C – Erik Ostberg
1B – Casey Baker
2B – Ben Prada
SS – Ben Bengtson
3B – TJ Ward
OF – Toby Handley, CJ Krowiak, Andrew Casali
The only tier one player in the conference this year is Erik Ostberg, a hitting machine with a strong arm behind the plate and solid speed on the basepaths. The man is currently hitting an even .500, so any questions about his bat can be referred right back to that nice round figure. I feel a little bit about Ostberg as I do Drew Ellis of Louisville. In both cases, the bat is so appealing that I’m willing to overlook some of the defensive questions. If Ostberg can catch — I think he can, for what it’s worth — then he’s a slam dunk top hundred prospect for me (probably…I shouldn’t say things like that without actually beginning to set up a board). If he can’t, then he’s strong enough with the stick to remain a viable prospect somewhere lower (first base, presumably) on the defensive spectrum. I’m all-in on Ostberg.
In almost any other year, a player like Hunter Dolshun would get the honors as top catcher in the conference. Again, it may be a bit too early to make such broad proclamations, but I feel good about the claim that Dolshun is one of the physically strongest players in his class. You know you’re getting that tremendous strength, plus raw power, and a patient hitter when taking a shot on Dolshun. You may or may not know what you’re getting defensively; some I’ve chatted up are sold that he can make it work behind the plate while others think he’s a little too stiff. I think he’s good enough back there, but, really, it may not matter all that much depending on how far he drops. At some point in the draft you know you’re getting imperfect prospects and I think that’s the range when Dolshun will likely go off the board. Can he catch? Don’t know for sure, but I’ll sure as heck not stress about it either way once he slips past the first few rounds (or later if a team doesn’t buy him as a high-value senior-sign in rounds eight/nine/ten).
I know little about both Christopher Bec and Zack Bright, but both had the kind of draft year production that gets you on the radar. Evan Harasta, Jason Agresti, and David Real are all quality mid- to late-round options as well. Harasta has more power than he’s shown, Agresti is a good albeit too aggressive hitter, and Real, a transfer from Arizona, shows strong control of the strike zone.
Casey Baker gets the nod over some stiff competition in an unusually deep year of America East first base prospects. Justin Yurchak is the clear 1b to Baker’s 1a, but the latter narrowly edges out the former on the basis of slightly more interesting raw power. You really can’t go wrong with either pick, though. I’ve long been a fan of David MacKinnon for similar reasons (hit tool, approach, athleticism, defense) while also being a little wary of him going forward for the same potential fatal flaw (lack of pop for the position). I’m more excited to take natural hitters with some power upside rather than huge power guys without much of a clue how to consistently make contact, so keep that potential bias in mind as you peruse my rankings.
Ben Bengtson (1-1 potential if draft standing was based on likelihood I spell your name wrong between now and June) has a long history of big offense with more than enough athleticism and bat speed (plus a fine approach) to give confidence he’s more than beating up on inferior pitching. The high level of certainty he sticks at shortstop — as close to a lock as it gets in this college class for me — is icing on the cake. Ben Prada takes second base based on the two sweetest words in the English language; I couldn’t find any other noteworthy 2017 America East middle infielders outside of Prada, Bengtson, and Paul Rufo, but I’m open to suggestions if you know of anybody I’m missing. TJ Ward could belong with that group if a team believes he can play shortstop in the pros. I like him best at third, clearly.
I know I’ve referenced this before, but I can’t help but do it again.
Toby Handley has always been known as a quality runner who could catch and throw in center field. His senior year power spike is something smart teams should be looking into as much as feasible this spring. Change in approach? Change in swing? Change in body? Or just a combination of a smaller sample and advanced age working in concert to inflate his output? I don’t have the answers yet. In the past I’ve been incredulous about big senior season jumps like this (.089 ISO to .235 ISO), but I randomly happened to look back at what I wrote about Garrett Stubbs, a huge pro favorite at the moment, when he was a senior at USC. I had the same questions about his senior year power boost; no two players follow identical developmental paths so maybe this isn’t as instructive a flashback as I’d like to think, but so far so good with the “realness” of Stubbs’s growth. Handley isn’t Stubbs 2.0, of course; I’m just saying that dismissing a senior year bump, something I’ve done too readily in the past, can cause you to miss out on some pretty good players. Don’t sleep on Handley just because he’s a senior is the overarching message, I suppose.
Andrew Casali hasn’t made quite the same senior season power gains — if anything he’s showing less this year — but he offers a similar package of speed and defense in center field. Casali also makes a ton of contact and has a keen awareness of what constitutes a ball vs a strike. Everything good about Casali applies just as easily to CJ Krowiak. A pre-season FAVORITE, Krowiak is an easy plus runner and defender in center who is both a sensational athlete and a true student of the game. I think the best is yet to come for him.
Other prospects that received consideration…
C – Hunter Dolshun, Christopher Bec, Evan Harasta, Jason Agresti, David Real, Zack Bright
1B – Justin Yurchak, Jamie Switalski, David MacKinnon, Andrew Gazzola, Brendan Skidmore
2B – N/A
SS – Paul Rufo
3B – N/A
OF – Connor Powers, Tyler Schwanz, Colby Maiola, Nick Campana, Collin Stack