C – Evan Skoug
1B – Jake Scudder
2B – Cam Warner
SS – Orlando Garcia
3B – Garrett Benge
OF – Tanner Gardner, Austen Wade, Garrett McCain
C – Renae Martinez
1B – Hunter Hargrove
2B – Michael Davis
SS – Matt McLaughlin
3B – Travis Jones
OF – Kyle Davis, Jon Littell, Patrick Mathis
I’ve been all-in on Garrett Benge since his freshman season at Cowley County JC. That’s what hitting .539/.636/1.017 with 48 BB/11 K will do for you. He’s since hit well in two seasons as a Cowboy while also adding two quality summer showings in the Texas Collegiate League and on the Cape. Needless to say, I’m still very much in on Benge. He’s got a shot to be a decent enough defender to remain at the hot corner with the requisite above-average power and obvious plate discipline to play everyday. I really, really like Benge. If you miss out on Jake Burger in the first or second round, then Benge later (round five?) is the way to go.
Travis Jones and Bret Boswell, both of Texas, are multi-position defenders who project best (in my view) at third base in the pros. Jones is one of my favorite unheralded players in this class. He’s a phenomenal athlete who can play just about any position on the diamond if needed. His size (6-4, 220) and strength should allow him to continue to tap into his raw power and his comfort level as a hitter seems to increase with every trip to the plate. My notes on Boswell include the phrase “if he’s healthy, watch out.” So far so good on that front in 2017 as Boswell has delivered with career best numbers across the board. Boswell, as good an athlete as Jones even with his very different build (5-11, 200), is viewed as a shortstop by some teams more willing to allow a guy with average tools to handle the spot. I think both guys have sneaky starter upside if it all works out — higher ceiling for Jones, arguably a little more floor with Boswell — and both would be draft targets for me, though I have no feel at all for how big league teams value these guys at this point.
I don’t have much in my notes on Brylie Ware with the exception of three different variations along the lines of BRYLIE WARE, Brylie Ware (?), and B. Ware (7/17/96 DOB) – find out more. So it’s pretty clear that the me of December really wanted the me of May to do some investigative work on Brylie Ware. May me still doesn’t know a lot about Ware, but the little he has heard has been positive. I’m in on Ware if signable. I also still like Elliott Barzilli as a potential utility option even with an underwhelming senior season that has to be explained away. Don’t sleep on Quintin Crandall, who has been an effective hitter and versatile defender (SS and OF), either.
Jake Scudder feels like the type of college first baseman who has a shot to “come out of nowhere” in pro ball as a mid- to late-round college veteran bat who just keeps on hitting at every stop. Picking him out of an unusually strong group of first base prospects wasn’t easy as arguments for Kacy Clemens and Hunter Hargrove, both seniors like Scudder, can be made.
Sometimes, timing is everything. Finding a hook for what to write about Orlando Garcia was easy after having just written about Kevin Smith last week. Check their college numbers to date…
.278/.366/.456 with 59 BB/127 K and 16/22 SB
.266/.334/.451 with 57 BB/121 K and 15/21 SB
Top is Garcia, bottom is Smith. The raw totals are a tiny bit misleading because Garcia has had over 100 PA less than Smith so far, so despite the similar career BB/K marks that difference amounts to a 21.7 K% and 10.1 BB% for Garcia as opposed to a 16.7 K% and 7.9 BB% for Smith. Still, pretty damn similar three years worth of production, right? The tools aren’t all that dissimilar either. In fact, everything written about Smith below applies to Garcia as well..
For starters, he’s a rock solid defender at shortstop with easy above-average range and sure hands that allow him to make damn near every play hit near him. He’s got enough arm to handle throws deep in the hole and athleticism to get to them in the first place. That strong defensive foundation makes him a worthwhile follow off the bat. He becomes even more interesting once you factor in his true above-average raw power, a rarity for a middle infielder at the amateur level even in the age of tool inflation (something I’m guilty of, I admit).
Other shortstops of note include Matt McLaughlin and Ryan Merrill, both steady gloves with enough bat to profile as potential utility infielders. Not bad!
Evan Skoug has been scorching hot of late. Clearly being left off of my top ten college catcher list at the end of March lit a fire under him. Skoug’s strong run has allowed his current season numbers (.282/.382/.508) to catch up to his 2016 totals (.301/.390/.502), but the red flag that is his mounting strikeout total looms large. Skoug went from 34 BB/47 K in 2016 to his current 28 BB/64 K totals. A project for the summer that I’d love to research would involve looking at the BB/K ratios of every college player drafted since I started this site. It’s such a rudimentary way of looking at a hitter, but damn if it doesn’t seem to correlate with professional success. Off the top of my dome, the only successful college turned professional hitter with more strikeouts than walks in his draft year is Aaron Judge. Fine, you’ve twisted my arm. A very quick look at first round college hitters since 2009…
AJ Pollock, Dustin Ackley, Josh Phegley, Yasmani Grandal, Christian Colon, Michael Choice, Anthony Rendon, Joe Panik, Kolten Wong, CJ Cron, Mikie Mahtook, Jace Peterson, Stephen Piscotty, Mitch Haniger, Travis Jankowski, Kevin Plawecki, Richie Shaffer, Deven Marrero, Kris Bryant, Phil Ervin, Colin Moran, Trea Turner, Michael Conforto, Kyle Schwarber, Alex Bregman, Andrew Benintendi
Those are the guys who had more walks than strikeouts in their draft year. Now here are the players who were first rounders with more strikeouts than walks in their draft year…
Tony Sanchez, Brett Jackson, Grant Green, Gary Brown, Bryce Brentz, Mike Olt, Kyle Parker, George Springer, Jackie Bradley, Mike Zunino, Tyler Naquin, Aaron Judge, Hunter Dozier, Hunter Renfroe, Dansby Swanson
The BB > K group (26 players) has combined for 95.6 bWAR to date. The K > BB group (15 players) has combined for 20.5 bWAR to date. The mean for the BB > K group is 3.7. The mean for the K > BB group is 1.4. The best first round college hitters since 2009 by bWAR have been AJ Pollock (15.9), Kris Bryant (15.3), Anthony Rendon (12.4), George Springer (12.2), and Yasmani Grandal (9.9). The top three by bWAR are BB > K guys. Five of the top six by bWAR are BB > K guys. Eleven of the top thirteen by bWAR are BB > K guys. Sixteen of the top nineteen by bWAR are BB > K guys. You see where I’m going with this. It’s an obvious point, I’m sure, but obvious points aren’t necessarily bad ones.
