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. You can find the writeup on the ACC here and here; today we start in on the stronghold of the SEC.
Obviously the big name here is Brady Singer, the righty pitcher who will be fighting it out with Auburn’s Casey Mize and fast-rising prep sensation Matthew Liberatore for the top spots among pitchers in this June’s draft. Singer is really, really, ridiculously good, with a mid-90s fastball, a plus slider, and a developing but promising changeup. Barring catastrophe, he’ll be long gone by the time the Mariners pick, unfortunately, so just hope he doesn’t go to a division rival. Joining Singer in potential first-round conversation is Jackson Kowar, also a RHP who stands 6’5” with an impressive three-pitch mix. Kowar’s fastball isn’t as big as Singer’s on average, but his changeup is even better. He’d most likely be available when the Mariners pick at 14 and he can run it up to the upper-90s at times:
3B Jonathan India rounds out the trio of Gators who will most likely hear their names called on the first or second day of the draft. He claims he’s not a home run hitter, but has shown some big pop early in the season so far, and has been leading the SEC in hitting at various times over this year. If he keeps this up, “Indie” might sneak into the first round.
Kentucky lacks the big one-two punch of Singer and Kowar, but fields a team rich with draft prospects. The two biggest names are RHP Sean Hjelle (pronounced like “jelly,” and his Twitter handle, adorably, is “Hjellebean” because he’s 6’11” and 185 soaking wet) and OF Tristan Pompey. Hjelle is a force on the mound, but he is also an awesome person who really cares about giving back to his community and I would be thrilled if he somehow wound up a Mariner. I mean LOOK AT THIS:
Tristan Pompey (yes relation, Dalton is his older brother) is from Ontario and one of the few baseball players not just allowed, but legally obligated to walk up to Drake. He’s a tools guy with power probably being the least of that but can do everything else well enough to probably be a back-end first round choice.
Partnering Hjelle as the 1-2 punch in the Wildcats’ rotation is JUCO transfer 6’5” righty Zach Haake (said like “hockey”), who Baseball America lists at #54 overall. While his fastball averages the low-to-mid 90s, apparently it’s been clocked up to 96 this year, and he pairs that with a solid slider and changeup. With his height, a long relief role (Jerry’s neverending quest for a Devenski of his very own) might help his stuff play up. And if you like your pitchers tall, Justin Lewis, a former basketball player, stands 6’7”/185 and has an okay fastball (91-93) paired with a devastating falls-off-the-table-and-dies changeup. Lewis was an 11th-round pick by Tampa Bay but decided to return to school as a redshirt junior, so he’ll look to go higher than that this year. Baseball America tabs him as #95 overall. Fun fact: he’s also cousins with both Chuck Hayes and Richard Sherman.
Aside from the more well-known names, the Wildcats boast a pair of Lukes: senior super-utility player Luke Heyer was recently named a midseason All-American, while Luke Becker is a switch-hitting infielder who played in the Northwoods League, where Grinders are made, who is known for being a difficult out at the plate; so far in 2018 he has more walks (26) than strikeouts (25). Cole Kottam is a catcher and kind of a badass; he wears number 13 in honor of the 13 surgeries he’s had on his right eye after being born 10 weeks premature, weighing just four pounds, eight ounces. Cottam is still developing as a catcher but has already clubbed 12 HRs this season and posted strong offensive numbers throughout his time at Kentucky. Senior RHP Alec Maley, a sidearmer with a sweeping breaking ball, is also a serviceable bullpen piece. Good gravy this team is stacked.
Unlike Florida and UK, Georgia doesn’t boast big name draft prospects for this year. Senior LF Keegan McGovern is intriguing, although he recently tweaked his back and missed some time, which sucks because he was working on a streak where he’d reached base 21 straight times. McGovern doesn’t have plus defensive abilities, but he can rake, and as a senior, he’ll be a hot value signing as teams blow their first-round signing bonuses. Like McGovern, RHP Chase Adkins was also drafted last year, but both opted to return for their senior years. Adkins is a command/control pitcher who doesn’t strike out a ton of guys but limits walks and keeps hitters off-balance. The unfortunately-named Trevor Tinder is another option out of Georgia’s pen, although he too might choose to return for a senior season.
Missouri gifted the Mariners 13th-round draft choice and former Modesto Nut Reggie McClain back in 2016, but the pickings might be a little slimmer with this year’s class, although a strong veteran presence helped Mizzou to have three seniors named to Perfect Game’s Top 50 list. After struggling with health, 6’7” Bryce Montes de Oca and his triple-digit fastball land at #2 on the ranking this year, although as a redshirt junior he still has eligibility. Brett Bond is the #4 ranked senior according to Baseball America, but the catcher is off to a slow start to his 2018 after passing up the Astros’ offer in the 23rd round of last year’s draft. Senior Andy Toelken has been a useful Swiss Army Knife on the mound; while he doesn’t possess the big fastball, he gets high marks for makeup from coaches. Trey Harris, also named to Perfect Game’s list of the top seniors in the country, is a stocky outfielder who can hit for power to all fields and is a good bad-ball hitter who rarely strikes out and possesses good plate discipline. Conditioning issues and questions about where he fits defensively could drop him down—he wasn’t even drafted last year—but someone will be getting a very good deal on the high-energy slugger.
After a coaching change, the Gamecocks are in a transition year without a ton of high-profile draft prospects. The most well-regarded player is probably junior RHP Adam Hill, whom Baseball America tabs as the 33rd-best collegiate draft prospect. Hill has a fastball that can sit in the mid-90s and earned SEC Player of the Week honors after an outing against Charleston Southern where he struck out 14 over seven no-hit, no-walk innings back in February. After going undrafted last year, infielders LT Tolbert and Jonah Bride look to put together strong senior campaigns. Junior outfielder Jacob Olson is also putting together a strong 2018, although may opt to return to school to continue improving his draft stock after transferring from a junior college prior to his sophomore year.
The Vols have essentially no upperclassmen on their team, and no draftable seniors, so draft choices will be few and far between. Reed Fell is an interesting-looking JUCO transfer who isn’t going anywhere this year, leaving just Benito Santiago Jr.—yes, relation—as a potential draft choice. The Giants took him in the 38th round back in 2014, and it seems likely someone else will draft him for feelings reasons, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him return for a senior season at Tennessee.
Vanderbilt got raided in last year’s draft, losing eight players including first/second day-ers Kyle Wright, Jeren Kendall, and Will Toffey. While Vanderbilt is currently enjoying 2017’s top-rated recruiting class, that leaves draft prospects pretty thin, with not a senior to be found. Junior RHP Patrick Raby has a solid middle to back-end of the rotation profile, and junior Alonzo Jones, drafted by the Cubs in 2015, is a speedy outfielder with some pop.