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2018 MLB Draft-Eligible Prospects: Conference USA

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Getting you ready for the MLB draft conference-by-conference

New York Mets v Washington Nationals
who will be the next Anthony Rendon drafted out of C-USA?
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

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, the SEC, and the Big 12. The logical next step here is to go to the PAC-12, which is next-ranked in terms of RPI and offers a host of tantalizing prospects. However, I’m going to do the baseball writing equivalent of eating my vegetables and get through a few of the lower-RPI conferences first, where the draft prospects are a little harder to see. For comparison’s sake: last year the SEC had 75 players selected in the draft; Conference USA, just 36 in what was regarded as a strong year for the conference. The Mariners did not select anyone out of Conference USA in either 2017 or 2016, but that could change this year.

Disclaimer: There is really no way to scout without actually being there in person to see how a player goes about an at-bat, how a pitcher reacts to adversity; to hear the sound of loud, solid contact or watch how quickly a player hustles back to the field. I’m relying on stat lines, grainy Twitter videos, and word of mouth from people who have seen these players in action, and casting a net that isn’t as fine as I’d like. If there’s someone interesting I’ve missed, please drop a line about them in the comments.

Florida Atlantic University

Rice is probably the most well-known of the C-USA schools for pumping out draft picks, but FAU is probably the richest terrain in the conference this year for draft picks. FAU has a pair of senior pitchers who would be good value buys for a team that spends heavily in the early rounds of the draft. Jake Miednik is a LHP who is a former NJCAA Pitcher of the Year. He struggled some with consistency last season and wasn’t selected in the draft, but when he’s on, he can be a strikeout machine:

RHP Mark Nowatnick also didn’t hear his name called last year after missing the final four weeks of his junior season with a broken foot, but can also rack up the strikeouts working out of the bullpen. Offensively, a couple of names to watch are FAU’s one-two punch of OF David Miranda and SS Tyler Frank. Miranda has the bigger bat (and sports some Tyler O’Neill-esque arm muscles), while Frank brings plus defense at a premium position and was recently named to the midseason Golden Spikes Award watch list.

The most inspiring player in the whole draft might be senior catcher Kevin Abraham, who sat out the 2016 season while battling cancer, and missed time in 2017 after being hit in the face with a pitch and later suffering a broken bone in his hand during tournament play. He was recently awarded Male Athlete of the Year by a local ESPN affiliate.

Southern Miss

RHP Nick Sandlin has been dealing with a sore shoulder this season, but when he’s been on the mound he’s been dominant, and has a strong case to be the top draft selection in the conference. With a fastball that can touch 94, a solid breaking pitch, and an extremely deceptive delivery, Sandlin has one of the best—if not the best—K/BB ratios in all of D1 baseball (87:6 at one point!). These are the kind of things Jerry whispers to himself in his sleep.

Louisiana Tech

Chris Clayton is a JUCO alum who was recently named to the watchlist for the Johnny Bench award. In addition to #catchergrit, he’s also got a strong throwing arm:

Sadly Louisiana Tech’s nearly unnavigable website (irony) makes it hard to scan stat lines for these guys, but Grant Jones, Logan Robins, and Jonathan Parker are all names I wrote down with question marks, and if one of them had a twitter searchable-name I’d try to find more info. Oh, for a Zebulon Vermillion.

UAB

University of Alabama...Birmingham (double-check: NAILED IT) sent three players to the Cape over the summer: SS (and proud Puerto Rican!) Antonio Ralat, INF Carter Pharis, and RHP Tanner Graham. Graham has battled some injuries in his career but has rebounded this year to become a dependable innings sponge, recently throwing a complete game. Senior pitcher Ryan Ruggles might also be an option in the later rounds.

UTSA

Bryan Arias has collected a pile of accolades over his time as a Roadrunner, most recently being named to the preseason All-Conference list. He can hit all over the field, although his power is mostly to the pull side, and plays a nifty infield. Senior catcher Tony Beam has some power in his bat, and handles his duties behind the dish well:

Charlotte

Junior RHP Carson Pinkney is in his first year at Charlotte after transferring from CBCC Catonsville, where he broke the school’s strikeout record with 103 Ks in just 80 innings of work. At a listed height of 5’8”, Pinkney isn’t going to look like an imposing figure on the mound, but his strikeouts ranked third in the nation last year. He’s off to a more pedestrian start this year with just 21 strikeouts in 22 IP and as a redshirt, might take another year to establish himself as a D1 pitcher. Senior RHP Josh Maciejewski has a great K/BB with 66 Ks against 16 walks in 67 innings pitched so far this year, and has a good chance of being Charlotte’s highest-selectd player this year. On the position player side, redshirt junior catcher Harris Yett has been named to the Johnny Bench Award watchlist. Junior Reece Hampton has earned C-USA Hitter of the Week awards, but plays a solid outfield as well:

Middle Tennessee

You might recognize Middle Tennessee as the current home of Myles Christian, who was drafted by the Mariners out of high school last year but declined to sign. He’s having a nice freshman campaign and we will almost certainly hear his name again in a few years, probably much higher than the eighteenth round. As for his draft-eligible teammates, Austin Dennis can do it all—literally, plays all over the field including as a pitcher. In every game he’s played so far this year, he’s only not gotten hits in nine of them, as opposed to 18 multihit games. He’s a base-stealing threat and plays solid defense all around the diamond. On the mound, senior Jake Wyrick is a lefty who’s collected 56 strikeouts in just 43.2 innings who I’d imagine a lock for the org, except he walks a few too many batters.

Rice

Of all the schools in the conference, Rice probably has the most storied history of churning out MLB draft picks. Anthony Rendon, Tony Cingrani, Tyler Duffey, and Jon Duplantier are among the names of recent alum. Ford Proctor, which is a name not an occupation, is probably Rice’s best-regarded draft prospect this year, being named to Baseball America’s Top 100. The SS has a strong arm and is overall a well-rounded player who gets on base all the time and does just about everything well. Catcher Dominic DiCaprio was undrafted out of HS but has collected a string of accolades over his three years at Rice; in his freshman year he was named to the NCAA All-Regional Team, the C-USA All-Freshman Team, and the C-USA Academic Honor Roll; following his sophomore year he played on the Cape, and he’s added power every year. We do love a catcher with an Italian name around these parts.

Marshall

The Marshall offense has been inconsistent this year, but Oregon native Kody Matthews always seems to be doing something good. Catcher Reynaldo Pastrano shows some pop in his bat. On the mound, junior LHP Joshua Shapiro has put up some uneven performances over his tenure, but can collect his share of strikeouts.

Old Dominion

ODU’s offense is led in part by a pair of JUCO transfers. Junior Matt Schwarz lives on base, while Brian Morley, who raked in the Golden State Collegiate League, has slugged five home runs and shown an ability to hit for power to all fields.

The best name on ODU’s squad goes to Jimbo Reemsnyder. I don’t even care what his stat line is, draft him.