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2019 Mariners draft preview: Big 12 draft-eligible prospects

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There’s plenty of first-round talent in what’s historically been one of the top conferences in college baseball.

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Arkansas vs Texas Tech Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

As we close in on the 2019 MLB Draft, which takes place June 3-5, we’re taking you through draft-eligible ranks conference-by-conference. We’ve tackled the behemoths that are the SEC and ACC, and today, we dive into the traditionally strong Big 12.

Baylor

Widely considered to be the #2 backstop available in this year’s draft, Bears C Shea Langeliers is expected to go off the board within the top 20 picks of the draft. He’s received glowing reports about his defensive abilities, gunning down 70% of would-be base-stealers as a sophomore last season. His bat has rebounded nicely in 2019 following a down sophomore season as he’s slashed .318/.388/.493.

While he may be available to the Mariners at the 20th pick, it would be a bit of a surprise to see the club use their first selection on him considering they made a high investment at the position last summer, but considering Cal Raleigh doesn’t necessarily profile as a slam dunk defensively, it’s not impossible to imagine the organization taking a flier on a guy that’s considered as safe as it comes defensively.

Leading the charge for Baylor’s offense while manning the hot corner is INF Davis Wendzel, who has posted an OPS of 1.147 while swiping 11 bases. He elected not to sign with the Red Sox after being chosen in the 37th round of last year’s draft, and while he struggled through 41 games on the Cape last season, his hot hitting for Baylor this year may force some scouts to forget about that. C/1B Andy Thomas has swung a hot bat since stepping on to campus in 2017, and his .351/.434/.520 slash line this year may just be his ticket to getting drafted. A 6’2” 210lb left-handed-hitter, he hasn’t hit for as much power as you’d like for a first baseman, but it’s not hard to imagine a team grabbing him and hoping he can stick behind the dish. Baylor has also received noteworthy contributions on offense from junior college transfer OF Cole Haring, who leads the team in both home runs (nine) and RBI (40) despite his slight 5’10” 185 frame.

On the pitching side, the Bears have leaned heavily on what’s been a lights-out bullpen in 2019, led by closer Kyle Hill. A 5’10” right-hander, Hill posted walk rates north of 5.0 BB/9 in each of his first three collegiate seasons before cutting that number to just 3.0 BB/9 this season. The increased control has paid dividends, as he’s yet to allow an earned run through 27.1 innings this season and is sporting a 0.70 WHIP. The Mariners have made a habit of getting production out of undersized relievers during the Dipoto era, so Hill very much could make sense as a later round pick.

Hopes were high for 6’3” 190lb LHP Cody Bradford entering the season, and he was living up to the hype through three starts before being shut down for the season due to undergoing surgery to his throwing shoulder. Should a team believe in what they saw from him last season and during in impressive pair of starts during Cape Cod League play last summer, he could earn an early round selection similar to Steve Gingery, who was selected in the fourth round by the Cardinals last June despite missing nearly his entire junior season after previously being projected as a first-round pick.

Texas Tech

Rated by most outlets as the top position-playing prospect in the conference, 3B Josh Jung has made a habit of punishing Big 12 pitching over the last two years. After winning the conference’s Freshman of the Year Award in 2017, he was named First Team All-Conference in 2018 and is well on his way to earning that honor again in 2019 as he’s slashed .355/.491/.634 with nine homers, 49 RBI, 45 walks, and 31 strikeouts. There’s somewhat mixed reviews regarding his defense at the hot corner, but there’s little question about his bat, which projects for 25+ homer power in the bigs. The Mariners would no-doubt love to add his talent to what may well be the shallowest position in the system, but it’s looking more and more like he won’t be available when Seattle is on the clock with their first pick.

Manning the infield corner opposite of Jung has been 23-year-old senior 1B Cameron Warren. Warren opted to return to Baylor after being drafted in the 39th round by the Yankees last summer and has made notable improvements at the plate this season. Through 48 games played, he’s slashed .347/.444/.665 with 13 home runs and 65 RBI while walking 30 times to just 19 strikeouts. Red Raiders CF Gabe Holt has showed off a skillset that could earn him a Day 2 selection (rounds 2-10), slashing .322/.413/.426 with more walks than K’s. Most impressively however, he’s stolen 25 bases this season after swiping 29 bags last year as a freshman. Lefty-hitting 2B Brian Klein has been an on-base machine of the likes Jerry & Co. have been known to take a chance on in the past. After running a 3:17 walk-to-strikeout ratio as a freshman in 2017, he bumped that to 39:36 last year and now 39:23 this season. He hasn’t done much in the power department—he’s hit just one home run this season—but has hit for average throughout his entire career, including both times he’s played summer wood bat ball.

