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. This week we look at the Missouri Valley Conference, home of powerhouse Dallas Baptist, where the Mariners got power reliever Seth Elledge last year. Wichita State has left the conference this year, with Valparaiso in, so the conference is in a bit of a transition year. This is a conference where the talent is less evenly distributed than other conferences, and the writeups will reflect that.
Dallas Baptist is an affiliate member of “the Valley” for baseball only, and last year had six prospects drafted, all in the first seventeen round. While they probably won’t match that number this year, there’s talent aplenty at Mariners prospect Seth Elledge’s alma mater. DBU has an embarrassment of riches at one of the most prized positions in baseball, offering two legitimate catching prospects: Matt Duce and Garrett Wolforth, Baseball America’s #5 and #6 prospects in the conference, respectively. Duce was drafted in the 14th round by the catcher-desperate Mets last year, but opted to return to school for his senior season, because apparently they do not train dummies at Dallas Baptist. Duce is not the biggest guy, listed at just 5’10”, but he has a powerful uppercut swing that leads to more pop in his bat than you’d expect looking at him. He has a plus arm and has been named to the Johnny Bench Award watch list in the past.
HOME RUN! Matt Duce blasts one to center for his ninth of the season!— DBU Baseball (@DBU_Baseball) May 6, 2018
7-1 DBU B4 pic.twitter.com/DOaal5AW7g
Fellow junior Garrett Wolforth was also drafted, but out of high school in the 33rd round by Cleveland. He earned first-team All-Conference honors last year and has also appeared on the Johnny Bench Award watch list. The key difference between Duce and Wolforth is size: Wolforth is large for a catcher, at 6’4”/220, but he’s also a switch-hitter. DBU also offers a pair of outfielders BA ranks as the #2 and #3 prospects in the conference, CF Jameson Hannah and LF Devlin Granberg. Granberg is a senior JUCO transfer who in his junior year became the first-ever DBU player to win the conference batting title and hasn’t slowed down at all as a senior, slashing an outrageous .431/.538/.649. Hannah had a strong summer on the Cape and has garnered a fair amount of draft buzz both for his bat and his outstanding outfield defense; there’s a good chance the toolsy outfielder goes in the first round as either the highest or second-highest selected player from the conference. The position players are more the story at DBU than the pitchers, but the pitching staff does boast a pair of strong lefties in Kody Funderburk (also first team All-Name) and Jordan Martinson, plus RHP M.D. Johnson.
Jeremy Eierman, recently named to the Golden Spikes Award watch list, is regarded as the top-rated prospect in the conference and a potential first-round selection. A true five-tool player who also plays shortstop, Eierman hasn’t put up quite the offensive numbers he did last year, and has been eclipsed by other quick-rising draft names, but he’s toolsy as all get-out, plays with a little bit of a snarl, and could be the steal of the draft if he somehow falls out of the first round.
