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Draft-Eligible D-II Prospects, 2018

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Taking a look at some lesser-known names

MLB: San Diego Padres at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

So far we’ve covered the draft-eligible players from the major conferences in some depth; as we press into these later days of the draft, we’ll take a look at a few Division II players worth knowing. Each year, between 30-50 D-II players are drafted, and the Mariners usually account for at least a few of those picks. Last year they took Austin Hutchison out of Mt. Olive, Connor Hoover out of North Georgia, and Ryan Garcia from Point Loma Nazarene University; most notably, big-league reliever Dan Altavilla is a product of Mercyhurst University. Generally, teams tend to draft arms out of D-II schools more than bats, although last year the Pirates took Bligh Madris as an exception to that rule (and also a personal favorite of Kate’s, who introduced her to Palauan baseball). Here, we profile just a few of the names that have gotten a little draft buzz or stood out to us in our research. We’ve divided the picks up by region, which has involved a lot of googling of where Augustana College is, anyway.

Note: we had originally profiled Josiah Gray, from Le Moyne and largely considered the best arm in D-II, but he was a Day One selection, going to the Reds in the second round at pick 72.

Mid-Atlantic/Northeast:

RHP Chris Vallimont, Mercyhurst University

Mercyhurst University has been a factory for draftworthy pitching as of late, and this year is no exception. The Lakers boast the DII strikeout leader for the 2018 season in RHP Chris Vallimont, who ran a rate of 16.5 K/9 on his way to becoming the school’s all time single season strikeout leader with 147. The overpowering right-hander proved to be more than just a flamethrower, as he demonstrated enough control to limit the free passes to just 2.8 BB/9. The 6’5” 235lb hurler follows in the footsteps of MU alum Dan Altavilla in being a student of Driveline, and it’s paid off, as he appears to have a good shot to be the first DII guy off the board. Other draftable arms from Mercyhurst include junior righty Russell Lamovec, who struck out 66 batters in 48 innings of work this year with a sub-3 ERA, and junior lefty Matt Minnick, who garnered a ton of preseason accolades coming into 2017 before suffering an injury. He’ll most likely take this as a get-right year and be drafted next year as a senior. Senior catcher Drew Delsignore is also one to watch here; he’ll likely get a bump in visibility as scouts have been out to see the pitchers.

1B/3B Jared Melone, West Chester University

The accolades stacked up this year for the 6’1” righty: ABCA/Rawlings First Team All-American, CCA Second Team All-American, NCBWA Second Team All-American, PSAC East Athlete of the Year, ECAC Player of the Year, D2CAA All-Atlantic Player of the Year, NCBWA All-Atlantic Region Player of the Year, First Team All-PSAC, NCBWA First Team All-Region, CCA All-Atlantic First Team, First Team All-ECAC, ABCA/Rawlings All-Region. I guess that’s what happens when you lead all of D-II in batting average (.469) with double-digit HRs and doubles for a Bondsian slugging percentage of .743. And it’s not like he was beating up on weak competition; West Chester plays in a fairly tough PSAC with Millersville and powerhouse Mercyhurst. Unfortunately, I can’t find any video of him other than this very faraway shot of him hitting a grand slam last year.

SS Alec Craig, Chestnut Hill College

A year after leading the Griffins in runs, hits, and stolen bases, Craig led this year’s squad in hitting (.403), on-base percentage (.520), slugging (.698), walks (38), and stolen bases, more than doubling last year’s total with 47 in 44 games. His 47 swiped bags led all of D-II, and he was caught just once. Here’s a video of him on...well I’m not exactly sure what...but skip to 2:40 to listen to the young man talk shop.

He’s a bit undersized, but as we saw on day one of the draft, if a guy can hit, teams will take a shot on them regardless of size.

LHP Dan Wirchansky, Pace University

The NCAA D-II ERA king threw up a 0.71 ERA and 0.57 WHIP through 51.0 innings for the Setters in 2018. The highlight of his season came back on March 4 vs. Dominican when he fanned 16 in a perfect game, one of three complete games he threw on the season. The southpaw also managed to hold opposing hitters to a .140 average on the season while walking just 0.9 BB/9 and posting a sterling 11.1 K/9.

Giovanni Dingcong, OF, St. Thomas Aquinas

After a breakout performance last year, Dingcong wasn’t able to replicate his double-digit homer season, and continued to strike out at an alarming clip. That being said, when he does make contact, he can absolutely obliterate baseballs. Look at this mammoth tater:

He’s also a legit corner outfielder with a strong arm who takes solid routes and plays with a little bit of swag. The senior is well-worth a flier in the later rounds of the draft, and I just feel like baseball NEEDS Giovanni Dingcong. I’d rather watch him than Tebow, that’s for sure.

