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(Got a few things cooking, but had a little downtime the last few days and managed to put together an early look at the 2019 class of college hitters. More to come soon…)
It’s obviously super early, but I’ll join the chorus of those singing Adley Rutschman’s praises and make him the prohibitive favorite — in as much as anybody can be the favorite eleven months out — to wind up selected by Baltimore (or, wow, Kansas City now that I’ve actually checked the standings…) as the first overall pick in 2019. He has no holes in his game. If you liked Joey Bart this year, then you’re going to lose your damn minds about Rutschman next year. Speaking of Bart, his status as the number two overall pick in this past draft put him behind only Danny Goodwin (first overall pick in 1975) as the highest selected college catcher of all time. Incidentally, Goodwin’s story is an incredible one. I highly recommend clicking that link.
Anyway, Rutschman going 1-1 would match Goodwin’s achievement. It would also make him a first round college catcher, clearly. As such, he’d join these college catchers selected in the first round since I started this site in 2009: Bart, Zack Collins, Matt Thaiss, Will Smith, Taylor Ward, Kyle Schwarber, Max Pentecost, Mike Zunino, Kevin Plawecki, Yasmani Grandal, Mike Kvasnicka, Tony Sanchez, Josh Phegley. It’s a mixed bag, clearly. If we narrow the search to True Catchers (TM), something the advanced defender that Rutschman certainly qualifies as, then that leaves us with Bart, Smith, Pentecost, Zunino, Plawecki, Grandal, Sanchez, and Phegley. Still a lot of ups and downs with that group…with a lot more downs than ups. If we broaden the search and go beyond 2009, that gives us names like Buster Posey, Jason Castro, Matt Wieters, JP Arencibia, Jackson Williams, Josh Donaldson, Mitch Canham, Ed Easley, Jeff Clement, Landon Powell, Mitch Maier, Jeremy Brown, and Dave Parrish. That list combined with the one above gives us every first round college catcher drafted this millennium. I think we can now officially say it: that’s not a particularly encouraging set of pro players. Let’s break it down…
Tier 1 – Posey
Tier 2 – Schwarber, Grandal, Castro, Wieters, Donaldson
Tier 3 – Zunino, Plawecki, Phegley
Tier 4 – Sanchez, Arencibia, Clement, Powell, Maier
Tier 5 – Pentecost, Kvasnicka, Williams, Canham, Easley, Brown, Parrish
As you can see, I left out recent draftees spanning from Bart to Ward. Donaldson can be included on the Posey tier if so inclined, but I think Buster deserves his own spot considering the context of the list (i.e., he was a college catcher who stuck at the position in the pros). There’s no arguing the Donaldson pick itself wasn’t at least as successful as the Posey selection, though. I originally had tiers three and four grouped together, but split it up because something about seeing some of those names together didn’t feel right. I wound up making the requirement for Tier 3 one full season of above-average offense using wRC+ as the standard. Tier 4 then became the group of players just good enough to carve out big league careers of some recognition, but little beyond that. Tier 5 is the scary group. You don’t want to be in that group. By the numbers, there are six big successes (even if Wieters and Castro both didn’t quite live up to their draft spots), seven unabashed disappointments (maybe Pentecost turns it around…), and eight guys in the middle. That’s 29% good, 38% fine, and 33% bad. With odds like that, who would ever believe that the draft is anything more than just a high stakes guessing game?
