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; now we’ll work through a few of the lower-RPI conferences. The Mariners under Dipoto haven’t selected anyone out of the American Athletic Conference, but the addition of Wichita State to the conference, which has two potential first-rounders this year, has shifted the landscape slightly.
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.
Houston has a pair of intriguing left-handed pitchers who are draft-eligible. Aaron Fletcher has 63 strikeouts in 71 innings pitched after recovering from injury. Trey Cumbie is a command-control lefty with a changeup Baseball America rates best in the conference, along with his control. Joe Davis serves as the Cougars’ cleanup hitter; he was drafted by Tampa Bay in 2015 and will probably find himself selected again after collecting a handful of awards over his college career and knocking double-digit home runs last year. Cooper Coldiron has the coolest name on the team/is actually the barrel-maker/smithy at Colonial Williamsburg.
University of South Florida
The big name here is Shane McLanahan, a redshirt junior LHP who had Tommy John his freshman year but has since rebuilt his velocity into the high 90s, occasionally flirting with triple digits. He’s still refining his command, though, walking too many batters, and it’s fair to classify him closer to “raw with high upside” than “polished college arm.” He’ll almost certainly be gone by the time the Mariners select, but USF offers a stash of other intriguing prospects. Anthony Perez is a fellow lefty in the Bulls rotation who doesn’t have McLanahan’s raw stuff but has a three-pitch mix and can collect his share of strikeouts; if he can be coached to find some consistency with his command, he’d be a valuable multi-inning relief piece. Coco Montes is a true shortstop with a solid hit tool; the Nationals took him in the 35th round out of high school. Outfielder Garrett Zech was tabbed by Baseball America as having the best speed in the class and some scouts have a 70-grade on his speed. The most interesting story at USF is senior catcher Levi Borders, who was on track for a promising college career (named first-team All-Conference his freshman year) before some serious physical ailments sidelined him for two years.
East Carolina University
ECU is a little thin on draftable talent, but Dwanya Williams-Sutton was named by Baseball America as the best athlete in the conference. Drafted by the Reds in the 26th round out of high school, Williams-Sutton went the college route, and while he’s run into some health trouble over his time as a Pirate, the athletic tools are still very much intact:
University of Connecticut
Tim Cate is a LHP who might have the best curveball in the whole draft class other than spin-wizard wunderkind Carter Stewart. It’s a true hammer curve, reminiscent of Paxton’s, although the 6’0/187-pound Cate doesn’t have Big Maple’s size.
Cate has been shut down recently with some arm soreness, which might knock him out of the first round, where many projected he’d go. Still, Baseball America tabbed him as one of the seven best college LHPs in the draft. Fellow lefty and JUCO transfer Chase Gardner has also struggled some with health issues this year, but is UConn’s de facto ace with Cate out. He’s not a hard thrower, but his 6’8” frame and large, strong athletic build promises a little more in the tank. Baseball America named UConn’s Zac Susi the best catcher in the conference after a summer that saw him named a Cape Cod League All-Star, and D1 Baseball has him 9th among college catchers. Although the Johnny Bench watchlist nominee is a defense-first player, he can hit a little too, and if he can bulk up a lithe 6’2” frame, there might be some power to unlock in his contact-oriented bat.
Cincinnati has a lone player on Baseball America’s list of top talents in the conference, and it’s A.J. Bumpass, aka the best name on the team. I love when things like that line up. The Reds took Bumpass as a draft-eligible sophomore in the 29th round last year after a breakout performance for the Bearcats during which he improved his batting average by over one hundred points since his freshman year. Betting on himself seems to have paid off for “Bumpy,” who maintained his improvements, and the former MLB Urban League Ambassador and All-Conference Honor Roll member should hear his name called much earlier this year, much to the delight of the internet.
Central Florida has a rich vein of draftable talent to go along with their record of ten games over .500. Closer Bryce Tucker, who played with Team USA this past summer, has nasty strikeout stuff despite not throwing in the upper 90s.
RHP J.J. Montgomery doesn’t have Tucker’s strikeout stuff, but he does have a solid mix of pitches and has been a dependable arm for UCF.
JJ Montgomery has really settled in for @UCF_Baseball since the 1st pitch HR. Working 92-94 down in the zone. Shown Slurvy SL 82-4, short, hard Cut 89 and a CH at 83. Got a K on CH and 92 FB here. pic.twitter.com/jfJmIVwo9i— Doug Freeman (@DougFreemanPBR) March 7, 2018
JUCO transfer Jordan Spicer doesn’t have Montgomery’s consistency but has been a flexible option out of the bullpen, as has RHP Thad Ward. On the offensive side, Baseball America tabbed defensively-talented and John Jaso lookalike 2B Matthew Mika as being the best baserunner in the class, and INF Rylan Thomas as having the best power in the class. Thomas has cut his strikeout rate significantly while still hitting double-digit bombs to all parts of the field and could be a great early-middle rounds draft value.
Okay first and foremost I need you to appreciate Tulane’s Greenwave mascot:
Awwww, this little wave is so ANGRY! It’s going to RUIN YOUR SANDCASTLE! Or maybe just use its teeny-tiny megaphone to SHOUT AT YOU! Anyway, Tulane’s best prospect is also maybe one of the most under-the-radar prospects in the draft. Grant Witherspoon is a lefty outfielder who stands 6’3” and also has some experience pitching. As a junior, he’s focusing exclusively on hitting and that’s paid dividends for him, as he’s raised his average to .330 and added almost 100 points to his slugging percentage, leading to the much-prized .300/.400/.500 stat line. As a late bloomer in a stacked conference, there’s a chance “Spoon” could slip in the draft, so if he’s not drafted commensurate with his skills, he might opt to return to school to continue to collect accolades.
Wichita State was just added to the AAC this year, bringing some attention with its two potential first-round draftees in Greyson Jenista and Alec Bohm. Jenista was the bigger name early, but Bohm’s consistent play and monster summer on the Cape has driven him to a sharp ascent up many draft boards, with his name even being tossed out as a possible top-5 pick. With his sweet righty swing and easy power, it’s not hard to see why:
The question about the 6-foot-5 Bohm is whether he’ll be able to stick at third or will need to transition to first base, a la Evan White. There’s a slim chance he’ll be available at 14 anyway, and as much as Seattle needs infielders in the system, he doesn’t seem like a total fit, although his even strikeout-to-walk ratio does scream C the Z. Bohm’s “bash brother” teammate Greyson Jenista has been mocked to Seattle in some drafts I’ve read. Jenista is Bohm’s mirror in almost every way: he bats opposite Jenista, plays opposite him at first base (and in the outfield), and the two were both Cape Cod MVPs. Jenista strikes out a little more than his bash brother, but is a little faster. He should be available at 14. On the mound, RHP Codi Heuer has a solid three-pitch mix, with a fastball that sits 92-93, a slider and a change, but needs to work on keeping his pitches from catching too much of the plate. Wichita State also has my favorite pairing of names in college baseball: Gunnar Troutwine and Preston Snavely. Sign me up for that buddy comedy, please.
Jonathan Bowlan’s father was also a pitcher for Memphis, and father and son both find their name in the school’s record books: Papa Bowlan threw the school’s only perfect game, and his son set a school (and conference) record for strikeouts, racking up 18 (!) against a strong USF lineup this past week. Bowlan is 6’6” with a prototypical pitcher’s frame, but what’s inside matters even more: beloved by his teammates and described as one of the nicest people in baseball, Bowlan volunteers time with the Special Olympics in honor of his sister Emily, born with Down’s Syndrome.