Frank Moscatiello, St. Thomas Aquinas

Moscatiello was the pitcher throwing a CGSO saved by Dingcong’s leaping catch above. In 80 innings this year, he struck out 78 while walking 46 with a 2.69 ERA. The senior righty is just 5’9”, but his fastball sits in the low 90s and can get up to 94, thanks to a strong, muscular frame that is Altavilla-esque.

Eli Nabholz, RHP, Millersville

I wrote up Nabholz last year and noted that while the junior had strong strikeout numbers (93 Ks in 78 innings pitched), his walk rate wasn’t sterling and as someone who works with a low-90s fastball, he had to improve that. This year the 6’6” righty isn’t striking batters out at quite the same clip (92 Ks in just over 90 IP), but he’s cut down his walks rate while shaving almost a full run off his ERA.

Southeast:

Jake Anchia, C, Nova Southeastern

Baseball America calls him the best defensive catcher available in D-II baseball, and he also happens to have a penchant for hitting dingers:

RHP David Lebron, University of Tampa

Tampa has a history of producing solid D-II arms and Lebron fits that mold. At 5’11”, Lebron might not seem like an imposing figure, but if you’ve been missing former Mariners prospect and strikeout king J.P. Sears, the other Lebron might be your new pet prospect. As a sophomore he ran a K/9 of over 10 over 90+ innings while issuing just 27 free passes for an ERA around 2.5; this year, he’s punched all those numbers up some, running a K/9 of almost 13 while dropping his ERA closer to 2. He earned First-Team All-America and South Region Pitcher of the Year awards for his work this year. Another interesting arm at Tampa is Cole Aker, a 6’2” UNC transfer. The hard-throwing righty can hit mid-90s and pairs that with a 76-78 curve. He has big strikeout numbers, with 9.2 K/9 in 46 IP, and the control issues that plagued him at UNC seem to have regressed, as he’s gotten his walks down to just 23 in 46 IP.

1B Zack Shannon, Delta State University

Delta State 1B Zack Shannon might not hear his name called until day two—or perhaps even day three of the draft this year, but he’s surrounded by plenty of day one company as one of 25 finalists for this year’s Golden Spikes Award. The JUCO transfer set a school record by belting 31 home runs in 2018, and added 93 RBI on to his .406/.504/.955 batting line, but those numbers look a whole lot better considering the right handed hitter showed off good plate discipline as well, running a 35:27 BB:SO rate. While most of those numbers will likely fall when he’s facing more advanced pitching, the slugger demonstrated enough bat-to-ball skills to draw interest from big league scouts and should be the first D-II position player off the board.

Luke Cureton, Belmont Abbey

The power-hitting senior outfielder led D-II baseball in doubles (24) and knocked double-digit home runs en route to being named Conference Carolinas Player of the Year.

Charlie Hecht, Georgia College

Hecht is an interesting player—he’s the career strikeout leader at Georgia College and an NCBWA All-American (and first team All-Academic), but his long-term goal is to work for an MLB team in baseball operations. After graduation, the senior is planning to become a grad assistant for the athletics program while working on his Master’s in Business Administration.

Midwest:

Tyler Jandron, Northwood University

I wrote up Tyler last year, back when the best footage I could find of him was him pitching off a makeshift wooden mound in an ice rink. Midwestern prospects, bless them. A finalist for the 2017 Brett Tomko award and the GLIAC Pitcher of the Year both last year and this year, and winner of the ABCA/Rawlings Midwest Pitcher of the Year this year, maybe this will be the draft someone takes a chance on the 6’2” lefty who has posted incredibly consistent numbers over both his junior and senior seasons. (Apparently the Pirates had him out for a predraft workout recently.)

Grant Wolfram, LHP, Davenport

Wolfram is a 6’7” lefty, which is appealing enough in its own right, but he struck out 95 in 69 IP this year. He’s sold out a little for strikeouts—last year he had 100 Ks in 93 innings—with a resulting spike in ERA as he works in the zone more, but there are a lot of raw tools here to develop. If he doesn’t get selected this year, he could be an excellent senior signing next year, especially if he can find a happy balance between his big K numbers and allowing runners on base.

Drake McNamara, OF, Southern Indiana

In a one-week span this spring, McNamara had 18 ABs, during which he collected 10 hits, eight of them home runs. Always a strong hitter, McNamara hit a different level this year, with 17 HRs, 25 2Bs, and 3 3Bs for a Bonds-ian slugging percentage of .743. He was named the Midwest Region player of the year in addition to a First-Team All-American. McNamara isn’t the biggest guy, but he has a quick, efficient load that translates to excellent bat speed. Even with a metal bat, the thump is impressive:

Jacob Blank, Augustana

Jacob Blank is my (Kate) favorite D-II prospect this year. The all-time strikeout leader for Augustana, Blank was also the NCBWA D-II Pitcher of the Year for 2017. He’s followed that up in 2018 with K:BB ratio of 100:11 with an ERA of 1.98 over 72 IP. Blank has basically won every award there is to win, and carried Augustana to a D-II championship this year. The pitching program at Augustana is sneaky good; Mark Moriarty, the pitching coach there, is a Driveline affiliate who was instrumental in getting a Rapsodo machine to help his pitching staff, and posted this cool image of Blank’s high-spin slider:

Here’s a link to a no-hitter Blank threw last year; his breaking stuff has a really sharp bite. Honestly I’d be happy with them drafting Blank and hiring Moriarty as a pitching coach for one of the affiliates. Clinton isn’t that far...

