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. So far we’ve covered the ACC; today we finish the SEC.
Alabama is still in a rebuilding phase after suffering one of their worst seasons in program history in 2017, and thus doesn’t possess as many of the high-profile draft options as some other SEC schools, but it does win for “most starters named Chandler”: Chandler Taylor and Chandler Avant. Taylor was drafted by the Twins last year in the 27th round as a sophomore but looks to improve upon that this year after a strong showing on the Cape; he’s got big power and was runner-up in the CWS Home Run Derby last year. He’ll probably be the Crimson Tide’s highest-selected draft choice. Avant, a senior, is a little more under-the-radar but is leading the Tide in average and ranks top-ten in the SEC in hits; he also plays a solid second base and has some speed. Junior infielder Cobie Vance has moved into a leadoff spot this year and is flourishing there; his OBP is up by more than 80 points from last year. As for the arms, senior Jake Walters doesn’t have a great-looking ERA but gets a lot of strikeouts while walking very few. Junior Sam Finnerty doesn’t have overpowering stuff but a nasty hammer curve has allowed him to parlay a low ERA into a Friday night role.
The Razorbacks are maybe the most interesting team in the SEC and perhaps even in college baseball as a whole, going from unranked earlier in the season to a top-five national ranking. They’re getting a boost from injured pitchers returning to their staff like draft-eligible redshirt sophomore Isaiah Campbell, but the big name here is Blaine Knight, who Baseball America lists as their sixth-best college righthander and MLB.com has as the 46th-best prospect available. Long reliever Jake Reindl is also one of the better bullpen arms available. On the position player side, the most well-regarded name is probably junior Grant Koch, who had a strong summer for Team USA and projects to be one of the best college backstops available in the draft.
Also, he’s only a freshman and not draft-eligible, but I would be remiss to not mention one of the best names in college baseball:
me: making lists of wild baseball names is so tired— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) April 10, 2018
also me: literally shouting right now pic.twitter.com/zLP43TMk10
Obviously, the big name here is Casey Mize, who is favored to go first overall in the draft (although that seems to be in question). While some of the other top college arms have wavered at points, Mize has only increased his dominance, tossing complete games while running a wild 70/3 K/BB. He’ll be long gone by the time the Mariners choose. Other than that, Auburn doesn’t offer a ton in the way of draft-eligible players, which is good news for them. Junior Brett Wright is a solid defensive catcher with some offensive pop who—like Auburn itself—is currently slumping some after getting off to a hot start.
After losing top picks Alex Lange, Greg Deichmann, and Jared Poche’ to the draft and RHP Eric Walker to TJ, LSU might not be the dominant team prepared for a deep run into the CWS it was a year ago, and if they lose their pair of draft-eligible sophomore standouts in the draft this year, the situation could leak into next year. The big name is standout power pitcher Zack Hess, whose fastball sits mid-90s and is paired with a devastating wipeout slider, but he’s already turned down the MLB once (drafted by the Yankees out of HS in the 35th round) and is in his first year of pitching out of LSU’s rotation rather than the bullpen role he was relegated to last year. Unless drafted very highly, he’s probably not going anywhere; Baseball America ranked him #44 on their preseason college prospect rankings. The same might not be true of draft-eligible sophomore center fielder Zach Watson, who brings a combination of power and speed to the top of the Tigers’ lineup. Baseball America had Watson as #23 on their list. Junior OF Antoine Duplantis also appeared on BA’s preseason college prospect rankings; he’s been a steady offensive force over his three years at LSU, and possesses the cerebral, analytics-influenced approach to his game the Mariners prize in prospects.
The Ole Miss rotation is anchored by two pitchers who could both be first or second-round picks. John’s 21st-overall pick from our mock draft Ryan Rolison is a lefty with a four-pitch mix including a plus curveball. The Mariners can and should do better with their first-round pick, but if Rolison somehow lasts to their pick in the second round, they should pounce on the dependable lefty. Brady Feigl actually snatched the Friday night job from Rolison this year (also there’s a funny story about the two Brady Feigls that’s worth reading); he’s been impressive, earning Pitcher of the Month accolades from NCBWA back in February. Parker Caracci is yet another impressive pitcher in Mississippi’s stable; a mechanical change has unlocked some big velocity for the junior, who redshirted his two previous seasons, and he’s currently posting a negative FIP. Caracci profiles as a power bullpen arm with his fastball-slider combo, but might choose to return for his senior season and try to boost his draft stock even further after not playing his first two years of school.
MSU baseball is in a rough spot. They lost three players to the MLB draft this past year, and lost their coach this year just a few weeks into the season (he resigned AMID SCANDAL, pearl clutch). Konnor Pilkington, listed as MLB.com’s 23rd best prospect, is a command/control lefty with a three-pitch mix who can go deep into games thanks in part to his big, durable frame. He’d be an overreach at 14, but if he somehow makes it to the second round he’d be a great fit for an organization that prides pitchability over raw stuff. Jake Mangum was drafted by the Yankees in the 30th round last year, but opted to return to school; he might be more encouraged to go this year, and will probably go in a significantly higher draft position after a summer where he was an All-Star in the Cape Cod League and is off to a strong start to his junior season.
Now it's Jake Mangum's turn on the #SCTop10 as he ends the inning to keep our lead at 13-3!— MSU Baseball ⚾ (@HailStateBB) April 7, 2018
/ : https://t.co/1Qpbmptbau#HailState pic.twitter.com/9nf1tJZKkC
The Aggies are pretty light on draftable prospects but senior Cason Sherrod was drafted last year by the Royals in the 13th round. He returned to school, where he’s continued to hold down his spot as shutdown man in the Aggies’ bullpen, overcoming a hearing disability that limits him to about 50% of average hearing. Fellow senior LHP Kaylor Chafin, also a reliever, was also selected in last year’s draft (32nd round) and opted to return to school rather than go to the Mets. Both of them will almost certainly hear their names called again, ideally in rounds with single-digit numbers. Offensively there’s not as much to choose from; junior backstop Cole Bedford has no draft buzz around him but has hit over .300 since earning the catcher job, and is the kind of player who does all the little things right.