin was there,” GM Ross Atkins said. “We were prepared for that. We had worked through that scenario (and) have had dialogue with his representation as well. We felt very good about making the selection.”
In other words, the Blue Jays are well aware of the negotiation that awaits. But after signing Hyun-jin Ryu, their once-frosty relationship with Boras has thawed, and Atkins sounds like someone who’s legitimately excited to add Martin to the organization.
In the meantime, the Blue Jays selected four more college players Thursday evening. Here’s an initial look at the rest of the Blue Jays’ 2020 draft class.
CJ Van Eyk, RHP, Florida State
Overall pick: 42
Weight: 198 lbs
Recommended bonus: $1.77 million
Baseball America rank: 46
MLB Pipeline rank: 39
Previously drafted: Mets, 19th round, 2017
MLB comp: Dan O’Dowd of MLB Network compared Van Eyk to Ian Kennedy, who started 289 games in the major-leagues before moving to a relief role with the Royals last year.
With a 1.31 ERA in four starts before the NCAA suspended its season, Van Eyk was generating some first-round buzz. Instead, a prospect who pitched to a 3.21 ERA over the course of three seasons at Florida State was available on day two. Van Eyk generated strikeouts in bunches during his college career and was consistently hard to hit, but he did walk 83 in 176.2 career innings at FSU.
Along with a fastball in the 90-95 m.p.h. range, he throws a curveball and a change-up that, according to Baseball America, has “sinking action that fools hitters on both sides.” That mix will presumably allow Van Eyk to continue starting when he begins his pro career – whenever that is.
He was also highly regarded as a high school pitcher (at George M. Steinbrenner High School, of all places) though some questions surfaced at the time due to a forearm issue. The Mets took a late-round flier on him in 2017 only to see him head to Florida State instead.
Trent Palmer, RHP, Jacksonville
Overall pick: 77
Weight: 230 lbs
Recommended bonus: $805,600
Baseball America rank: 165
MLB Pipeline rank: 114
In three seasons at Jacksonville, Palmer started just nine total games, but that might undersell his potential out of the rotation. Before the pandemic led to the suspension of NCAA action, Palmer had a 1.30 ERA in four starts with 41 strikeouts compared to just five walks. He achieved those results with a fastball in the 92-96 m.p.h. range and two off-speed pitches Baseball America describes as above-average: his slider and change-up.
With a full season like that, he would certainly have gone higher than the third round, but under the circumstances there were enough questions about Palmer to make him available here. Among them: can he improve his command, and will he be a starter long-term? Even last summer, when Palmer impressed in the Cape Cod League with a 1.45 ERA, he was pitching in relief. Plus, at 6-foot-1, 230 lbs, he doesn’t have a traditional pitcher’s frame.
“He doesn’t look imposing, but he’s very strong, athletic and intelligent,” Jacksonville coach Chris Hayes recently told Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union. “I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people. Trent doesn’t look like a big-leaguer. He just acts like one.”
Palmer has a repeatable delivery, according to Baseball America, and the Blue Jays tend to develop pitchers as starters until they prove they can’t start. With that in mind, Palmer’s likely to debut in the rotation once he signs and remain there unless he falters.
Nick Frasso, RHP, Loyola Marymount
Overall pick: 106
Weight: 190 lbs
Recommended bonus: $549,000
Baseball America rank: 107
MLB Pipeline rank: 98
There’s no denying the athleticism and potential here. Frasso has been clocked up to 97 m.p.h., according to Baseball America, and the former high school basketball star can still dunk with apparent ease.
The questions for the Blue Jays revolve around health and role. Before the shutdown, Frasso suffered an injury to his forearm/elbow area that impacted his draft stock. And despite his upside, he has limited experience starting with just 15 college starts compared to 22 relief appearances.
Still, that fastball is intriguing and Frasso also boasts a high-spin rate slider, according to Baseball America. His third pitch, a change-up, is still developing, but there’s obvious upside if Frasso can overcome this spring’s injury issues and refine those secondary offerings a little more.
Zach Britton, OF, Louisville
Overall pick: 136
Weight: 200 lbs
Recommended bonus: $410,100
Baseball America rank: 192
MLB Pipeline rank: N.A.
Until now, the most memorable Zach Britton-related moment in Blue Jays history occurred when Orioles manager Buck Showalter declined to use his dominant closer in the 2016 AL Wild Card Game that the Blue Jays eventually won.
Perhaps this selection will give Blue Jays fans another reason for fond Britton-related memories. This left-handed hitter slashed .280/.395/.455 over the course of three seasons at Louisville, including a .322 average before action stopped this spring. He has doubles power thanks to what Baseball America describes as “a pretty lefthanded swing with good bat speed and some impressive exit velocity numbers.”
At this stage he doesn’t have tons of power or projected defensive ability, but that offensive track record certainly is intriguing.