Fifteen minutes of research later, we’re left with a painful question with an unfortunate answer: does any of this research matter? Probably not, really. It’s mostly just fun and games. Even if we thought it might be instructive, it would be worth considering that Rutschman isn’t likely to be any old first round catcher. We’re talking about a potential 1-1 guy here. So his peer group is top five overall picks like Schwarber, Zunino, Sanchez, Posey, Wieters, and Clement. That’s three good picks and three “fine” picks (apologies to fans in Seattle and Pittsburgh for calling those picks fine, but the methodology is the methodology). Admittedly, a career like Clement’s or Sanchez’s would be a massive disappointment for Rutschman, but both guys did well enough to get their full pensions so I have a hard time calling those picks complete bombs like the career minor leaguers from Tier 5. We can actually further refine Rutschman’s peer group to give us a little more historical context to what he’s about to face these next eleven months. Of the top five guys here, Sanchez was a bit out of left field and Schwarber was literally put right into left field upon entering pro ball (more or less). Even our most recent example — Joey Bart — came out of nowhere in the sense that he rose from the back of the first round (at best) at most early lists to become the second overall selection come June. For whatever reason, wire-to-wire top five overall pick catching prospects in the draft don’t come around often. At minimum we can put Rutschman in the same rising junior draft class as Clement, Wieters, and Posey as hyped amateurs. Talk about a spectrum of outcomes with those three. I think Rutschman’s freakish athleticism, easy plus arm strength, advanced defensive skill set, and combination of hitability and power could put him on the Posey path as a pro. Slightly less heady but still impressive comps (more about outcomes than play style) include Willson Contreras and JT Realmuto. This was a lot of words to get to a pretty simple conclusion, but it’s summer and things are slow. I’ll bold this for the skimmers: Adley Rutschman is an awesome catching prospect with the realistic upside as best catcher in baseball at his peak.
After Rutschman this catching class is all over the place. There’s more to life than plate discipline — not much more, to be fair — and BB/K is an admittedly crude measure, but the only other catcher listed above with more walks than strikeouts in their most recent season was Cooper Johnson…and he only had 68 AB last year. Again, this hardly disqualifies a non-Rutschman catcher from early round consideration, especially with an entire season’s worth of development ahead. The most obvious fellow first rounder is Shea Langeliers, an old school backstop with the plus power and plus arm strength to profile as a potential starter in the big leagues. After those two, the board is wide open. Personal favorite Kyle McCann quietly had almost as big a year as number two overall selection Bart. It’s true!
.359/.471/.632 with 41 BB/56 K and 3/3 SB in 220 AB
.300/.423/.600 with 37 BB/56 K and 1/1 SB in 190 AB
Top was Bart, bottom was McCann. I’m not saying McCann will wind up as the second overall pick in 2019, but you have to admit that’s pretty compelling. Draft-eligible sophomore Philip Clarke was a FAVORITE in high school who had a really strong freshman season at Vandy. He has average to above-average tools across the board but no true carrying tool, so it’ll be interesting how he’s evaluated this upcoming spring. I see a fair amount of Atlantic 10 baseball with St. Joe’s in my backyard, and both Logan Driscoll and Sonny Ulliana could hit their way into becoming the next Deon Stafford’s (fifth round pick last year) to come out of that conference. I’m really excited by the tools flashed by Jaxx Groshans and Carter Bins so far. Both are appropriately rough around the edges at this stage, so a few months of developmental smoothing could see their draft stocks soar. Defensively stout Maverick Handley seems destined for a long career as a big league backup catcher. Coming off a 35 AB season, Brad Debo is a true draft wild card with all the physical talent to make a huge impact at the college level (and MLB Draft) next season. Same can be said for the aforementioned Cooper Johnson, who might just be the best defensive catcher I’ve seen at the amateur level. His glove/arm/athleticism alone should get him to the big leagues, and any growth at all with the stick could make him an early round pick.
