The MLB draft is less than a week away. We’ve been working our way dutifully through all the major conferences, previewing some of the college baseball talent that’s out there, and it’s finally time for us to look at the conference in our own backyard: the Pac-12. Last year, twenty-one Pac-12 players were taken in the first two rounds of the draft, but none of them were selected by the Mariners, despite multiple outlets mocking Oregon LHP David Peterson to Seattle. The Mariners waited all the way until the 33rd round before they snagged Stanford pitcher Chris Castellanos. There’s still Pac-12 talent represented in the M’s system—the most obvious example is Washington alum Braden Bishop—but it’s curious the Mariners haven’t been more active in a conference that is regarded as one of the stronger in college baseball, full of Northwest natives.
The Wildcats boast two potential early-rounds selections in juniors Alfonso Rivas (1B) and Cesar Salazar (C). Salazar plays the more premium position, but Rivas has the higher slash line, at 342/.425/.529. Senior outfielder/utilityman Cal Stevenson is also a potential option; he’s got some speed and can steal bases, and is praised for his leadership. For arms, Cody Deason is the big name after a breakout performance in the Cape Cod League last year. The 6’3” righty has a big, strong frame and posted a 2.87 over 90+ innings for the Wildcats, and pitched at least six innings in all but two of his appearances.
Here’s Rivas hitting a ginormous dinger:
Sadly, the best Sun Devils are not yet draft-eligible, including power-hitting freak with the least power-hitting name Spencer Torkelson, and overall freak athlete Hunter Bishop, older brother of Mariners prospect Braden Bishop. However, there’s still plenty of options on ASU’s roster. Catcher Lyle Lin, drafted by the Mariners out of high school in 2016 (making him the first Taiwanese-born player ever drafted, which is cool), is only a sophomore but is draft-eligible, and is an excellent defensive catcher in addition to bringing a solid hit tool. Connor Higgins was the lone Sun Devil taken in last year’s draft by the Rangers, as a draft-eligible sophomore, but the 6’5” lefty opted to return to school, where he’s been holding down the closer duties for ASU. Things haven’t gone as well for him this year, with an ERA north of 6, so the junior might opt for another year of school. Outfielder Gage Canning is not the tallest player, but he has an eye-popping 11 triples to go along with 9 homers and 17 doubles. MLB Pipeline has him around the top 100 prospects available in the draft. Here he is showcasing both the big power in his bat and the footspeed that had him leading the NCAA in triples:
LEADS. THE. NATION.— Arizona State Sun Devils (@TheSunDevils) April 4, 2018
Gage Canning leads the NCAA with 9 triples!pic.twitter.com/4GougRp1bm
The best player at Cal is Golden Spikes Award nominee Andrew Vaughn, who would give Nick Madrigal a run for best bat in the conference but is sadly only a sophomore. The best draft-eligible player at Cal is Tanner Dodson, a two-way player who owns a career 3.74 ERA and a career BA of .312. This year Cal has used him more as an outfielder/position player than as a pitcher, but he was equally impressive as a two-way player in the Cape this past summer.
UCLA’s pitching staff has a lot of great arms that are unfortunately injured. 6’8” lefty (drooool) Justin Hooper had a standout performance on the Cape this past summer but hasn’t thrown this year; righty Kyle Molnar, who Baseball America tabs as having the best changeup in the conference, had TJ last year and a setback in his recovery this year and didn’t pitch this season; and righty Jon Olsen had his appendix out in January, right before the start of the season, and then took a line drive to the face, fracturing bones in his face, and also missed a good portion of the season. That’s a lot of crummy luck, but at least Olsen was able to come back and collect 28 Ks in 28 innings pitched. Olsen might not qualify for a redshirt season and decide to turn pro if he’s drafted, but my guess is all three return to try to push UCLA a little further up the conference standings after finishing fourth in the Pac-12 this year.
USC is a little light on draft prospects, but it does feature the delightfully-named Lars Nootbar, a 6’3” outfielder who didn’t have his best year offensively but can occasionally get into one, like so:
As was the case last year, Oregon’s top draft prospect this year is a pitcher, righty Matt Mercer. Mercer isn’t the tallest pitcher, at just 6’1”, but Baseball America named him the preseason 52nd best prospect in the draft, the fourth-best in the Pac-12, and tabs his fastball as the best in the conference. He impressed in the Cape Cod League this past summer but has struggled to replicate that success this year. However, with a four-pitch mix including a mid-90s fastball and a plus changeup, he’s an intriguing talent, especially if he falls into the third round or so.
