Note: I have been very bad about keeping up with this series but with the MLB draft looming and college baseball in full-swing, now that I’m back from Arizona I am going to dive back into this more heartily.
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 So far we’ve completed the Atlantic division; today we’ll work through the first half of the Coastal division.
Unranked, tiny Davidson College knocked off UNC in the playoffs last year before they could reach Omaha. They lost several standouts to the draft—pitcher J.B. Bukauskus (Astros), center fielder Brian Miller (Marlins), and shortstop Logan Warmouth (Blue Jays)—but retain a core of talented first-year players who are sadly mostly not draft-eligible, but there’s still plenty to choose from in a perennially strong program.
3B Kyle Datres - Datres is an athletic third baseman who can hit for contact and power. While not the biggest dude, he has a short right-handed swing with some loft in it and might grow into some more power. He has the accuracy and instincts to stick at third. He miiiiight remind some fans of another Kyle from UNC who plays third base.
C/OF Cody Roberts - Roberts is an intriguing prospect with raw athleticism that hasn’t been totally channeled in one direction, although he’ll primarily work as a catcher this year. He has a cannon for an arm and is a threat on the bases. As a draft-eligible sophomore, he was taken in the 38th round by the Marlins, but chose to return to UNC for his junior year.
OF Brandon Riley - Riley serves as leadoff man for UNC and sees a ton of pitches. He’s a center fielder with speed and athleticism, although there isn’t a ton of power in the bat.
RHP Brett Daniels - Daniels is Mr. Reliable in the Heels bullpen. He doesn’t have a big fastball, barely scraping 90, but pairs that with a nice mix of off-speed options. As a senior, he can be signed for cheap.
Other names to watch: INF Zack Gahagan, RHP Rodney Hutchison, RHP Taylor Sugg
Virginia has suffered some poor injury luck this season, losing OF Cameron Simmons for the year, and is already missing the bats of 2017 first-round draft picks Pavin Smith and Adam Haseley, as well as fourth-rounder Ernie Clement. Unfortunately, the news didn’t get any better for the Wahoos when it was announced well-regarded prospect Jake McCarthy would miss significant time with a wrist injury.
CF Jake McCarthy - Currently out with a wrist injury, McCarthy is a plus-plus runner who is athletic enough to be a true center fielder. The bat is on the light side, and the wrist injury (six weeks) might cost him some in the draft; he may choose to return for his senior season if the wrist injury sidelines him for too long.
C Caleb Knight - Knight has gone from tiny Connors College in Oklahoma, where he was a Gold Glove winner, to hitting clean-up for the Wahoos. He’s got the kind of backstory the Mariners love, and as a senior, should be an inexpensive way to add to the org’s catching depth.
RHP Bennett Sousa - I’m mostly listing him because he’s buddies with adorable goober Steve Cishek, which must mean he himself is an adorable goober. But! Sousa is also Virginia’s closer and has been lights-out for the Wahoos. He was taken in the 34th round by the Nationals last year but decided to return for another year to try to drive up his draft status. Also, Bennett Sousa is an awesome name.
RHP Derek Casey - Casey is serving as Virginia’s Friday night starter this year. Casey pitches to contact and gives up plenty of hits, but mostly keeps the ball on the ground and limits damage. He missed all of 2016 with TJ and is still building his arm strength back up and recovering his command; as a senior who went undrafted last year, he might be a good buy-low investment.
Conine is the headline name here, but the Blue Devils have a sneakily deep squad. They are quietly climbing the ranks of college baseball, ranking in the top 25 in 7 different national polls for the first time in program history. A scan over the Baseball America Top 100 can help explain that—Duke boasts three prospects there.
OF Griffin Conine - Son of Jeff, Conine’s bloodlines alone are probably enough to garner him attention, but Mr. Mini-Marlin’s bat is worthy of plenty of attention itself. He was named a preseason All-American after tearing up the Cape Cod League, and drew raves for his ability to hit with power to all fields. Under increased scrutiny, some concerns have been raised by scouts about his hitting mechanics and high K-rate, although with the power in his bat, there will always be some swing-and-miss in his game. He’s projected to go in the middle of the first round, right around where the Mariners will be picking.
OF Jimmy Herron - Like his teammate Conine, Herron was an All-Star MVP this summer on the Cape. He’s not off to the blazing start of his teammates, but he also has walked more times this year than he’s struck out, somewhat of a rarity on a free-swinging Duke team. The Yankees took him in the 31st round last year but somehow young Jimmy managed to resist the pull of pinstripes and returned to make a run with a deep Blue Devils squad. That alone makes me like him, but he’s also an All-ACC Academic and on the honor roll, if you like your prospects smart.
SS/3B Zack Kone - Kone is big for a shortstop (6’3”) and might be more of a 3B type in the future, but he’s got the power in his bat needed for a move to that position. As Kyle Seager benefited from the hordes who came to scout Dustin Ackley at UNC, Kone might be the beneficiary of the attention paid to his teammates. He has a damage-making swing and has steadily improved over his first two years at Duke, and like his teammates has charged into the 2018 season—he’s already hit more home runs than he did last year. That comes at a cost, however—like Conine, he has a bit of a K problem.
RHP/OF Jack Labosky - Labosky is a two-way prospect whose numbers might not jump off the page, but the senior draws praise from coaches for being a complete player, averaging over 30 innings pitched and 200 plate appearances for each while putting up respectable numbers. He even has a little pop; so far this year he has three home runs, halfway to his total of six from last year. All the home runs are being hit by Duke this year.
Other names to watch: C Chris Proctor, LHP Mitch Stallings, RHP Al Pesto. (Not because he’ll be drafted this year—he missed all of 2017 with an injury—just because of his name.)