Oregon State JR C Adley Rutschman
Baylor JR C/1B Shea Langeliers
Georgia Tech JR C Kyle McCann
Vanderbilt SO C Philip Clarke
George Mason JR C/3B Logan Driscoll
Rhode Island JR C Sonny Ulliana
Kansas JR C/3B Jaxx Groshans
Fresno State JR C Carter Bins
Vanderbilt JR C Tyler Duvall
Stanford JR C Maverick Handley
North Carolina State JR C/1B Brad Debo
Mississippi JR C Cooper Johnson
College players who hit the shit out of the ball consistently but play positions of lesser import on the defensive spectrum get ragged on by prospect experts every single draft cycle. Andrew Vaughn is next. He’s not a top prospect because he’s locked into first base. He’s not a top prospect because he’s a righthanded swinger. He’s not a top prospect because, even if you’re cool with drafting a righthanded first baseman higher than most, he doesn’t have the prototypical build of a big league slugger. He’s not a top prospect because of…bat speed? His swing/load/hitch/internet scouting jargon du jour will get exposed against better pitching? He doesn’t have the good face? We keep inventing reasons not to like guys who have proven they can flat hit while simultaneously bemoaning the lack of impact offensive talent in most (not all) drafts. We crow about it when guys like this underwhelm as pros — seeing lots of Pavin Smith “told you so’s!” out there already from the BAT SPEED crowd — but act shocked when guys like Rhys Hoskins, Peter Alonso, Matt Thaiss, and Seth Beer (way too early for that victory lap, but the parallels with Vaughn are undeniable) shock the world and defy the odds by doing what they’ve always done: hit.
Andrew Vaughn can hit. Figure out the rest later.
Aggressively targeting hitters from Louisville would be one very quick and easy shortcut for a pro team in need of an infusion of position player talent. Drew Ellis, Nick Solak, and Will Smith have all hit in the pros, and all came at a price lower than the thirtieth pick in the draft. Brendan McKay may not be a hitter in the long run, but he’s done enough positive things at the plate to intrigue. Blake Tiberi and Colby Fitch are somewhat deeper cuts, but, as with McKay, there’s enough good there to stay invested. That’s a lot of hitters in a short time period for one school to churn out. Logan Wyatt is next man up. Like Vaughn, Wyatt is a professional hitter who just so happens to be playing college ball. The power, the approach, and the feel for hitting is all there. He’s also more traditionally appealing as a prospect if his handedness (lefty swinger) and frame (6-4, 225) matter to you. I’m not so hung up on them myself, but I’ll admit they are nice perks and potential tie-breakers when all else is equal between two prospects.
I can’t help but get a little Dustin Ackley vibe from Michael Busch. That may sound like a bad thing considering the way Ackley’s career has gone, but any comparison to a former second overall pick in the context of draft talk should be considered high praise. I do not think Busch will go second overall — spicy take, I know — but he’s an outstanding young hitter with above-average raw power, a keen batting eye, and enough defensive versatility to appeal to open-minded teams willing to take on a bit of a project in the field. I’m bullish on his defensive upside and think he could wind up at or near the top of either the first base, second base, or third base list by the time next draft rolls around. Worst case scenario may be an outfield corner, an outcome that isn’t really all that big a deal if he hits as expected. There aren’t many other players in the country that I’m more anxious in digging in on in 2019 than Busch.
East Carolina is going to be really, really good next year. That’s not exactly breaking news, but it bears mentioning. Jake Agnos, Trey Benton, and Tyler Smith are all high follows on the pitching side. Offensively, I already know that I’m going to really struggle all spring long when deciding which Pirate slugger I like best. Spencer Brickhouse has long been a FAVORITE and his ability to control the strike zone is right up my prospect loving alley. Bryant Packard’s edge in power and athleticism — and, you know, the fact the guy hit .402 this past spring — make him pretty damn appealing in his own right. Decisions, decisions. Pete Derkay hasn’t hit as much as expected upon arrival at Tennessee, but anybody who has gotten compared to Kyle Schwarber (from his coach via D1) and Brett Wallace (from Aaron Fitt at D1) is all right in my book. He’s more personal favorite than potential early round pick at this point, but if the power begins to play then he’ll move up boards in a flash.