Dalton Roach, Minnesota State

The 2017 Brett Tomko Award winner hasn’t been able to replicate his success as much this year, posting an ERA twice that of his sterling 1.56 from last year. He also collected 128 strikeouts last year in 86 IP; this year, both his strikeout ratio and innings pitched numbers fell, to 86 strikeouts in 71 innings. The good news is his walk rate has remained mostly consistent, but it’s hard to wonder if there wasn’t some injury issue plaguing him this year.

Southwest:

1B Luis Amaro, West Texas A&M

West Texas A&M Luis Amaro may not have a standout hit tool for the DII level, but an advanced approach at the plate that led to a nationwide best 55 walks combined with a .329 batting average to prop up a .492 OBP. That type of discipline is something the Mariners have made no secret in trying to instill top to bottom in their organization, so using a late pick on a guy who already has a strong grasp of the C the Z philosophy makes a lot of sense.

Western:

James Smith III, OF, Central Washington

GNAC’s Player of the Year and CWU’s Male Team Leader of the Year, Smitty Three Sticks posted a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage this year while batting .386. and knocking double-digit home runs along with 20 doubles. He doesn’t strike out a lot and takes plenty of walks.

C Mikey Gangwish, Colorado School of Mines

So apparently that’s a real school. Gangwish, who I personally think is a sleeper for this year’s edition of the All-Name Team, might prove to be a diamond in the rough for whichever team excavates the lefty-swinging catcher/mechanical engineer. In addition to slashing .373/.443/.825 and belting 24 homers, the junior backstop has received accolades for his work behind the dish as well, receiving numerous accolades for his defense over the past two seasons. The Mariners just recently showed an organizational value in having a left-handed hitting catcher to compliment the more common right-handed backstops, and Gangwish likely wouldn’t require a huge investment in the way of draft capital. His 17:38 BB:SO rate may raise some concerns about his offense, but he should have his defense to fall back on even if he does prove to have some swing and miss in his game.

Kyle Leahy, Colorado Mesa

Like Mercyhurst, Colorado Mesa is a D-II powerhouse for pitching. It starts with the 6’5” Leahy, who had an outstanding 2017, going 13-0 with a 1.41 ERA and 96 strikeouts to 13 walks in 108 innings. He hasn’t been quite that electric this year, with a 7-2 record and a much more pedestrian 85:17 K:BB ratio in 86 innings. He’s also a smart cookie, posting the highest GPA on the team. Other draftable names at Colorado Mesa include J.R. McDermott, a six-foot righty who excelled on the Cape with a 2.80 ERA and 25 Ks in 23 innings; and bullpen arm Jake Mielock.

Justin Montgomery, Cal Baptist

The 6’6” righty was an All-Star on the Cape this past summer, which should have offered him enough exposure to hear his name called somewhere late on Day Two or early on Day Three of the draft. Montgomery is mostly in the low 90s with his fastball with a mid-80s slider, and profiles best as a relief arm, with 64 strikeouts over 48 innings pitched this season. Even at 6’6”, Montgomery looks like he could bulk up some, and could develop into a power arm in the bullpen with the right coaching.

RHP Hugh Smith, Whitworth

So this is kind of cheating, as Smith is actually a DIII player, but if Baseball America deems him worthy of writing up, I suppose he’s worth mentioning here. The Sammamish native has had a crazy path to being what BA calls a “candidate to be drafted early on day two” of the draft that almost didn’t happen. Following his senior year of high school ball, Smith wasn’t given the opportunity to play baseball anywhere, and intended to attend University of Washington to study biophysics when he was noticed by then-Assistant Coach at Whitworth C.J. Perry. Between his junior year of high school and his junior year at Whitworth, the Skyline High School graduate gained a whopping 20mph on his heater, topping out at 97mph this past season. He also experienced a late growth spurt, shooting up eight inches and 70 pounds, now standing 6’11” 235lb. He currently lives on a three pitch mix consisting of his fastball, slider, and change that he used to post a minuscule 1.66 ERA this season for the Pirates. Perhaps most importantly, Smith has grown up right in the Mariners’ backyard, attending high school in Seattle and college in Spokane, Washington, meaning the M’s should be well aware of this intriguing prospect.