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 were active in the Big 10 last year, taking two prospects out of Michigan alone (Oliver Jaskie, Johnny Slater, and Bryan Pall) plus Luis Alvarado from Nebraska and Jamal Wade from Maryland.
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.
(Note: Yes, there are 13 schools in the Big 10. No, I don’t understand the college conference system, y’all. Apparently the preferred nomenclature is “B1G.” This feels like it creates more questions than it answers.)
Ako Thomas can do everything well. Ako (Ah-kay-yo) led the Wolverines in batting average (.354), on-base percentage (.462), and fielding percentage (.994) last season, and Baseball America recognized the second baseman before the season as having the best strike-zone discipline and being the best baserunner in the conference. He plays some straight-up Canó-like defense, as well:
No, I mean, for real. The only reason Thomas’s name isn’t tossed around more often is his size—listed at 5’8”, he’s about the size of Oregon State’s Nick Madrigal, although his coach on the Cape this past summer sees a Tony Kemp-style player in Thomas. Outfielder Jonathan Engelmann was drafted by the Twins out of high school in the 28th round but opted to honor his college commitment; he’s collected accolades ever since he enrolled at Michigan, being named to Baseball America’s list of top freshmen, and earning Player of the Week accolades multiple times over a strong junior campaign. On the mound, the options have been thinned considerably (thanks in part to our own Seattle Mariners), but junior lefty Will Tribucher has excellent strikeout-to-walk numbers, and senior RHP Alec Rennard was off to a strong start this year before injuries cost him over a month, but he has posted strong K-BB numbers at Michigan and junior college.
Cole McDevitt lost his job behind the dish to hot-hitting sophomore Eli Wilson, but that doesn’t mean McDevitt doesn’t have chops with the tools of ignorance; the senior was named Best Catcher in the Big 10 last year. He’s got some pop in the bat too, and exhibits excellent strike zone discipline; so far this year he’s walked as much as he’s struck out. The Golden Gophers also have two strong senior value-menu candidates: infielder Micah Coffey played well on the Cape this summer and has earned multiple Player of the Week accolades over his collegiate career, and Toby Hanson hasn’t hit under .300 since he was a freshman and offers some positional flexibility, flipping between first base and the outfield.
The most intriguing player at Illinois also comes with a forest of red flags. A former Michigan Gatorade Player of the Year who threw 93-95 coming out of high school, RHP Luke Shilling was drafted by the Rangers out of high school but opted to go to college instead. He’s struggled with injury and command over his collegiate career, but at 6’5” and with the promise of big velocity, he’s worth keeping tabs on, even if he isn’t drafted this year.
Both Baseball America and Perfect Game tabbed Jonathan Stiever as Pitcher of the Year prior to the start of the season, thanks mostly to his outstanding control. He works with a low-to-mid-90s fastball paired with a solid slider and C’s the everloving heck out of the Z; on the Cape this past summer, in 28.2 innings, he struck out 25 while walking a miserly 2 batters. This year he’s reportedly been up to 97 and recorded a 12-strikeout performance back in March. His draft stock is rising quickly; look for him late in the second round if this keeps up. Matt Lloyd is a true two-way player who can do everything: he provides effective relief on the mound, can play fine defense all around the infield, and is a tough out at the plate who can hit for a little power. Last year he served as Indiana’s closer while also tying for fifth in slugging percentage in the conference. Baseball America tabbed 6’5” outfielder Logan Sowers as the best power hitter in the conference after he slugged .536 as a sophomore, and named Ryan Fineman the best defensive catcher in the conference. Fineman can hit for some power himself, however, in addition to hitting for average.
Ryan Feltner turned down the Blue Jays when they drafted him in the 25th round out of high school, and then proceeded to struggle as a member of Ohio State’s rotation. A trip to the Cape this past summer, where he worked solely as a reliever, unlocked a new version of the 6’4” pitcher; his fastball played up into the high 90s, and he paired that with a sinking split-change that overmatched some of college baseball’s best talents, a fastball and breaking ball combination that Baseball America calls best in the conference. Back in the rotation this year for OSU, Feltner has discovered more consistency as a starter and is an intriguing early-middle-rounds talent. Lefty Connor Curlis might not have the same overpowering velocity, but does an excellent job controlling the zone.
