Keeping up with college baseball can be overwhelming, but pays major dividends during the draft when you get to become Extremely Outraged when a guy you have decided is your favorite player in the entire draft gets picked after some other chump. A while ago, John, Ben and I did a mock draft of our first-round favorites, which you can read here. That draft wound up being heavy on high school talent, which reflects how deep the talent pool is at the prep level this year, especially for arms. It’s good to know what’s available at the college level, however, especially since the Mariners have shown somewhat of a tendency to favor college-experienced players. Leading up to the draft, we’ll focus on covering some of the college talent available from each conference. Not all of these guys will be first-day selections, and several will have their fortunes ebb and flow over the grind of the college baseball season, but ideally this will give you some names to look out for in June as well as some players to get invested in during the long march to Omaha.
We’re starting with the top-ranked conferences and working our way down from there, with a little more time lavished on local conferences like the Pac-12 and WCC. First up is the stronghold of the ACC, which is divided into two divisions: Atlantic (FSU, Louisville, Clemson, NC State, Wake Forest, Boston College, and Notre Dame) and Coastal (UNC, Virginia, Duke, Miami, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Pitt). We’ll take half of each division at a time, starting with the Atlantic division, listed in order of projected standings.
- FSU was dealt a blow when it was announced junior Tyler Holton suffered a torn UCL. Holton, a 35th round draft choice by the Marlins last year, was projected to go early in the 2018 draft after racking up a stack of accolades including 2017 First Team All-American (ABCA, D1Baseball), 2017 Second Team All-American (Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, Perfect Game), 2017 Third Team All-American (NCBWA), 2017 All-ACC First Team, and 2017 ACC Championship Team, in addition to being named ACC Pitcher of the Week five times. (And he’s on the Dean’s List, proving he’s got more than just a high baseball IQ). Holton will most likely still get drafted this spring, but might opt to return to school if he doesn’t get an offer befitting his status as one of the best pitchers in the conference.
- One player who has risen quickly over the first few weeks of college baseball season is Cole Sands, who has stepped in to take Holton’s place as staff ace, and boasts a similarly impressive resume. His fastball has been up to 96 early in the spring, and he’s already led FSU to two early victories. Holton’s injury might provide Sands a golden opportunity to shine. Also, he comes tailor-made with an excellent walk-up song (“Enter Sandman,” natch).
- Jackson Lueck - An NCBWA Preseason All-American, Lueck doesn’t draw a ton of attention for whatever reason, but he’s athletic and can flat-out rake to all fields.
Bye bye! If you're anywhere near the stadium when Jackson Lueck is up, you better keep your head on a swivel pic.twitter.com/vriePIcpN8— SingleShot ⚾ (@Singleshot25) February 23, 2018
Other names of note:
- Cal Raleigh - it’s been a bit of a slow start to the season for Raleigh, named to the preseason Golden Spikes Award watch list. Raleigh’s calling card is his bat, but he’s a fine catcher as well, something that’s always desirable on draft day.
- Skylar Frey - a JUCO college transfer, Frey posted a .338 average at Polk State while tearing up the basepaths (32-for-36 SB). If he develops some power to go with his speed and defense, he’d be an appealing mid-to-later-rounds selection.
If you love toolsy outfielders, you’ll love Louisville’s Josh Stowers. #41 on Baseball America’s Preseason Top 100 College Prospects list, Stowers is a projectable outfielder with good bat speed and all-around athleticism who can swipe bases with ease. And he’ll fit right in with Seattle’s “elevate and celebrate” club.
The Louisville pitching staff has three new (and one new-ish) starters this year who will be battling for the title of staff ace. Adam Wolf is 6’6” lefty who spent his past two years working out of the bullpen. So far, he’s taken to being a starter well, earning the win in each of his first two outings. Bryan Hoeing also stands 6’6”, but works from the right side. Hoeing doesn’t quite have Wolf’s dominant strikeout stuff, but shows good command of his three-pitch mix, and looks to continue building back strength after having TJ surgery in late 2015. Liam Jenkins stands 6’7” and got roughed up in an early outing, and has since been working out of the bullpen, although that could change. Riley Thompson is the shortest of the bunch, at a mere 6’4”, but probably has the best stuff out of the three with mid-90s stuff, although he can struggle to command it. The Yankees drafted him in the 25th round last year; he’ll do better than that this year.
Other names of note:
Sam Bordner - Louisville’s closer who gave up just two runs in all of 2017, he combines dominance on the mound with excellent taste in snacks (and also is a Very Good Boy who would never violate NCAA rules by taking so much as a box of candy).
Devin Mann - At the time of this writing, Louisville is 7-0 and outscoring their opponents approximately 934953-2, and that’s partially thanks to the bat of Devin Mann, who can hit for average and some power. Baseball America named him to their Preseason All-American Second Team.
The big name here, obviously, is Seth Beer, who Ben wrote up in our first-round series, taking him 20th. However, there are several other intriguing offensive talents on a Clemson team that’s started the year off hot. Chris Williams is starting the year at first base after off-season shoulder surgery, but is a catcher by trade. He has a massive bat and has already posted a career-high six-RBI game in this young season. Tampa Bay took him in the 31st round last year, even with the bum shoulder; he’ll do much better than that this year. Long reliever Ryan Miller was also selected by the Braves in the 31st round, directly after his teammate Williams, but he too opted to stay with the Tigers for his senior year. Closer Ryley Gilliam is also a candidate to be drafted; Baseball America has the righty ranked #85 on their list of top 100 college seniors. Personally, I hope Robert Jolly gets drafted because “Jolly Time” seems like a fun slogan to have around baseball.