The “problem” with this research is that it limits our player pool to first round picks only. A lack of time and knowledge — is there a simple way to sort an entire draft class by any ML stat out there because the best I can find is the awesome B-R tool, but even that limits you by either team, position, or round? — makes this attempt incomplete at best. Maybe I’ll mess around with all this again in the slower summer months.
Anyway, all of this is a long way of saying that Skoug’s BB/K ratio is problematic. Sort of. He was never going to be a first round pick, so he wouldn’t have fit in with the groups above. Still, I think it’s fair to extrapolate some with the data we have and wonder if a hitter like Skoug can succeed with his draft year BB/K ratio looking like it does. If he makes it, he’ll be an outlier. I suppose that’s the point. Skoug is a really gifted natural hitter with the chance to hit for both average and power at the next level. He’s also a legitimately improved defender with the kind of intangibles and sure-handedness to convince some teams to overlook his underwhelming athleticism and ability to make flash plays behind the dish. I’m not brave enough to say Skoug could be one of those outliers, but between his oversized reputation as a hitter (past comps from BA and Aaron Fitt mentioned Kyle Schwarber and Matt Thaiss) and potential for sticking at a critical defensive spot, it may be worth a shot taking finding out sooner than his raw BB/K numbers indicate. Or maybe I’m breaking one of my cardinal rules of player evaluation by talking myself into a player I like from a scouting perspective in the face of damning statistical evidence.
Beyond Skoug, the catchers in the Big 12 are damn strong this year. Renae Martinez is an above-average catch-and-throw guy having a fine year at the plate. Josh Rolette is a very intriguing draft-eligible sophomore from Kansas State. Michael Cantu has big tools (namely his plus raw power), but poor performances likely will mean he’ll have to wait until next year to hear his name called during the draft. Kholeton Sanchez has the physical ability to play at the next level — he has enough speed and arm to play catcher, second, or center in the pros — but with only 62 D-1 at bats at the ripe old age of 23, he’s facing an uphill battle. He’s the brand of weird prospect I champion, so it should be no shock I’ll be rooting hard for him to get his shot in pro ball.
Tanner Gardner was a pre-season FAVORITE thanks to a patient approach, sneaky pop, above-average wheels, and the kind of athleticism and defensive upside to hang in either center (my guess) or short (the answer of a surprisingly high number of people I’ve heard from). He may not have enough power to profile as a regular, but I could see him settling in as a damn fine backup if it comes down to it. Garrett McCain was in a similar boat coming into the season, but has tapped into enough of his average raw power to do some real damage at the plate. Turns out steady at bats can help lead to a toolsy player breaking out…imagine that. McCain has always had a pro approach, so the bump in power, speed (average or better, plays up), and arm strength (upper-80s off the mound in another life) is just icing on the cake. Then there’s Austen Wade, a fun power/speed prospect with a chance to be average (power) or better (speed) in both areas.
Jon Littell is still coming into his own as a hitter, but his plus raw power, plus arm strength, and plus prep pedigree should have him drafted higher than his good but not great college production might otherwise suggest. Patrick Mathis is one of this year’s most underrated natural hitters. He’s also a solid defender with above-average to plus raw power. I’ve heard from reliable contacts that his down junior season has been more bad luck than bad hitting. BABIP giveth and BABIP taketh away, I suppose. I’m still on the bandwagon.
Three other outfielders that stand out for various reasons include Kameron Esthay (power lefty who was a narrow miss here), Nolan Brown (“better pro than college player [who] always seems to have a nagging injury holding him back”), and Ryan Sluder (guy who looked like a future star two years ago but has struggled mightily since). All in all, it’s a really fun outfield year for the Big 12. No clear stars, but lots of depth. Sums up the conference’s hitters as a whole, come to think of it.
Also receiving consideration…
C – Matt Menard, Josh Rolette, Michael Cantu, Kholeton Sanchez
1B – Kacy Clemens, Jackson Cramer, Aaron Dodson, Austin O’Brien, Dustin Williams, Connor Wanhanen
2B – Jack Flansburg, Kyle Mendenhall, Andrew Rosa
SS – Jimmy Galusky, Ryan Merrill
3B – Bret Boswell, Steve Serratore, Quintin Crandall, Brylie Ware, Quin Walbergh, Elliott Barzilli
OF – Kameron Esthay, Nolan Brown, Ben Hollas, Ryan Sluder, Ryan Long