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 Big West conference, where the Mariners have been active under GM Jerry Dipoto. The Mariners snagged an entire battery out of Long Beach State last year with RHP Darren McCaughan and C David Banuelos, since traded to the Twins, and dipped into the conference again for LHP Orlando Razo from UC Davis. Mike Marjama and former Mariner Boog Powell, while not drafted by the Mariners initially, are also former Dirtbags, and our own Good Boy Mitch Haniger hails from Cal Poly (Go Mustangs).
Alex McKenna is the big name here and in this conference overall, a plus athlete and a power threat Baseball America tabs as the #2 prospect in the conference and their preseason player of the year. The toolsy outfielder also gets high marks for character and leadership, making him an ideal match for the Mariners, but after a highly productive senior season, might find himself a late first-round pick, caught after the Mariners pick but before the pendulum swings around again for their next pick. More attainably, catcher Nick Meyer, Baseball America’s #4 pick in the conference, has always been a strong defensive catcher, but a renewed patience at the plate this year has seen his strikeouts plummet as his average has shot up. Shortstop Kyle Marinconz is built a little like Jean Segura and has been hitting like him too, without the power but with a much better walk rate.
Cal State Fullerton
The premiere arm in the conference belongs to Colton Eastman, Baseball America’s Pitcher of the Year for the conference and the #1 preseason prospect. Eastman pounds the zone with a 93 mph or better fastball, a plus changeup and a developing curveball. Eastman isn’t Fullerton’s only weapon on the pitching staff, however; Andrew Quezada possesses a mid-to-upper 90s fastball, but needs development to miss more bats. Brett Conine, BA’s #6 prospect in the conference, has dazzled scouts at times with a mid-90s fastball, and other times sat in the high 80s/low 90s. RHP Blake Workman says he models his career after former Mariner and namesake of the award for the best pitcher in D2 baseball, Brett Tomko (the inaugural award being won by the M’s own Dan Altavilla). With 58 Ks in 49 innings against just 15 walks, it seems like Workman takes the comparison to heart. On the offensive side, outfielder Ruben Cardenas was drafted by the Marlins out of high school in the 37th round but chose to attend school, where he’s shown good speed on the bases.
Cal State Northridge
CSUN is still home to catcher Trevor Casanova, drafted by the Mariners in the 14th round last year, but who elected to stay at school. Casanova has been named a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award, so it was probably smart of him to stay at school and see if he could get a little more paid. There are a couple more interesting players here like Nolan Bumstead (!) or Justin Toerner, but I must direct your attention to one large son in particular. Albee Weiss doesn’t have a name you’d expect from a power hitter, but the senior righty is a huge source of raw power and has already knocked 18 HRs this year. Have a look at the size of this lad:
Albee (sorry, absolute units are only allowed to be called by their first names) is in a tough place defensively, as he’s a backup catcher to Casanova and mostly DHs, because duh, dingers. That might push him down in the draft but look, my dude has a chest like one of those ice machines outside of a convenience store, and he would be incredibly fun to watch mash dingers all summer long in Everett. Also, he prides himself on being a creative person—his brothers all work in Hollywood—and he’s a film major who’s working on a screenplay about a baseball player. DRAFT ALBEE.
Despite temperate climes, Hawaii isn’t known as a hotbed of baseball talent—the list of MLBers from the Aloha State isn’t particularly long, although it does feature talents like Shane Victorino, the Wong brothers (Kolten and Kean, who hasn’t yet made the majors yet), and Rangers breakout player Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Even fewer have come out of the University of Hawaii, although the Mariners’ own backup catcher, David Freitas, is an alum. RHP Jackson Rees, a JUCO transfer, is on his first healthy year after missing the previous seasons due to injury. His numbers are a little dampened by that but he’s got the prototypical pitcher’s body at 6’5”, and has been the beneficiary of an arm slot change that’s helped his fastball velocity jump up to 93. He’s also got a power sinker and a cut slider. Catcher Kekai Rios had a strong summer on the Cape and is following that up with a monster junior year, including a hitting streak that set a school record. Rios doesn’t have a ton of power but the hit tool is crazy; he reminds me a little of Eric Filia, working from a solid base, protecting the plate, and walking almost as much as he strikes out. RF Adam Fogel doesn’t look huge, but he’s been one of the Rainbow Warriors’ biggest bats this year, tying Kolten Wong’s record for most HRs in a single season. Right-handed hitters at Hawaii who show power are especially impressive because there’s a hard crosswind they have to fight to their pull side.
Also, his nickname is “Google” because apparently he’s a know-it-all and a bit of a sass bucket. I love him. Any of these players could hear their names called on Day Three.
Long Beach State
The top prospect here according to Baseball America is 2B Jarren Duran, whose speed some scouts have hung a 70 on. A conversion to CF isn’t out of the question. He’s basically there already:
ICYMI, Jarren Duran over the shoulder for @LBDirtbags Friday night!— Big West Baseball (@BigWestBaseball) May 5, 2018
Dirtbags at @UCR_Baseball in Game 2 on WatchESPN with @TrentRushSports and Kennard Jones, 6pm PT.#GoBeach #BWCBaseball #PlayBig ⚾️ pic.twitter.com/dpmE70ncsv
The 6’2” lefty showed well on the Cape this past summer, and packs some punch in his bat that’s extended by his ability to turn singles into doubles. His speed also translates into elite stolen base numbers; he reminds me of a post-swing-change Ian Miller. Senior shortstop Laine Huffman sustained a shoulder injury that put him out for the season back in February; he’ll probably redshirt and return for another year. The Dirtbags also have several intriguing pitchers: Eli Villalobos is a converted catcher who’s new to pitching and a project, but shows some promise, and closer Chris Rivera is also draft-eligible. Lefty Clayton Andrews is my personal favorite, though: standing just 5’6”, Andrews just gets it done with some plus breaking stuff and an ability to locate low in the zone, earning Conference Pitcher of the Week honors three weeks in a row. He has over 100 strikeouts to just 17 walks in 90 IP so far this season. And if that’s not enough, he’s a two-way player who’s batting over .300 and plays outfield on the days he’s not pitching. The Dodgers took him in the 40th round last year but he opted to return to school; perhaps they’ll chase their two-way player again this year.
UC Santa Barbara
Junior RHP Noah Davis was listed as Baseball America’s #3 prospect in the conference before TJ ended his season. Infielder Clay Fisher is also a TJ survivor; in his first year of working his way back from the procedure he’s posted even better numbers than in his first three seasons. Tommy Jew is a center fielder with plus speed and tools who can also play infield and profiles as a potential super-utility player, although it would sure be a shame to lose out on plays like this:
UC Davis/UC Irvine/UC Riverside
These schools are a little less talent-rich than their conference-mates. UC Riverside’s Hazahel Quijada played for the Corvallis Knights this summer, where he held down a relief role, same as he does for the Highlanders. His teammate Trenton Toplikar has moved into a starting role this season where he’s excelled; as a RS sophomore, Toplikar will probably look to stay on for another season and improve his draft stock. UC Davis’s Ryan Anderson is posting his best numbers yet as a junior and can play anywhere on the diamond.