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. 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. Last year the Mariners surprised the baseball world by taking sidearmer Wyatt Mills in the third round from Gonzaga; maybe they’ll look locally again 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.
OF/P Jordan Qsar made waves for Pepperdine his freshman season back in 2015 when he slashed .313/.417/.488 in 23 games, but has failed to live up to that promise since assuming a starting gig last season. Named the conference’s #8 draft-eligibe prospect entering the season, he’s picked things back up a bit in 2018, posting a career high 8 HR and 51 RBI while slashing .272/.326/.485. Qsar’s also been leaned on heavily for relief duties throughout his time with the Waves, and his 1.59 ERA and 1.12 WHIP through 17.0 innings this season are his best numbers to date, however his 4.8 K/9 leaves little to be excited about for the right-hander. Redshirt sophomore RHP Michael Mahony has taken a huge step forward in his second season suiting up for Pepperdine, allwowing just one earned run over 16.2 innings, good for a 0.54 ERA to go with his .123 BAA and 0.84 WHIP. He’s increased his strikeout rate by more than 38% from 9.9 K/9 in 2017 to 14.6 K/9 in 2018.
The Gaels have plenty of exciting pieces on their roster, but unfortunately, their top draft prospects aren’t eligible to be selected until next June. Headlining this year’s class would be RHP Nick Frank, who BA ranked the #4 draft prospect in the conference. The 6’2 205lb righty is putting the finish touches on his first season in the WCC after transferring from San Joaquin Delta College, and has been fine, but largely overshadowed by his underclassmen teammates. He struck out just over a batter an inning, but has limited walks (1.7 BB/9) and longballs (0.5 HR/9) en route to a 3.57 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. LHP Ty Madrigal has enjoyed a breakout season transitioning (back) to the bullpen for St. Mary’s as he’s posted a 1.96 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 10.6 K/9. He’s logged 36.2 innings over just 18 appearances, averaging a little over two innings per outing, showing off multi-inning ability that scouts will love with the way pitching roles are evolving in today’s game. The 4.4 BB/9 are a bit higher than ideal, but he’s limited the damage they’ve done to him by allowing just one home run all season. He also had an incredibly impressive summer with the Bethesda Big Train of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Summer League, where he appeared in six games (five starts) and allowed just two earned runs over 32.2 innings. A name to keep in mind for this time next year: Ken Waldichuk. The true sophomore stands 6’4” 230lb. and has been blowing away WCC competition this season to the tune of a 1.44 ERA and 0.89 WHIP and 11.7 K/9 through 81.0 innings.
The Dons reached into the depth of the community college circuit, and came out with a nice find in OF Jonathan Allen, a transfer from Los Medanos Community College, located just two hours from USF’s campus. Allen checks in a 6’3” 200lb, and swings it from the left side, something he’s done quite well in 2018 as he slashed an impressive .340/.410/.533, good for the team lead in hitting and on-base percentage while tying IF Michael Perri for the lead in home runs at seven. After a conversion from infielder to pitcher during his stay at Pepperdine failed, Perri re-found his stroke in the Golden State Collegiate Baseball League where he hit .331 and OPS’d .866 over 124 at-bats. He was forced to redshirt his junior season after transferring to the division-rival Dons but again found success in the summer circuit, batting .365 with seven home runs in 31 games for the Humboldt Crabs of the Far West League. He parlayed his summer success into a breakout season as San Francisco’s everyday second baseman in 2017, slashing .312/.374/.460. He’s bested those numbers so far in 2018, as he’s put up a senior slash line of .337/.380/.539 while hitting seven homers and swiping nine bags. While he hasn’t walked much, he’s shown great bat-to-ball skills, striking out just 17 times in 193 at-bats (7.8%). RHP Thomas Ponticelli has posted a near carbon-copy of his 2017 season in 2018 as he’s posted a 2.76 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 7.3 K/9 through 84.2 innings. He entered the year as the WCC’s #5 prospect, and hasn’t done anything to hurt his draft stock with this performance.
Despite having a pretty successful campaign that has seen them positioned among the top teams in the WCC, the Zags haven’t produced but maybe one exciting draft eligible player this season. RHP Daniel Bies managed to decrease his BB/9 from 5.2 last season to just 1.9 here in his redshirt junior season, and increased his K/9 from 6.6 to 9.4. The 6’8” Redmond, Washington-native showed he can get it done against elite competition as well in the Cape Cod League last summer.