Texas Tech’s top draft-eligible pitcher has been RHP Caleb Kilian, who returned to Tech despite being selected in the 20th round last June. He’s got the prototypical ace body at 6’4” 180lb and has been known to touch as high as 96mph with his heater. He also throws a good change-up, a fair slider, and so-so curve. He’s significantly lowered his walk rate this season and it now sits at just 2.1 BB/9 in this his first season as a full-time starting pitcher. With a 7.1 K/9 strikeout rate, he’s failed to miss bats at the level you might expect, but a team will certainly take a gamble on him and see what he can produce with a pro-level coaching staff. Righty John McMillon is another interesting arm here, although he walks too many batters even while striking out 73 in 63 innings.

Oklahoma State

While there’s a handful of guys on the Oklahoma State roster that have put him interesting power numbers this season, they mostly come with major flaws that keep them from cracking this list. Likely the team’s top draft-eligible prospect comes in the form of lefty reliever Parker Scott, who has posted 10.9 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 through 31.1 innings. RHP Ben Leeper has also showed promise, striking out 12.5 per nine, but he’s not without flaws. He’s struggled badly with his control this season, posting a walk rate of 6.4 BB/9.

West Virginia

The Mountainieers are home to one of he most appealing pitching prospects in this year’s draft, RHP Alek Manoah. At 6’6” 260, he’s one of the larger pitchers you’ll see, making it a bit of a surprise that he’s also a leading candidate for Pitcher of the Year honors. After occasionally showing off interesting skills through his first two seasons, he’s been a star all season long and is currently sporting a line of 1.89 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 12.0 K/9, 2.2 BB/9. He couples a mid-90’s heater that can climb towards 97mph with a slider and maintains power and command of the zone late into his starts.

Manoah shares a rotation with one of the only pitchers who rivals him in size on the mound, 6’7” left-hander Nick Snyder. And Snyder hasn’t just rivaled him in size either. He’s posted 14.0 K/9 through 48.1 innings, but has also posted a 4.3 BB/9 mark. His 2.05 ERA and 1.04 WHIP are just a tick behind Manoah’s marks, although he’s pitched roughly half as many innings. He’s always been able to rack up strikeouts, posting nearly 15 K/9 through six games during collegiate summer ball last season. His struggles with walks were worse at that time as he surrendered 22 walks in 28.1 innings before seemingly getting things straightened out in 2019.

TCU

The expected highest-selected arm in this year’s draft is a product of Texas Christian University, LHP Nick Lodolo. The 6’6” uses a clean and easy delivery to produce a mid-90’s heater with sink, a tight low-80’s slider, and an above-average change-up. He elected not to sign with the Pirates after they used the 41st overall selection on him back in 2016, instead honoring his commitment to TCU, where he has posted K/9’s near 11.0 both this season and last. A La Verne, California native, he’s made noticeable improvements this season, cutting his walk rate to 2.1 BB/9 and his WHIP from 1.40 last season to 0.98 this year.

The expectation is that he’ll go off the board within the top 10 picks, meaning that barring injury, the Mariners shouldn’t have a shot at him.

The Horned Frogs have a pretty interesting prospect on the offensive side of the ball too in 1B Jake Guenther, who joined the team this year after spending his first two collegiate seasons at Sacramento City College. During his time on the JUCO circuit, he slashed .316/.465/.419 through 94 games, stole 16 bases, walked 84 times, struck out just 38 times, but hit just three home runs. The lack of home runs and crazy walk totals may be a sign that opposing pitching rarely gave him anything to hit more so than an indicator of a lack of power for a couple of reasons. For one, Guenther swatted eight homers in 68 games with a wood bat during collegiate summer Northwoods League ball. Additionally, he’s gone deep eight times in 49 games for TCU this season despite facing much more challenging pitching in the Big 12 than he did at the JC level. The 6’4” 230lb slugger has slashed a team-leading .366/.486/.589 with 37 walks and 21 strikeouts while going a perfect 11-for-11 in stolen base attempts.