California JR 1B/RHP Andrew Vaughn
Louisville JR 1B Logan Wyatt
North Carolina JR 1B/OF Michael Busch
East Carolina JR 1B/OF Spencer Brickhouse
East Carolina JR 1B/3B Bryant Packard
Tennessee JR 1B/C Pete Derkay
Dansby Swanson, Alex Bregman, Kevin Newman, Richie Martin, Kyle Holder: all first round college shortstop picks in 2015. Kevin Kramer, Mikey White, Blake Trahan, Tyler Krieger, Blake Allemand, and Drew Jackson joined the top five round party. It was unquestionably a good year for college shortstops, both in terms of star talent at the top — Swanson and Bregman famously went 1-2 — and in the all the depth you see outlined above. Is it crazy to think that 2019 can rival 2015 in both areas? As I’ve said before and will likely say again, we’re still eleven months out…but the depth piece looks promising as of today. I’m not smart enough to have a grading system — think of the #branding opportunities lost — nor do I tend to rank players on where I think they’ll go (instead opting on where I think they should go), so the fact that this list is 18 names deep at this point doesn’t necessarily mean I think we’re definitely heading towards a 2015 shortstop reboot. There are, however, a ton of shortstops who at least have the chance of winding up in the draft’s first few rounds and giving us all flashbacks to the much sunnier days of 2015. We also know that guys will rise and fall, guys will change positions, guys will get hurt/suspended, guys will give up baseball to join the military, priesthood, and/or culinary school…stuff happens. Still, this class looks like it has enough depth at present to make a run at the 2015 (tied in 2002, 2008, 2016, and 2018 among drafts this century) benchmark of eleven top five round picks.
Chase Stumpf may or may not stick at short, but everything else about his game looks on point. It’s boring and a little self-evident, but the offensive checklist for Strumpf is pretty straightforward: hit tool (check), power (check), approach (check). Even if you knew nothing about him from the scouting side, his .363/.475/.633 (45 BB/53 K) sophomore season line speaks to his offensive expertise. Like Stumpf, Grae Kessinger is an old FAVORITE going back to his prep days. He’s not always the prettiest prospect from an aesthetic standpoint (Ed. Note: he is a wonderful athlete who also often makes very pretty plays), but he gets it done at short with average speed, average arm strength, and well above-average baseball instincts.
Will Wilson is one of the shockingly high number of shortstops in this class that has both an average (or better) hit tool and average (or better) raw power. That’s what makes this class so fascinating; to have even one college middle infielder like that in a class is a big deal, and this one has multiple players of that ilk. I like Wilson a lot, and I’m excited for him to get tons of coverage this upcoming year playing in the backyard of Baseball America’s world headquarters. Logan Davidson, another semi-local prospect to BA, is set up to be a huge scouting favorite next spring. That’s what happens when you flash every tool — nothing worse than average — and find yourself coming off of two really strong years at a premier college program. If he can flip his BB/K numbers, something many believe he’s capable of doing in 2019, then the talk of him crashing the draft’s top tier will make even more sense than it does already.
Gabe Holt, the first of three highly interesting age-eligible sophomores in this class, is not a shortstop for everybody. It certainly wouldn’t shock me if most teams thought of him more as a center fielder than a middle infielder, but we’ll keep him at short until he proves otherwise. Offensively, he’s shown all that you want from a freshman playing regularly on the big stage. His contact skills, mature approach, and above-average to plus speed will all play in pro ball. The Perfect Game comparison to Brett Gardner is high praise indeed. I’ve heard another New York player as a point of comparison: Lee Mazzilli. I really, really like David Hamilton, a plus or better runner with one of the upcoming draft’s most impressive hit tools. I thought his arm might be a little short for, well, short, back in high school, but it’s ticked up enough that I think he’s now fine at the position. Center field would be a solid fallback and it would make my prep comp to Roman Quinn (who I admittedly comp every speedy teenage shortstop with a good approach and an underwhelming arm to) work even better.
