The future of perhaps the greatest high school baseball player in Marion County history will be partially determined Thursday and Friday as he hopes to hear his name called in the 2020 MLB Draft.
Columbia Academy graduate Slade Wilks had the unfortunate luck of his class lining up with the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent reduction of the draft by Major League Baseball.
Wilks said in a statement Monday, “My dream is to play in the MLB. Due to COVID-19, this year’s draft has unfortunately been cut to 5 rounds instead of the usual 40 rounds. This means only 160 players from college and high school will be selected. Of course, I want to get drafted this week, but if that doesn’t happen I will be attending USM and playing for Coach Scott Berry. Either way I can’t lose because I get to keep chasing my dream by playing a game that I love. I know my future is in God’s hands.”
MLB.com ranks Wilks as the No. 111 prospect in the draft: “Wilks provides plenty of raw power thanks to a combination of bat speed, strength and loft in his swing. He generally makes hard contact leading to impressive exit velocities as some have compared to a young Jeromy Burnitz. Evaluators who are not sold on him question the length of his swing and wonder if he will be able to get all the pop he can.”
Burnitz played from 1993 to 2006 with seven teams, most notably the Milwaukee Brewers, and racked up 315 home runs.
Another excerpt from MLB.com’s scouting reports says “Desoto Central High’s (Southaven) Blaze Jordan is one of the best sluggers and most famous players in the 2020 Draft, and Biloxi High’s Colt Keith is one of the top two-way talents, yet there are some scouts who believe that Wilks is the best prep prospect in Mississippi. Their thinking is that he makes more contact than Jordan and has more power than Keith, so he has a greater chance to make an impact at the big league level.”
ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel ranks the USM signee as the No. 125 prospect in the class and mocks him as the 113th selection in the draft by the Cincinnati Reds. McDaniel suggests that Wilks’ ceiling and signability make him an attractive choice and lauds his raw power and advanced maturity. Another mock draft also has the Reds selecting Wilks just a round earlier with the 85th overall selection.
John Dreker of Pirates Prospects, an independent media affiliate, also projects Wilks in the fourth round, being selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates with the 108th pick. SB Nation’s Daniel Russell has the Tampa Bay Rays drafting Wilks 126th late in the fourth round, saying “Already a man among boys, Wilks has big power and great bat to ball skills. He’s one of the older players in his college class, but the exit (velocities) speak for themselves at 19 years old.”
During a January draft workout in Louisiana, Wilks hit a ball with a 116.37 mph exit velocity with an estimated distance of 480 feet. Only six home runs hit during the 2019 MLB season had a higher exit velocity, and there were just six homers that went further 480 feet.
Prospects1500’s Nate Eckert’s has Wilks joining his cousin, Luke McKenzie, with the Los Angeles Dodgers as the 159th pick in the fifth round. Eckert writes, “A lefty beast (whose) calling card is his plus-power, at 6’2”, 215 lbs., Wilks gets his money’s worth (and then some) at the dish… For Dodgers fans, Wilks is a pretty easy comp to Joc Pederson. Joc was also a big HS kid who never got (gets) cheated at the dish but has consistently managed to make a fairly decent amount of contact (given his approach) throughout his career.”
Matt Powers of SB Nation ranks Wilks as the 29th outfield prospect in the draft, writing “Wilks has plus power but some length in his swing so the hit tool is a bit of a question. The Southern Miss commit is also a player who has already reached 19 years old and has an injury history that could give a team pause. He is a complicated player, but if a team believes in his hit tool he is likely going to be drafted.”
The first round contains picks one through 29, Competitive Balance Round A contains 30 through 37, second round 38 through 60, Competitive Balance Round B 61 through 66, compensation picks 67 through 72, third round 73 through 101, fourth round 102 through 131 and fifth round 132 through 160.
The draft will be broadcast on ESPN and MLB Network. The first round will be Thursday beginning at 6 p.m., and rounds two through five will start Friday at 4 p.m.