Missouri State SS Jeremy Eierman robs Alec Bohm of an infield single in T7. pic.twitter.com/RxQVQ7j6YJ— Hudson Belinsky (@hudsonbelinsky) July 23, 2017
Missouri State also boasts Baseball America’s pick for Pitcher of the Year in the conference, RHP Dylan Coleman. Standing 6’6” with a powerful lower half, Coleman throws a heavy sinking fastball and a slider. The fastball velo is only in the low to mid-90s but the downward plane is sharp enough that batters have a hard time catching up to it. His pitch arsenal suggests a reliever, but the durable-bodied Coleman can absorb innings like a starter. He might be the Chris Devenski Dipoto has been questing after. Another MSU pitcher is Perfect Game’s selection for Pitcher of the Year, Jake Fromson, which I definitely wrote into my notes as “Jake From State Farm” look doing these draft previews is a long and involved process okay, I may or may not have also searched his twitter and decided I want the Mariners to draft him because he is a proud ginger with a solid twitter and a rad girlfriend. But for real baseball reasons, D1Baseball.com listed him in the top 10 of their list of top college relievers, he’s got a powerful sinking fastball, last year he struck out 88 batters in 76 innings while walking just 18, and also sorry not-baseball reasons again he’s got MOVES:
Lefty Triston Polley doesn’t strike out a ton of batters, but he also doesn’t walk many and limits damage on the mound while showing good instincts:
Here's a look at one of those plays in the fifth. Triston Polley bats the liner down and gets the runner at first -- still showed the awareness to look back the runner at second. #MarchOn pic.twitter.com/qEmcEQbUcF— Sycamore Baseball ⚾️ (@IndStBaseball) March 17, 2018
On the offensive side, senior infielder Dane Giesler is batting over .300 with double-digit home runs, none of them cheap:
Here's a look at the three-run home run from Dane Giesler as he puts the icing on a five-run inning for the Sycamores.— Sycamore Baseball ⚾️ (@IndStBaseball) April 7, 2018
Sycamores 5, Bradley 0 pic.twitter.com/D6ynVrhPEe
Infielder Owen Miller is Baseball America’s #10 prospect in the conference. After a standout freshman year during which he collected a heap of accolades, Miller posted almost the exact same slash line as a sophomore. This year, he’s posting almost the same slugging percentage but with a boost of about fifty points on both his average and on-base percentage thanks to a drastic slash in his K%, suggesting a more mature approach at the plate. He can play all over the infield but is currently serving as the Redbirds’ shortstop. Fun fact: in the Northwoods League this past summer, he hit for the cycle—twice—in the span of three games.
If Dylan Coleman is the top pitcher in the conference, senior RHP Michael Baird doesn’t fall far behind. A Colorado native, Baird sports a nasty changeup, as is the hallmark of a Colorado pitcher. He’s had on and off years at SIU, but has worked to increase his strikeouts and control his walks. At 6’5”/210, Baird has the prototypical pitcher’s frame, and he’s been a workhorse over his time at SIU.
Luke Mangieri is a 6’3” lefty-hitting first baseman, but he has a more advanced defensive profile and speed than you’d expect from the cold corner. The tradeoff is he doesn’t currently have typical first base power, although with his frame there’s always a possibility that comes in later, and in the meantime the hit tool is good, he walks about as much as he strikes out, and this year he’s 7-for-8 in stolen bases. The defense ain’t bad either:
When 6'3" leads to a 3-6 DP ... the last of Friday night's plethora of web gems was turned in by Bradley first baseman Luke Mangieri to end the 9th inning. Looking for more great action today at Dozer Park. First pitch for the Braves and @MSUBearBaseball coming up at 2:02p CT pic.twitter.com/hk8Yj8T1nl— Bradley Baseball (@BradleyBaseball) April 28, 2018
Brendan Dougherty is another infielder with impressive numbers who I think is draft-eligible this year, but that also requires me to do math.
Kyle Freeland went to Evansville! And last year they had two players taken in the draft! They are called the Purple Aces for reasons I cannot divine. Also there’s an independent league (Frontier) baseball team called the Evansville Otters, and I need a hat immediately. These factoids brought to you by the fact that the Evansville baseball site is down as I’m attempting to write this, and Evansville landed no players on Baseball America’s list of top players in the conference. Also the last time the UE baseball twitter account tweeted was March 29. (Their header picture is a picture of Kyle Freeland.) I have two names scribbled into my notes, Justin Hayden and Andrew...Tarious? Tavous? Tanous? Unsurprisingly, google is not helping me out. Sorry, Purple Aces.
Valparaiso is in a transition year, joining up with The Valley’s wagon train after years in the Horizon League. However, since their site is working (Taylor Swift side-eye squint at Evansville up there), I can tell you that senior infielder Chad Jacob is having a strong season and lists his favorite musician as Macklemore, outfielder Giovanni Garbella is batting a .300/.400/.500 slash line and has a brother who plays professionally in Italy, and junior pitcher Montana Quigley, in addition to having the most delightful name on the team, was dominant out of the bullpen last year before an injury cost him the rest of the season and this one.