Connecticut has churned out under-the-radar hitters who have gone on to more pro success than expected at an impressive rate. George Springer is the clear big win — and the less said about Mike Olt, the better — but guys like Susi, Yahn, Siena, Mazzilli, Ahmed, and Andreoli make up a pretty impressive group of hitting prospects. Honesty time: I wrote that before actually checking to see how those guys are doing in pro ball. Turns out I shouldn’t always rely on my memory for such things. Still, that’s a high number of guys to be drafted — and it’s not even close to all of them — for a program from New England. Anthony Prato has a chance to be the best among them, non-Springer division. There are still questions to be answered — firstly about his power ceiling and then a little about his long-term defensive future — but he’s a patient hitter with solid athleticism and impressive speed. I’m no Michael Massey expert (yet!), but his performance earns him a place at the table. Jimmy Titus is the latest and greatest — sorry Mickey Gasper, I still love you — hitter from Bryant, a program I admire when it comes to developing hitting. There’s a lot of unknowns about the rising redshirt-sophomore, but what we do know — strong arm, great athlete, advanced bat, impressive 2017 season — is pretty fun. Will Holland is another toolsy middle infielder who can run, throw, and hit for power; his college coach comp (via D1) of Ian Desmond, a 20/20 guy and solid defender at short before forgetting how to play baseball in Colorado, is intriguing.
Brady McConnell could blow up next spring and fulfill the first round destiny that same website bestowed upon him a year ago when he was ranked 11th overall in his class out of high school. Ryan Kreidler hasn’t done much yet, but he will. I’ve already had my say about Louisville hitters, so I’m buying a big junior season for Tyler Fitzgerald. Without looking at the actual lists I’m just making stuff up, but my general feel is that Greg Jones has passed McConnell as the top draft-eligible sophomore in the shortstop class for most of the weirdos on the internet (like me) who are in this deep. Jones’s tools are pretty outrageous, though not much less so than his propensity for swinging and missing. ABA — Always Bet on Athletes — certainly applies to Jones, so I am very much here for his 2019 season. This spring will hopefully give us more information whether or not Andrew Lipcius is a shortstop, but he sure can hit. There are no doubts about Cam Shepherd as a defender, so he’ll be a high follow for that alone.
So that covers the depth plus a future potential major spring risers with star upside, but it doesn’t cover the two players at the top of my present list who could give the 2019 class similar name recognition at the top of the draft as Swanson and Bregman did in 2015. It’s early yet, but I’ll put Bryson Stott as a shortstop capable of playing his way to that same level. As I’ve written about too many times in the past, it’s hardest to write about the best prospects in a given class because it gets boring trying to think of new and creative ways to say “this guy’s great!” over and over. Stott is pretty damn great, though. What more do you really need to know? He’s done all the “little” things well — swipe bags, play a rock solid short, throw with more than enough gusto to stick on the left side, work opposing pitchers like a champ — and the big things, namely power, are coming on fast. I’m not sure I did nearly as good a job selling Stott as I did Adley Rutschman, but I think the two are co-favorites to go 1-1 out of this college hitting class as of now. Stott is great! Shortstops with no holes in their game who have also hit like Stott has through two years of college tend to excite pro teams picking at the top of the draft.
If Stott takes care of one half of our Swanson/Bregman star power vacuum at the top of the list, then who should join the UNLV star as a potential top pick? Tooled up players like Davidson and Jones make a lot of sense here. I’d push for favorites like Hamilton and McConnell as dark horses as well. My zig to those zags is Josh Smith. It’s time to get the Smith hype train rolling. While Stott may be closer to Bregman than Swanson in my eyes, it was Smith who elicited a Bregman comp (via D1) from his own coach at LSU. I may be nuts for seeing Smith as a potential top of the draft talent, but it’s hard not to get a little carried away when you hear something like that. Smith is already a plus defender at shortstop with above-average power and speed. His approach is that of a seasoned veteran and his ability to jump right into the lineup as a freshman in the SEC is something that should not be taken for granted. The biggest red flag on Smith right now would be the injury that forced him to miss the vast majority of the 2018 season. Stress fractures in your back are never a good thing, but there’s been no indication that the injury will have any long-term impact on Smith’s future. If something changes, we’ll adjust accordingly. Until then, we’ll bemoan the year of lost developmental time while looking forward to what a healthy Smith will do in 2019. I’m all in on Smith as a draft prospect with the kind of potential on both sides of the ball to go very early in the first round next June. Get on the bandwagon while there’s still plenty of room.
