Prospects Orioles fans should be watching as the college baseball season begins

Ryan Wormeli
NBC Sports Washington

The Orioles are going to lose a lot of games in 2020. Their reward will be a high draft pick in the 2021 draft, but it won't be their first time picking at the top of the class. They lost 108 games in 2019, earning the second overall pick in the upcoming 2020 draft this June.

It's a chance to add yet another high level piece to an ascending farm system, but fans in Baltimore may not be familiar with who the organization eyeing this year.

There's no obvious, no-doubt-about-it Adley Rutschman-esque player in the 2020 class, but there is an upper tier developing. At this point in the process, it looks like the Orioles' choice will come down to one of a few collegiate players.

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With the college baseball season opening Friday night, let's run through a primer of the players Orioles fans should pay special attention to this season.

Emerson Hancock, RHP Georgia

The ace of the Bulldogs' loaded pitching staff, Hancock looked like an early favorite for the top overall pick in the 2020 draft. He shares some similarities with 2018 number one pick Casey Mize, another SEC ace with a strong repertoire of pitches. He relies on a strong mid-90s fastball and multiple breaking balls. He struck out 97 batters to just 18 walks, earning a 1.99 ERA and looking like the best pitcher in college as a sophomore.

Hancock also shares similarities with Mize's weaknesses -- namely, a questionable injury history. There hasn't been any major issue reported in regards to Hancock's arm, but any history of injuries for a starting pitcher will cause concern. Of course, Mize currently slots as one of the 10 best prospects in baseball, so the risk may very well end up worth the reward.

If healthy, Hancock would be a terrific pick at the top of the draft and a potential future top-end starter. A rotation with him, Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall (a fellow Georgia pitcher in the high school Class of 2017) would have an enormous upside.

There may be a decent chance Hancock is available when the Orioles pick. Detroit owns the top choice this year, and they already have a ton of pitching depth at the upper levels of their farm system -- including the aforementioned Casey Mize. Teams don't draft for need in the MLB Draft, but it's hard to argue that what the Tigers really need is more hitters, which fits nicely with the other two players on this list. 

Is it enough to pass on a pitcher who may be a top 20 prospect in all of baseball the moment he signs? Only time will tell.

Spencer Torkelson, 1B/OF Arizona State

For fans who paid close attention to third overall pick Andrew Vaughn last summer, Torkelson will look pretty familiar. Entering his junior season, Torkelson looks like a similar hitter to Vaughn, 2019's best bat. Torkelson has a slightly weaker hit tool, but more power than Vaughn, who already slotted in as the 16th-best prospect in baseball according to MLB Pipeline's 2020 update.

It's fitting the Arizona State slugger has "torque" in his name, considering the crazy power he generates with his swing. There's little positional value here, as Torkelson will be a corner outfielder at best and a first baseman at worst.

But some lucky team won't be drafting him for his defense. Torkelson will pan out, or not, based on his prodigious power. He broke the freshman home run record in his first season at Arizona State, a mark held by none other than Barry Bonds.

In that same rookie season, he led Division 1 in home runs, despite not being a highly sought-after recruit. He followed it up with 22 homers and an OPS over 1.150 for the second straight year as a sophomore. Entering this season, he is the clear top bat in the draft, and if MLB de-juices the baseballs moving forward, his power will be even more valuable.

He's probably the most famous "name" in the 2020 draft class, but he too could fall to the second pick. Players with his defensive profile rarely get selected high. Their athleticism leaves very little margin for error with the bat -- if he isn't an All-Star hitter, it's hard to make an impact at first.

No first baseman has gone first overall since Adrian Gonzalez in 2000, a notoriously weak class. Will Torkelson be the one to break the streak 20 years later? If he falls, his swing would pair very, very nicely with Camden Yards. 

Austin Martin, 3B/SS Vanderbilt

Martin played third base as a sophomore, but may be sliding back over to shortstop this season. He plays both positions capably-to-above average, giving him far more defensive value than Torkelson.

He is slightly less-heralded than Hancock and Torkelson, but Martin is just as deserving of the top pick in the draft. His versatility is an added bonus -- in addition to third base and shortstop, he could spend time at second base and center field as well. 

That versatility combined with his batting profile -- he hit .410 against SEC pitching as a sophomore and has developing power that could play up in the majors -- is reminiscent of a poor man's Alex Bregman. Vanderbilt has a strong track record of development, so it's fair to expect a hard worker like Martin to continue to improve prior to the draft as well.

Bregman, of course, not only played shortstop at an SEC powerhouse, but was also drafted second overall in 2015 by none other than current Orioles GM Mike Elias, back when he was making choices in Houston. Another terrific contact hitter with defensive versatility, Nick Senzel, was selected second overall in 2016 by the Reds.

Martin would be very worthy of following in their footsteps and will instantly become one of the best pure bats in all of minor league baseball the moment he is drafted.

Another fun bonus? The obvious endorsement possibilities with Aston Martin. Will we see Austin Martin in a James Bond movie one day? One can only dream.

Kumar Rocker, SP Vanderbilt (2021)

A bonus, way-too-early name here. If fans are already watching Vanderbilt to check out Martin, they may as well start remembering the name Kumar Rocker as well. 

Rocker is the early, heavy favorite to go number one overall in the 2021 MLB Draft, which will be determined by the 2020 standings -- something that could benefit the Orioles in another year of their rebuild.

The Commodores' sophomore ace tossed a 19-strikeout no-hitter during the college baseball playoffs last summer, a remarkable outing that stands up as one of the best in collegiate history.

He tossed 114 strikeouts to just 21 walks as a freshman in the SEC, numbers that hold up very well to Emerson Hancock. Rocker left an indelible mark as a freshman, and fans are excited to see what he has in store for a follow up.

If he continues to develop, while things go as expected in Baltimore, he may be as highly-anticipated a first pick in Baltimore as Rutschman was in 2019 -- high praise, maybe, but praise Rocker looks deserving of 16 months before his own draft night.

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Prospects Orioles fans should be watching as the college baseball season begins originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

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