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, as well as the 12’s, both Big and PAC. Today, we introduce you to the finest talent the American Athletic Conference has to offer.
The alma mater of WSU Cougar great Gardner Minshew has been something of a baseball powerhouse for the last two years. At 40-12, they’re currently a top 10 team in the nation with LHP Jake Agnos leading the charge from a pitching standpoint. Measuring in just a hair under 6’0”, Agnos racks up strikeouts using an arsenal consisting of a fastball that sits in the 92-93 range, a nasty 12-6 curve, and a mid-70’s change-up. His 12.2 K/9 in 2018 were accompanied by an unwelcome 5.4 BB/9, but he’s improved those marks to 13.5 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9 here in 2019. In his singular Cape Cod League outing last summer, he struck out 10 in six shutout innings.
The driving force of the Pirate offense =has been junior 1B Spencer Brickhouse, who leads the club with 12 home runs and 42 walks. At 6’4”, he’s the anti-Evan White (hits lefty, throws righty) and has been a consistent contributor throughout his three-year career, OPSing at least .884 with 10 homers in each season. He had a rough Cape Cod season last summer, but his .331/.473/.623 line this season will go a long ways towards making some clubs forget about that.
OF Bryant Packard has led the draft-eligible ECU players in hitting, slashing .355/.446/.559 in what can only be considered a down season by his standard after he finished sixth in the nation in hitting last season when he slashed .406/.462/.671. He’d make for a solid Day 2 pick for the M’s if they want to keep the churn of talented outfield bats a’movin’.
RHP Trey Benton is another 6’4” right-hander which alone can almost get you drafted these days. He’s set for an innings decrease for the second time in a row after working exclusively as a starter as a freshman, splitting his time fairly equally as a sophomore, and now working almost only in relief this season. His strikeouts are up to a personal best at 10.2 K/9, but his walks are up a bit from his days as a starter, sitting currently at 3.3 BB/9. If the club is looking to beef up on stout right-handed relief arms and/or late bloomers, they should look no further than redshirt senior RHP Evan Voliva, who has been seriously impressive in his first full year back in action following Tommy John surgery in 2017. He logged just 4.0 innings in 2018, but in 31.2 innings of work this season, has posted a 3.13 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, .193 BAA, 12.8 K/9, and 3.4 BB/9. He also fanned 18 in 10.0 shutout innings on the Cape last summer while walking three and surrendering just two hits. He’s got an intriguing arsenal that consists of a low-90’s heater that is complemented by a curve a change that both feature impressive movement.
The Green Waves have been fueled entirely by their offense this season, although one player has stood out head and shoulders above the rest. After taking a step forward last season—one in which the Griffith, Indiana native proved valuable but only enough-so to get drafted in the 35th round—3B Kody Hoese has blossomed into a legitimate Golden Spikes Award candidate here in his junior season. In addition to leading the nation in total bases, he also ranks in the top four in both home runs with 23 and slugging percentage at .789. Most importantly for a guy with gaudy numbers like that, he’s not plagued with strikeout issues, posting a 37:29 walk-to-strikeout ratio through 55 games this season. Reports regarding his defense vary, but the power produced by his 6’4” frame has receive buy-in by many, and his seven homers with a wood bat during collegiate summer ball in 2018 are another mark in his favor. He should be near the top of the draft board around the time the Mariners are on the clock, and Jerry hasn’t exactly been discreet in recognizing late-blooming collegiate players as the new market inefficiency. Assuming Texas Tech 3B Josh Jung is off the board by the Mariners’ pick, it wouldn’t be a shock to see them grab Hoese to address the shallowest position in the farm system if they believe he can stick at the hot corner.
There’s little in the way of draft buzz surrounding 23-year-old 1B/OF Grant Mathews, but he’s been excellent for the last two years at Tulane, slashing .321/.395/.535 with 34 walks and 34 strikeouts while swatting 14 homers, 10 of which have come this season.
The talent hasn’t translated to the college level, but there’s a reason that LHP Garrett Schoenle was drafted in the 30th round coming out of high school in 2017. A 6’5” southpaw, there’s a lot to like about his game including his 10.2 K/9 as a draft-eligible sophomore, but the walks have been a huge issue for him. Through 61.0 career collegiate innings, he’s walked an astounding 58 batters, good for 8.6 BB/9. His report card undoubtedly states “could benefit from being held back”, but he could certainly be worth a late-round flier.
We’ve seen some impressive skills out of the Cougars’ leading draft candidate 3B Jared Triolo over the last three years, capped by a .332/.420/.512 season in which he’s homered seven times, swiped 13 bags, and walked more than he’s struck out. He’s proven he can get it done with a wood bat and against some of the top pitching the college circuit has to offer. He’s received positive reports regarding his defense at the hot corner, and has been praised for his opposite-field mentality when at the plate. Both Baseball America and FanGraphs have him rated in the 110-150 range, so he could make for a nice Day 2 pick to address a serious position of need in the system.
Manning the corner opposite of Triolo has been 1B Joe Davis, who pretty much looks exactly how you’d expect. The 22-year-old former catcher is Houston’s all-time leader in home runs with 53—18 of which have come this season—and has actually made strides to improve his walk and strikeout rates to the point that his ratio favors walks at 43:36 this season. He’s not listed on any pre-draft boards, but his production seems to warrant at least a late-round pick. At the very least, this dude is maxing out his slow-pitch softball team’s home run allowance within his first three at-bats someday soon.
The Huskies have been able to post a fairly successful season this year despite having few standout players. A highlight of their ballclub can be found in the bullpen where RHP Jacob Wallace has been nearly untouchable. Through 26 appearances, he’s logged 35.0 innings and been stingy with walks, hits, and earned runs allowed posting a 0.77 ERA and 0.74 WHIP. He’s taken a huge step forward from his sophomore season when he posted solid strikeout numbers, but struggled with walk issues. This year, he’s posted 13.6 K/9 and cut his walks to 2.1 BB/9. He uses a mid-90’s heater and tight slider to bury opposing hitters, just as he did on the Cape last summer, where he posted 25 strikeouts, just five walks, and didn’t allow an earned run through 13.2 innings pitched.
Uconn’s most dependable starting pitcher has come in the form of LHP Mason Feole, who has taken a slight step backwards but still been solid after a huge sophomore season that likely would have made him a Day 1 draftee had he been draft-eligible. In 2018, he made 16 starts and piled up 120 strikeouts, besting rotation-mate Tim Cate, who was selected 65th overall and is second to the great Ljay Newsome in all of Minor League Baseball in strikeouts. He got off to a late start this season as a result of a strained shoulder, but has made 12 starts, posting a line of 3.22 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 5.2 BB/9. He was impressive during two Cape Cod League starts last summer, so he seems like a good gamble sometime on Day 2; however it wouldn’t be a shock if he looks to turn in one last healthy season in college before seeking out a hefty payday.
On the position player side, junior SS Anthony Prato has flashed an interesting hit tool and strong plate discipline, walking far more than he’s struck out (37:22) and slashing .309/.438/.411 but has gone just 13-for-23 in stolen base attempts.
This will be the last chance for Golden Knights 2B Matthew Mika to hear his name called at the MLB Draft, and as a senior with little leverage in negotiations, it wouldn’t be shocking if a team snagged him late on Day 3. Here in his final season, he got his walk rate (16.1%) up over his strikeout rate (12.2%) for the first time, and has improved his slash line to .317/.441/.495. He’s also posted new career-highs in runs, (51), home runs (nine), RBI (33), and stolen bases (29) in 2019. He’s also got a whole ton of flow.
Catcher-turned-first baseman Joe Genord has been slugging for the Bulls since 2017 and has managed to get his walks and strikeouts in alignment here as a senior. After eclipsing the 1.000 OPS mark for the first time last season, he’s slashing .333/.446/.618 this year, making him another strong candidate for a Day 3 selection.
The lone standout on the last place Shocker ballclub has been 2B Luke Ritter, who elected to return to the other WSU after being selected by the Twins in the 37th round last summer. The choice appears to have been a wise one as he’s improved nearly across the board on offense, slashing .336/.458/.555 this year while hitting nine homers, swiping 12 bags, and posting a 34:37 walk-to-strikeout ratio. An organization looking to add middle infield depth may turn to Ritter at some point on Day 3.