Entering the season, LMU 3B Niko Decolati was expected by Baseball America to compete for Conference Player of the Year, but following a down (by his standards) junior season, that no longer looks like a possibility. That said, scouts will still find plenty to be excited about the 6’1” righty who slashed .320/.426/.432 last season. Decolati has seen all of those numbers dip this year in addition to his stolen base total decreasing and his strikeout rate jumping up to 24.0%. His saving grace might just be his successful campaign in the Cape last summer where he slashed .311/.364/.377 against some of the college level’s top talent. Senior RHP Tyler Cohen has benefited mightily from a switch to a relief role this season, posting a 2.20 ERA and 1.10 WHIP while putting up 10.5 K/9. It’s worth noting he’s logged just 16.0 innings here in his redshirt senior season after missing the 2017 season on account of having surgery.
Pilots RHP Kevin Baker broke out in a big way in 2017 when he posted 11.4 K/9 over 62.0 innings as a sophomore. He’s appeared in just two games this season—March 25 and May 8—going just 2.2 and 3.1 inefficient innings. Assuming he’s been limited due to injury, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him return to school next season to rebuild some draft value, but he’ll likely hear his name called based off the upside he flashed last season. 6’3” left-handed hitting SS Beau Brundage was drafted in the 38th round out of high school in 2015, and may be drafted for the second time next month. In his second full season with Portland, he’s slashed .399/.478/.503 while running a crazy .493 BABIP. His teammate and Vancouver, Washington-native OF Cody Hawken was selected in the 34th round of that same draft, but chose instead to honor his commitment to Portland, and decision that looked like it could cost him big before his breakout junior season. He’s slashing .312/.404/.529 with a career best seven home runs and 16.5% strikeout rate.
USD has produced a plethora of of draft-worthy talent this season, likely to be headlined by OF/1B Jay Schuyler, who is leading the Toreros in hitting. His .343/.413/.495 slash line, 7 HR and 38 RBI are remarkably similar to his 2017 sophomore season when he slashed .352/.405/.521 with 6 HR and 32 RBI. The 6’1” right handed hitter has managed to increase his walk rate to 9.3% this season and has cut his strikeout rate to 12.2%, indicating there’s not a whole lot of swing-and-miss in his game despite hitting for marginal power. He’s a little undersized for a first baseman, so teams will love his experience in the outfield when contemplating how to fit his bat into their organization. LHP Nick Sprengel entered the season as the top draft eligible prospect in the entire conference according to Baseball America following a breakout 2017 that saw him named an All-WCC First Team Selection.
Sprengel’s above-average fastball-slider combination was nearly unhittable out of Team USA’s bullpen over the summer, when opponents were just 2-for-30 against him. His command and changeup still need improvement to allow him to be a starter in the long run. -Baseball America
The southpaw has struggled badly this season however, posting an 11.45 ERA, 2.18 WHIP, 12.0 H/9, and 7.5 BB/9 through 33.0 innings. He’s seen his strikeout rate jump to an impressive 12.8 K/9, but even a mark that impressive is going to be overshadowed by his season-long struggles, and perhaps even cause the junior to return for a senior season in hopes of rebuilding some of his draft stock. 6’3” 200lb RHP Paul Richan has followed up a strong sophomore season with a solid junior year for San Diego, and while his ERA has climbed to 4.62, he’s lowered his WHIP (to 1.25) and BB/9 (to 1.3) while increasing his strikeout rate to 10.1 K/9 over 89.2 innings.
Junior OF Brock Hale, listed at the #3 draft eligible prospect in the WCC, has not disappointed this season, OPSing north of 1.000 for the third straight year. His career slash line through 121 games is now .372/.460/.625, going deep 21 times and collecting 94 RBI. SS Daniel Schneeman was listed as the conference’s #7 prospect, but has disappointed by taking a big step backwards after a pair of productive seasons in 2016 and 2017. The left handed hitting shortstop may benefit from another season in college.
Big bodied 1B Jake Brodt has used a .402 BABIP to increase his batting average by more than 100 points this season, posting a line of .338/.375/.532 and swatting seven homers. His 5.6% walk rate is a bit lower than you’d like for a guy who profiles as a potential three-true-outcomes guy.
While the Tigers lack any standout draft-eligible prospects this year, remember the name of C James Free. The switch-hitting backstop slashed .343/.407/.652 with 14 homers and 54 runs batted in as a true freshman last season, and has been nearly as impressive this season. He’s also caught 12 of 37 attempted base-stealers this season. He participated in collegiate summer league play in the California Collegiate League in 2017, slashing .297/.408/.579 and clubbing 10 homers, showing his offensive game translates even when using wood.