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 heavy-hitters of the ACC and the SEC; today we’ll look at the Big 12, which confusingly enough only has nine teams, so we’ll do them all in one fell swoop.
While there are many college baseball players with fun names (looking at you, Zebulon Vermillion), unfortunately that doesn’t always intersect with actual prospects. Not so the case with junior Steele Walker, who has been highly decorated over his college career (Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American, First Team All-Big 12, member of Team USA) and looks to be one of the first college outfielders taken in this year’s draft. Walker hasn’t shown eye-popping power but he’s a contact monster who can put the ball all over the field.
Other than Walker, the big (and sadly, less fun) name at OU is junior Jake Irvin, a 6’6” RHP whose fastball currently sits at 91 but has the frame to add more. He also throws a nice changeup and a slider that’s a work in progress, but both pitches show interesting movement and there are good raw materials to work with here. RHP Devon Perez was drafted last year by the Angels but opted to return for his senior season; as one of the top senior arms available, he should do significantly better than his 21st-round selection last year. Both Dylan Grove and Austin Hansen performed well on the Cape this year, and there are a handful of other under-the-radar prospects on a team rich with veterans who might hear their names called sometime during the draft.
The Cowboys got raided in the 2016 MLB draft, with 11 picks (shoutout to Mariners prospect Donnie Walton; he, A’s prospect Collin Theroux, and Astros prospect Tyler Buffett all represent the Cowboys selected by AL West teams from that year); that number went down to 6 in 2017, with many picks opting to return to school, but the majority of the losses came from the pitching staff, meaning OSU currently boasts a fairly young staff and not a ton of draftable depth. Carson Teel was drafted last year by Boston in the 27th round but chose to return for his junior season; his Twitter bio describes him as “a short lefty on a mission,” a telling statement on the emphasis on height in today’s pitching environment (Teel is 6’1”). While he works primarily out of the bullpen, Teel has been making more appearances as a starter this year with strong results, including a complete game performance against Kansas State. While not physically imposing, Teel has a funky delivery with significant deception and can spot his fastball anywhere; he’s a bulldog on the mound. Jon Littell (who hits a three-run homer in the embedded video of Teel’s complete game) is a tall outfielder with a powerful stroke from the right side; he was also drafted last year, by the Nationals in the 39th round, but opted to return for his senior season. Oregon transfer Matt Kroon was also drafted last year in a late round (30th, by the Phillies) but the infielder returned for his junior year, as did JUCO transfer Carson McCusker (Brewers, 26th round), an outfielder who stands 6’8” and boasts an advanced approach at the plate and solid athleticism.
Nowhere was the MLB draft harder on a program than Texas. A whopping fifteen Longhorns or future Longhorns were selected in the 2017 MLB draft, with 11 current players opting to sign pro contracts. As one might imagine, the remaining pickings are extremely slim. The most intriguing name is probably Nolan Kingham, a RHP named to the preseason Golden Spikes award list and third-team All-American and the de facto ace of the Longhorns’ staff. However, Kingham has been scuffling this year, at one point being scratched for violating team rules, and his numbers aren’t as strong as in previous years. One player who will probably hear his name called is Kody Clemens, son of Roger and brother of Kacy, drafted last year by the Blue Jays, who sure love them some legacy players. (There is another Clemens in baseball: Koby, currently a coach in the Astros organization.) Texas closer Beau Ridgeway wasn’t drafted last year despite being eligible and appearing on a watch list for the Stopper of the Year award; he landed there again on the preseason watch list, and although his ERA isn’t quite as sparkling as it’s been in past years, over 35 innings he’s struck out 20 batters and only walked 3.
Staff ace and potential first-rounder Steven Gingery was diagnosed with a torn UCL in February and will miss the entire 2018 season. Last year’s Big 12 Player of the Year might still have his name called on draft day, but as a junior he can return to school if he wants another season with the Red Raiders. RHP Davis Martin has had his own share of injury troubles that led to an ineffective 2017, but at his best he can throw his sinking fastball to both sides of the plate for strikes and generate lots of ground ball outs, as well as plenty of strikeouts: so far this year he’s collected 56 in just 46 IP.
Already in the midst of a disappointing season, TCU was dealt a blow this week when it was announced draft-eligible standout and Golden Spikes watchlist member Luken Baker will have season-ending surgery after fracturing his fibula. The junior masher will still hear his name called at some point during the MLB draft; the question is when, and if he’ll secure an offer commensurate with his talent. After a rough 2017, defensively-talented outfielder Josh Watson is bouncing back this year, and may continue to shine as TCU’s top offensive player now that Baker is out. On the pitching side, redshirt junior Jared Janczak also found himself on the Golden Spikes watchlist this year following a sensational sophomore campaign; he throws one of the filthiest sliders among starters in college baseball. Rotation-mate Sean Wymer has also collected his share of accolades; the junior transitioned to the rotation this year from the bullpen and has continued to dominate with his mid-90s fastball. Closer Durbin Feltman is another one to keep an eye on, with a fastball that regularly sits 97 paired with a nasty slider.
Devin Foyle is a former Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American who can hit for some power, even as a switch-hitter, and play a nice corner outfield. He’s hitting .577 at the time of this writing and has been the Jayhawks’ biggest offensive threat at the plate.
Blake Goldsberry is a tough long reliever whose numbers have steadily improved over his KU career; if he doesn’t go this year, he’s a good candidate as a senior selection next year. JUCO transfer RHP Taylor Turski is a lefty grinder who earned an All-Big 12 honorable mention last year, and Zack Leban is a junior from Sammamish who’s posted solid numbers.
Richard Cunningham was eligible for the draft last year but went unselected despite being, per Fangraphs, one of the predicted better bats available in the Big 12. He’s a consistent offensive force in Baylor’s lineup and has earned accolades for his work both on the field and in the classroom.
Junior outfielder T.J. Raguse is probably Baylor’s other significant prospect; he’s off to a hot start this year, batting .326. Baylor also has not one, but two draft-eligible, defensively gifted shortstops in Josh Bissonette and Tucker Cascadden, although neither are significant offensive forces. Junior JUCO transfer Cole Haring was drafted by the Orioles last year in the 37th round but opted to head to Baylor, where he has struggled to repeat his JUCO success. As for pitching, senior Troy Montemayor was named to the preseason Stopper of the Year award list; he has already recorded 8 saves on the season.
Probably the most interesting Mountaineer is Braden Zarbnisky, a two-way player who was a John Olerud Award finalist last year and first team All-Big 12. Shortstop Jimmy Galusky also earned a mention to the Brooks Wallace Award watch list, given to the nation’s best shortstop, for plays such as this:
Great play by Jimmy Galusky as Kessler throws a 1-2-3 6th inning with a pair of strikeouts.— WVU Baseball (@WVUBaseball) April 3, 2018
M-6, NU 6, WVU 5 pic.twitter.com/gErFG6u6kT
K-State is more known for its football program (‘sup, Tyler Lockett); their SB Nation site doesn’t even cover the baseball program, but shoutout to their excellent coverage of track and field. While there are some intriguing underclassmen here and probably some draftable seniors, this shouldn’t be a big year for Kansas State in the draft.