Ohio State RHP Ryan Feltner showed some flashes today, starting out 95-97 and a little out of control then settling 92-94 with a sinker, flashed a solid avg change that improved throughout pic.twitter.com/O6eVJvZx0h— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) February 16, 2018
Following a strong sophomore campaign and an All-Star performance on the Cape this summer, Baseball America bestowed preseason Player of the Year laurels on OF Robert Neustrom, as did Perfect Game. Neustrom went undrafted out of high school despite being named Gatorade Player of the Year for Iowa, perhaps because his college commitment to the Hawkeyes was seen as so strong. The lefty outfielder stands 6’3” with long legs and good speed on the bases and in the outfield; he hits for average, but there might be some power to unlock in his bat as well. Baseball America has him going around pick 150.
Like his teammate Neustrom, Tyler Cropley also turned in a strong performance at the World University Games this summer. The former JUCO standout struggled in his first year at Iowa, but his 2018 season has been a revelation, as he’s already knocked nine home runs and has molded himself into one of the best defensive catchers in the conference.
Riley McCauley has mostly operated as MSU’s closer, where he’s been a strikeout machine; in 2017 he collected 49 strikeouts in 25.2 IP. His 5’11” stature might remind some Mariners fans of dearly departed prospect JP Sears. Infielder Marty Bechina was the Northwoods League HR Derby Champion in 2016, then followed that with a strong summer on the Cape this past year, and has shown developing pop in his bat over his time at MSU.
Two-sport athlete Jawuan Harris is one of the best draft prospects in the Big 10; Baseball America tabs him as the best athlete and fastest runner in the conference. Harris has been suspended multiple times for violating team rules of both the football and baseball teams, which may cloud his status. He’ll still be a high selection in the draft, just maybe not by the Mariners, who have emphasized makeup in past years. Catcher Nick Matera was recently named to the Johnny Bench Award midseason watchlist; in addition to his abilities behind the dish, he has a knack for clutch hitting and has so far collected 39 RBI in 32 games played while hitting for some power.
The Mariners took outfielder-turned-power-pitcher Jamal Wade out of Maryland last year, and there are plenty more appealing Terps this year. Nick Dunn was named Baseball America’s best pure hitter in the conference before the start of the season after winning playoff co-MVP for the Brewster Whitecaps (his co-MVP was none other than Hunter Bishop, Mariners prospect Braden Bishop’s younger brother). The 5’10” infielder has racked up accolades over his time at Maryland, leading to Baseball America naming him the third-best second base prospect in college, and is widely regarded as the best prospect in the conference. However, Maryland’s riches don’t stop there. After a rough start to the season that included a suspension for not meeting team rules, Marty Costes has started to heat up at the plate; he can hit for some power, run the bases well, and use that speed to play plus outfield defense, and Baseball America says he has the best outfield arm in the conference. On the mound, Taylor Bloom (not to be confused with teammate Tyler Blohm) is a senior value buy who’s enjoyed a distinguished career as a Terp; according to Baseball America, he has the best changeup in the conference.
Scott Schreiber is a big, power-hitting outfielder who chose to return to school after being drafted last year in the 26th round. It turned out to be the right choice, as the junior has been absolutely raking this year; he already has 16 home runs and will in all likelihood break the school record before the end of the season. (His home runs go to all parts of the field, too; the power is really something to behold.)
On the mound, Puerto Rico native senior RHP Luis Alvarado has very solid K-BB numbers. 6’4” RHP Chad Luensmann was drafted by the Mets out of high school, but chose to go to college, where he’s been a fixture in the bullpen, earning watchlist Stopper of the Year honors.
Penn State, Northwestern, and Purdue
I’m squishing these three schools together because all three are a little thin on draftable talent and also this thing is like 2000 words long already, I should have split it into two articles, I am Icarus with melty wings. A big thank you to those of you who have read this far. Both Northwestern and Penn State have young teams without much that’s draftable; the best prospect is probably Penn State’s junior outfielder Jordan Bowersox. An injury slowed him down over a breakout sophomore year and he hasn’t quite recaptured his shine from that year, but he still can be relied upon to do good things at the plate, even if he’s not posting the same eye-popping numbers as last year. Purdue has seen its baseball fortunes decline some over recent years, but junior Nick Dalesandro has been a bright spot over his years as a Boilermaker. As a sophomore he became the first Boilermaker since 2011 with 10 steals and 40 RBI. A catcher, Dalesandro was drafted out of high school in the 33rd round but opted to go to college, where for the past two years he’s been named to the Johnny Bench Award watchlist.