When the summer goal is to write every single day from now until I completely run out of ideas of things to ramble on about, then the key is finding hooks that I can turn into relatively quick and easy posts that don’t take me a ton of time to research but still (hopefully) provide some semblance of useful information. To that end, I searched my “2018 College Follow List” Word document to find every mention of the word FAVORITE. Then I knocked out the 2017 seniors (we’ll get to them soon enough) and the 2019 freshman (sophomores now), leaving us with only draft-eligible prospects for 2018.
If you’re a regular reader, you might know about my FAVORITES. If not, a super quick primer. FAVORITES are favorites for life. Once you get the designation, it’s yours to keep no matter what. This can lead to some ranking oddities as some players labeled as FAVORITES may have gotten tagged as such three or four years ago and have since fallen out of favor, but it’s how we do things around here. I’d say about 90% of the FAVORITES you’ll read about here were deemed favorites either in high school or college freshmen. So while being a FAVORITE is undeniably a good thing, it’s far from everything. Furthermore, I do my best to stay away from obviously awesome prospects as FAVORITES. It doesn’t do anybody much good for me to share with the world that, say, Brady Singer is a FAVORITE. The only times a star-caliber player like that will get called a FAVORITE around here is either when a) he got the tag before he blew up as a prospect, or b) the player is just so good that I can’t resist putting the stamp on him.
So here are some FAVORITES listed in alphabetical order by conference — we made it from the ACC to halfway through the Big 10 so far — with a quick note on why I like(d) them and what to expect going forward.
Duke JR OF Jimmy Herron
Herron can change a game with his speed (career 41/52 SB), so right off the bat you’re seeing what makes him an appealing high-floor outfield prospect. Emerging power, plus arm strength, and a discerning eye at the plate (career 58 BB/57 K) give him a pretty substantial ceiling as an everyday player. He was an easy call to make a FAVORITE — though, in fairness, he’s a local guy who I saw a few times in high school, so, you know, maybe I’m BIASED — who I think will have a monster season in a stacked Blue Devils outfield.
North Carolina rSO RHP Josh Hiatt
An odd personal player evaluation blind spot — blind only in that I love these guys for reasons unknown — has always been relief pitchers without the kind of knockout stuff — often code for lacking premium velocity — to profile as closers at the professional level. I think that’s likely the charge that will be levied against Josh Hiatt. Hiatt won’t blow anybody away with his fastball — I have him at topping out at 92 MPH in 2017 — but his split-changeup is already a plus offering and his slider has a chance to get there in time. I see guys like Hiatt and wonder why they can’t close, but am more than fine with many big league teams still being stuck on archaic ideas on what a closer should be and allowing them to wind up being used in more high-leverage situations seemingly by accident.
North Carolina JR 3B Kyle Datres
It’s not a direct one-to-one comparison, but Datres’s situation at North Carolina reminds me a little bit where Will Toffey was last year at this time. Toffey had a much worse sophomore season before rebounding with a strong enough junior season to get drafted and signed in the fourth round last month. A similar rise for Datres, a fantastic athlete skilled enough to play almost any spot on the diamond with a shot to get straight fives offensively (hit, power, speed), doesn’t seem out of place. Not for nothing, but the MLB Draft Tracker has Datres listed as a RHP. My notes on him on the mound: 88-92 FB, quality breaking ball, great athlete. MLB.com did some weird stuff with player designations this year — and had some real objective factual errors, which blew my mind — so maybe it’s nothing, but perhaps it’s a clue into the kind of feedback they got from teams on where Datres might have been listed if drafted. Probably just a goof, though.
Notre Dame SR OF/RHP Jake Shepski
Being a FAVORITE means being a FAVORITE through the good and the bad. After a dismal 2017 season by any measure, Shepski is currently very much on the bad side of the ledger. The good news is he has another year to change the hearts and minds of big league decision-makers. What made him a favorite in the first place — patient approach, consistent hard contact, nice combination of pop, speed, and arm strength — could get him back on the prospect map before it’s too late.
Wake Forest JR RHP Griffin Roberts
Roberts, a draft-eligible sophomore in 2017 like Datres, proved too tough a sign to get drafted early enough to afford. I wrote that and now I’ve reread it…and even I’m not sure if it makes sense. I think it does, but, man, the MLB Draft is weird. Full of paradoxes like that. Anyway, Roberts appears poised for a big 2018 season at Wake Forest. I love a good sinker/slider reliever, and Roberts takes that archetype to the best possible extreme. Another year of working on the little things and getting his control in check could send him flying up draft boards. I’m all-in on Roberts as a premium college arm in next year’s class.
Wake Forest rJR SS/2B Bruce Steel
I was on an island in liking Steel as much as I did in 2017. I’m not sure that changes in 2018, but it should. Steel is a really good prospect with the natural gifts to stay in the infield and hit for enough power to profile as a possible regular. I think questions about his approach (still developing), health (missed the 2016 season), signability (two years remaining) and home park inflating his numbers (sure) kept him from getting his shot in 2017, but he’ll make for a really interesting option in 2018.
Binghamton SR OF/2B CJ Krowiak
With the exception of Josh Hiatt, every player profiled so far was eligible for the 2017 MLB Draft but passed over or left unsigned. I’m not sure what that means about my ability to pick FAVORITES. Anyway, Krowiak is really good! He’s a glider in center with legitimate plus speed and athleticism, and his three year track record of hitting is tough to ignore. He’s instantly one of my favorite 2018 senior-signs.
UMBC JR 3B AJ Wright
Wright is a tough one for me at this point. I really, really like him. That much should be clear by his mere presence on this list. He’s a really impressive natural hitter with a keen understanding of the strike zone. That’s enough for me to fall for a guy initially. All of the other stuff — in-game power development, defensive consistency, finding a way to dominate the competition rather than just get by — remains up in the air. I think a breakout is coming, but I’m a little less sold than I was last year at this time.
South Carolina-Upstate SR OF JJ Shimko
It wound up being a one player reprieve from players eligible but unsigned in 2017. Shimko, like Krowiak, leaps to the list of best 2018 senior-signs. I’m stunned a player with his skill set — his speed and defense in center are good enough to provide plenty of value in pro ball tomorrow, and the offensive upside is gravy — was passed over.
Maryland JR OF Marty Costes
I thought the Astros had a decent shot to get Costes signed as an overslot 25th round pick, but it wasn’t meant to be. That’s great news for the Terrapins, a team getting back a fantastic athlete with a rapidly improving approach at the plate and plenty of power. I’ve long loved the Ron Gant comp a coach (regrettably, I lost the source of said quote) bestowed on him once upon a time. A comparison to Gant, one of my dad’s all-time favorite players, is as good as gold for me even if it’s not to be taken literally. The body type, athleticism, and chance to be a slightly above-average big league regular if everything breaks just so all add up to make him similar enough to Gant that I’ll buy it.