Apparently 6’6” left-handed pitchers grown on trees down in Forth Worth, Texas because Brandon Williamson makes it two out of TCU that are expected to be drafted early in next month’s draft. Like Guenther, Williamson spent two years on the junior college circuit, working around some walk issues while consistently producing dominant performances at North Iowa Area Community College. Since choosing not to sign with the Brewers, who selected him in the 36th round last June, he’s posted rates of 10.0 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9 while running a 4.21 ERA and 1.50 WHIP through 62.0 innings spanning 13 starts.

His typically low-90’s heater can reach up to the 94-95mph range at times and joins a slider, curve, and change-up as a quartet of unpolished pitches that all have room to develop.

Switch-hitting TCU left fielder Josh Watson is another returning drafted player for the Horned Frogs, who’s had strong season after being selected in the 35th round last year, also by the Brewers. The 5’11” 195lb senior sruggled badly on the Cape last summer, running a 36.7% strikeout rate, which was a bit of a surprise considering he’d never eclipsed even the 20.0% mark in any of his first three college seasons or during his 2017 Cape Cod season. That mark is all the way down at 12.0% this season as he’s walked more frequently, doing so at a 12.6% clip. He’s hit seven homers and stolen nine bases while slashing .316/.425/.513.

Oklahoma

Unlike last season when the Sooners produced nine drafted players including ninth/first overall pick OF/QB Kyle Murray and second-round OF Steele Walker, there’s little to be excited about on this year’s OU squad.

Arguably their most draftworthy player, LHP Braidyn Fink, will miss the entire 2019 season due to a torn UCL after an impressive 2018 sophomore season during which he posted a 1.71 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 12.0 K/9, and 3.9 BB/9 in 28 appearances out of the Sooner bullpen. Fink continued his impressive performance into an appearance in the Cape Cod League before being shut down due to his injury. Considering how much his draft stock has taken a hit on account of his injury, he’s more than likely headed back for another season at Oklahoma.

Kansas

The star power the Jayhawks have so routinely produced on the hardwood hasn’t quite carried over to developing top-tier baseball talent in recent years, but there’s at least two guys on this year’s squad that can expect to hear their names called on draft day(s).

At 6’4” 190, RHP Ryan Zeferjahn is considered a high-upside pitching prospect more for his projectability than his track record, although he’s taken another significant step forward in his development this season. His delivery looks fairly low-effort and he utitlizes a 34 arm slot that can almost drop down to sidearm at times. He couples an upper-90’s fastball with what’s described as a power slider that sits in the mid-80’s and is considered a plus offering. He’s filled out his frame during three years at Kansas and has posted 11.1 K/9 this year, albeit with 4.8 BB/9 while posting a 3.70 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. It’s looking like neglecting to sign with Tampa Bay after being drafted out of Seamen High School in 2016 was a good call.

The lone real appealing prospect on the other side of the ball for the Jayhawks is C/1B Jaxx Groshans, who is the older brother of 2018 #12 overall pick Jordan Groshans. The elder Groshans brother has taken a significant step forward this year as he’s slashed .330/.460/.585 with 11 home runs, 44 walks, and 38 strikeouts. The breakout at the plate comes on the heels of a so-so 25-game stint in the Cape Cod League during which he showed a little pop and strong plate discipline. His late blossoming at control-the-zoneesque approach may make him a solid mid-round selection for the M’s as they look to continue to add depth at the catcher position.

Kansas State

The lone standout draft-eligible player on this year’s Wildcats ballclub has been junior OF Will Brennan. His production this year has actually dipped a bit over his freshman and sophomore seasons, but his line of .297/.378/.431, 4 HR, 30 RBI, 13 SB, 10.7 BB% and 4.7 K% is nothing to sneeze at. He struggled through 39 Cape Cod League games last summer as well, so it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see him return for a senior season in one last attempt to boost his draft stock.

Texas

The biggest star currently on Texas’ roster actually hasn’t played this season due to a season-ending Achilles injury he suffered on a motorized scooter back in January. SS David Hamilton would likely be slated for Day 2-consideration for June’s draft had he not been forced out of action. As a sophomore in 2018, he slashed .291/.404/.445 with five home runs and swiped an impressive 31 bags without being caught. The native Texan spurned the Los Angeles Angels in 2016 when they selected him in the 26th-round but he instead chose to honor his commitment to the Longhorns. He’ll likely be drafted real late by somebody, but expect him to return to college next season.

Also drafted in the 2016 draft—in the 22nd-round by the Yankees—was RHP Blair Henley, who has been a dependable arm since stepping onto campus. His 2.0 K/B ratio this season is a career best, so there’s little to be excited about in the strikeout department, but teams always seem to find a justification to select 6’3” right-handers.