(HUGE CAVEAT HERE, MAYBE. In doing a little research here, I sorted Fangraphs shortstop leaderboard by wRC+ using 100 PA as the minimum. The top six names: Lindor, Machado, Bogaerts, Robertson, Segura, Correa. HS, HS, IFA, HS, IFA, HS. In other words, not a college shortstop among them. Brandon Crawford, our first college man, is next. Paul DeJong, Chris Taylor, Brock Holt, Trea Turner, JT Riddle, and Tim Anderson fall in somewhere between nine and twenty. If you’re scoring at home, that’s zero in the top six, one in the top eight, and seven in the top twenty-five. Down the list we’ll find Nick Ahmed at 26, Dansby Swanson at 28, Jordy Mercer at 29, and Marcus Semien at 30. That gives us just 11 total college shortstops in the top 30. Maybe that’s not as damning as it first appears — there’s certainly some logic in finding about a third of the top thirty coming from one of the three main means of amateur talent acquisition — but the lack of elite talent to come from college is a little concerning. FWIW, Bregman would be tied for first if he didn’t happen to play in the same infield as Carlos Correa. If we go back from when the site started in 2009 until the Swanson/Bregman draft in 2015, we’ll find these college [including junior college] shortstops as the only first round picks of their kind: Grant Green, Christian Colon, Joe Panik, Jace Peterson, Deven Marrero, Hunter Dozier, Tim Anderson, Trea Turner, and Alex Blandino. Only the presence of Turner keeps that list from being the most depressing thing ever; instead, it’s merely super duper sad. Maybe this is much ado about nothing or maybe the myth of the star college shortstop is something worth considering when building your prospect board…)
UNLV JR SS/3B Bryson Stott
LSU rSO SS/3B Josh Smith
UCLA JR SS/2B Chase Strumpf
Mississippi JR SS Grae Kessinger
North Carolina State JR SS/2B Will Wilson
Clemson JR SS Logan Davidson
Texas Tech SO SS/2B Gabe Holt
Texas JR SS David Hamilton
Connecticut JR SS Anthony Prato
Illinois JR SS/2B Michael Massey
Bryant rSO SS/RHP Jimmy Titus
Auburn JR SS Will Holland
Georgia JR SS Cam Shepherd
Tennessee JR SS/OF Andre Lipcius
UNC Wilmington SO SS Greg Jones
Louisville JR SS/3B Tyler Fitzgerald
UCLA JR SS/3B Ryan Kreidler
Florida SO SS Brady McConnell
I wanted to just throw in the second base prospects with the shortstops and create a great big pot of middle infield stew, but I couldn’t pull the trigger. Seeing as how many of the shortstops listed above won’t actually play shortstop at the highest levels of pro ball — if historical data is any indicator, anyway — I probably should have put it together. I didn’t and apparently my backspace button is too far away to change anything now, so here we are. The silver lining to my laziness is that this is a fun year for college second base prospects! There’s no Nick Madrigal, sure, but there’s time for somebody else to emerge as the rare college second base prospect to go in the first few rounds all the same. The easiest bet would be on Braden Shewmake, the slick fielding middle infielder from Texas A&M who will appear on many top prospect lists at shortstops between now and June. He’s listed at second here, but I don’t really doubt that he can play his way towards becoming more of a legitimate pro shortstop prospect with a big spring for the Aggies. Since the name Bregman has already come up a bunch, what’s one more time? There was once a college infielder that everybody had pegged for second base in the pros who went on to cement himself as a real shortstop in his draft year named you guessed it, Alex Bregman. I realize he’s a third baseman now out of necessity, but the point stands. Anyway, Shewmake is a really good prospect at either spot. I’d put his hit tool up against any of his 2019 draft peers. Looking at rising juniors only, I’d say only Michael Toglia — we’ll get to him — compares at the moment. Returnees Jake Mangum and TJ Collett — damn, the SEC is fun — would also be in the mix. Any way you look at it, Shewmake can hit. He’s also a fantastic athlete, opportunistic base runner, and more than capable of unleashing one of the prettiest swings — Perfect Game has compared it to Kyle Tucker’s — in all of college baseball. That last part alone has me swooning more than a 32-year-old man should ever admit. Rutschman and Stott are comfortably slotted in as my first and second college bats in this class right now, but Shewmake has as good a case as any for that wide open third spot.