Hit wizard and defensive superstar Nick Madrigal will be long gone by the time the Mariners pick at 14, but several outlets see the Mariners taking outfielder Trevor Larnach at 14. Larnach isn’t as athletic as the Mariners like their prospects, though, is limited to a corner outfield spot, and strikes out more than the Mariners purport to value, so I confess to not seeing a complete overlap, although I would prefer his light-tower power to other college outfielders the Mariners have been linked to. Shortstop Cadyn Grenier makes up the best middle infield in college baseball alongside Madrigal; he’s a lock to stick at the position and is having the best offensive season of his OSU career. Senior Michael Gretler (and Bonney Lake native) will have been drafted three times once he hears his name this spring; he plays 3B for the Beavers, a position that’s perilously thin across the Mariners system, but can play all over the infield. He’s hit a career-high 7 home runs this season. Steven Kwan is the Beavs’ leadoff hitter, and has struck out an astounding 13 times all season while drawing 46 walks. Like many of his teammates, he’s also posting career-high numbers, and he walks up to ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” after hearing it in a CVS because “it makes me feel good, all loosey-goosey.”
There are questions about whether or not LHP Luke Heimlich will be drafted after the story broke last year that prior to coming to Oregon State, he pled guilty to sexual assault of a minor. It’s a complicated story about which much has been written, and it remains to be seen if Heimlich will be taken in the first round (talent-wise, he is undeniably a first-round caliber pitcher), a later round, or not at all. While not replicating the outstanding numbers of his 2017 season, when he posted an ERA of 0.76, Heimlich has pitched well in 2018, with a 2.34 ERA and a K:BB ratio of 139:21.
Stanford boasts two pitchers who each have a legitimate shot at being Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year: LHP Kris Bubic and RHP Tristan Beck. Beck is a solid match for what Seattle seems to prize in pitchers: his fastball sits in the low-90s and his putaway pitch is a devastating changeup, and he’s more known for control and command than for overpowering batters. He’ll probably be a late first-round pick, though, and taking him at 14 would be a big reach. Lefty Kris Bubic might be a more attainable option; he also has a low-90s fastball paired with a changeup and curve, and pitching from 6’3”, he’s able to work low in the zone and get plenty of groundball outs. According to Baseball America, he has the best control in the conference. Position player-wise, shortstop Nico Hoerner has an excellent idea of the zone, striking out just two times more than he walked this season, and while he doesn’t have a ton of power, his hit tool is plus. He’s also showed an ability to hit with a wood bat, as an All-Star on the Cape this past summer.
Washington was one of the surprises of the conference this year, playing well enough to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament. The pitching staff is anchored by junior righty Joe Demers, who threw the first perfect game in Washington program history this year. His fastball sits in the low 90s but he can touch mid-90s with it, and with a big, strong body (6’2”/230) might profile as a power reliever if he can hit that consistently, especially paired with his swing-and-miss slider. A large part of Washington’s success has been the excellent play of its defensive infield, anchored by senior shortstop (and Puyallup native) Levi Jordan, who’s having his best offensive season with seven home runs, more than he hit in his previous three years combined. Jordan’s double play partner A.J. Graffanino is also enjoying his best offensive season, although in limited action; Baseball America named him the best defensive infielder in the conference. Enormous human/occasional first baseman Joe Wainhouse is a Kent native who is listed at 6’6”/250, but looks to be taller and bigger than that. After a slow start, the Great Wainbino knocked 14 homers on the season for a slugging percentage near .600. He strikes out a ton, but since he spent last year pitching, there’s plenty to dream on here.
VIDEO: B3 - Joe Wainhouse mashes his 14th home run and picks up his 50th RBI. He's on a tear in May with 8 HRs and 22 RBI. pic.twitter.com/wGG75AiGb4— Washington Baseball (@UW_Baseball) May 25, 2018
Senior Scotty Sunitsch is a lefty who threw a no-hitter this year, earning national Pitcher of the Week honors. He posted a 74:27 K:BB ratio this season in 80-plus innings with a career-best 3.74 ERA. Sunitsch works with a low-90s fastball and a sweeping slider and throws baseballs with his left hand, making him an excellent replacement for former Washington State pitcher Joe Pistorese, recently released by the organization.
Two years removed from a Pac-12 championship, Utah finds themselves in the cellar of the conference and in some trouble with the NCAA for “impermissible coaching activity.” The program is on probation for a year and the head coach is suspended for the first 14 games of next season. Things aren’t so great for the Utes, but they have plenty of young talent to rebuild around, if things are a little thin as far as draftable talent this year. One interesting names is community college transfer, junior Erick Migueles, who has a knack for clutch hitting, with 36 RBI in 49 games, and shows some pop in his bat: