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2023 MLB Draft Preview: College Outfielders

A pair of polished college outfielders the Mariners might select towards the top of this year’s draft

Syndication: The Clarion-Ledger
Colton Ledbetter is the real deal
Hannah Mattix/Clarion Ledger / USA TODAY NETWORK

Welcome back fellow draft enjoyers! After last week’s inaugural issue of LL’s 2023 Draft coverage, we officially begin diving into some potential names the Seattle Mariners could be looking at this July. This will be just one of multiple articles covering the college outfield crop, a group that features many tantalizing talents that teams are sure to be intrigued by. Without further ado, let’s kick this series off with the talented Mississippi State centerfielder Colton Ledbetter.

Colton Ledbetter

Colton Ledbetter is a man that punishes baseballs like few others can. Just to preface this evaluation, enjoy this video of perhaps the most outrageous home run swing I have seen in my life. This is so ridiculous, if you told me it was an edited clip, I would believe you and not think twice. I assure you, Ledbetter did this in an SEC game, without the assistance of wind (evidenced by the flag blowing in the video).

Unsurprisingly, Ledbetter hits the baseball just about as hard as anyone in college baseball, with exit velocities reportedly eclipsing 115 mph. Despite this, Ledbetter runs elite strikeout rates, currently sitting at a miniscule 12.3 K% at the time of writing. Just for fun, whenever he’s not putting a poor baseball out of its misery, he’s pretty damn good at watching them errantly miss the strike zone. With a colossal 21.1 BB%, Ledbetter is a seasoned pro at Controlling the Zone, something the Seattle Mariners covet in their draft picks.

You want to know what else the Mariners covet in college players? Summer league production. You want to know who eviscerated the Cape Cod summer league, showing no opposing pitcher an ounce of respect nor mercy? Colton Ledbetter. Posting a truly absurd slash line of .339/.482/.615/1.098 with a wood bat against some serious competition, Ledbetter laid waste to the Cod league and left little doubt that his talents would play at the highest level. Once a Samford Bulldog, Ledbetter has proved that regardless of the level of competition he faces, he will dominate.

For good measure, Ledbetter can currently play centerfield and has a shot to stay there. He could end up shifting to a corner and see his defense tick up a notch or two, but the bat plays anywhere on the field comfortably and the instincts are there. With good foot speed, Ledbetter should be able play a solid centerfield in his professional career and continue making plays like this.

Did I mention he’s stolen 15 bags? With a third of the season left, mind you. He’s truly got it all.

In all honesty, I feel a team will likely select Ledbetter before pick 22 and perhaps save some money in the process. That said, should Ledbetter be available for the Mariners to select (which many major outlets believe is a real possibility), I would have no issue with their first selection being the centerfielder. I believe Ledbetter has tremendous potential with a considerable floor and would be the perfect start to revitalizing the farm system.

Nolan Schanuel

Nolan Schanuel is a special hitter. I know that the term “special” gets thrown around a lot in prospect evaluations, but I truly cannot think of someone that produces at the level that Nolan Schanuel produces at. For effect, I would like to show a few collegiate stat lines from the last few years...

  • Henry Davis, 1st overall selection in 2021 - .370/.483/.663/1.146
  • Spencer Torkelson, 1st overall selection in 2020 - .340/.598/.780/1.378
  • Adley Rutschman, 1st overall selection in 2019 - .411/.575/.751/1.327
  • Nolan Schanuel - .455/.602/.911/1.513

Now, obviously comparing statlines in college is not a fair or complete way to evaluate a prospect. Strength of competition, run environment, and many other factors contribute to differences in stat lines. That said, an OPS over 1.500 does not happen by accident. There is not a bad hitter that can do that, regardless of the strength of your competition.

Schanuel is an outfielder for the recent March Madness darlings Florida Atlantic University. With a rhythmic, controlled swing that features high hands and a large leg kick, Schanuel’s mechanics mimic batting principles commonly taught in Asian countries such as baseball powerhouses South Korea and Japan. While many may scoff at Schanuel’s “unique” swing and say it would never work at the highest level, know that just because his swing may look unorthodox to American fans doesn’t mean it won’t work.

I really cannot stress enough how unreal Schanuel has been at the plate. A 12/35 K/BB ratio (no, those numbers aren’t backwards) is the product of one of the most advanced approaches in the class. An excellent eye for the strike zone doesn’t cause Schanuel to get passive, however, something that can frequently happen to hitters looking to take a walk.

I wouldn’t call Schanuel a premium athlete by any stretch of the imagination, however he has been able to steal 9 bags this year. The 6’4 210lb Schanuel has frequented both the corner outfield spots as well as first base, and many have already relegated him out of the outfield. I’m not so sure. While I’m not going to claim he can be a plus fielder, I also don’t think he shouldn’t be given a shot to play the outfield. He’s got a good arm and some foot speed, giving him at minimum a shot to play a good corner outfield, particularly if you’ve got someone like Julio Rodriguez patrolling centerfield.

Ultimately, you draft Schanuel for the bat. Schanuel is sure to be one of the faster moving prospects in the draft class and has been flying up draft boards thanks to his gaudy production. The Mariners have a real shot at selecting Schanuel, and if they were to take him at 22, they would likely be able to save a bit of money and perhaps splurge on one of the numerous prep shortstops we’ll cover at a later date. It may seem ridiculous to spend a first rounder on a potential first baseman, but I assure you it is not. This bat is special, and has a legitimate shot to contribute to a Mariner roster in 2025, maybe even a playoff push in 2024.

That concludes this week’s edition. Check back next week for a few more names roaming the outfields of college ball, each with their own unique profile and first round potential.