Cameron Cannon has a great baseball name, a solid freshman season, and a stellar sophomore campaign under his belt. That’s a great starting point. He’s also a natural at the plate, an above-average runner, and a sure-handed defensive player who could also be viewed as more of a shortstop in the pros than I’m currently giving him credit for. Corey Joyce is likely a name you won’t see on many 2019 draft follow lists, but tools (average or better hit, plus to plus-plus speed) and production (.351/.437/.527 with 52 BB/61 K and 32/39 SB through two years) speak louder than internet hype anyway. Smart pro teams know his name. Blaze Glenn is likely in the same boat when it comes to lack of present (and likely future) internet love, but .325/.445/.558 with 39 BB/30 K and 16/16 SB will get you talked about on this site any time. These guys are good, North Carolina Central and Youngstown State or not.
Texas A&M JR 2B/3B Braden Shewmake
Arizona JR 2B/SS Cameron Cannon
Youngstown State rSO 2B/OF Blaze Glenn
North Carolina Central JR 2B Corey Joyce
Adley Rutschman, Bryson Stott, and Josh Jung (or Shewmake or Smith or Wallner or…) are probably my top three college position player prospects heading into the summer ball evaluation period. Jung has been awesome since his first day at Texas Tech. He’s a classic power hitting third baseman with a rocket arm (up to 94-95 off the mound) who puts a fun twist on the archetype by also being a very good athlete with loads of feel for hitting. Third baseman just went third and fifth in the MLB Draft last month. That makes for a quick and easy comparison, Keep in mind that Jung has yet to boost his stats as a junior…
.317/.393/.548 (231 ISO) with 11.6 K% and 10.7 BB% and 14/17 SB in 635 AB
.310/.411/.530 (220 ISO) with 17.3 K% and 12.9 BB% and 41/49 SB in 672 AB
.350/.445/.549 (199 ISO) with 12.7 K% and 12.4 BB% and 6/13 SB in 508 AB
Those three above go Alec Bohm, then Jonathan India, and finally Jung. The plate discipline indicators almost make it seem like Jung gives you the best of both Bohm and India together in one beautiful shiny new package. I’m not sure he’s that kind of player — a Bohm/India hybrid would go 1-1 in literally every non-Harper/Strasburg since I’ve been doing this — but he’s not all that far off. Of course, a case could be made that Drew Mendoza isn’t that far off — if he’s off at all — of a prospect than Jung. In terms of straight ceiling, it’s a fair debate. Mendoza, compared to Corey Seager by Perfect Game in his prep days, is the total package at third. If anybody in this third base class is going to replicate what Bohm did in 2018 (crazy numbers, top three pick), the smart money would be on Mendoza. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s athletic, and he’s a damn fine young hitter. Hit, power, speed, defense…you’re getting a legit four-tool player with Mendoza. If he can get anywhere close to what Bohm did last year, then he’ll go very, very high in June.
Of course, if it isn’t Mendoza who pulls a Bohm then it could very well be Nick Quintana. In fact, the two rising juniors (Mendoza and Quintana) have a lot in common. Legit hit tools, big raw power, explosive arms, quality defensive skills…I’m repeating myself because it’s late as I write this, but that’s the kind of true four-tool player you dream of at the hot corner. Both Mendoza and Quintana were top one hundred prospects out of high school, too. Another name that feels a little similar to Quintana (as a hitter at least) for me is Carlos Cortes, a third round overslot signing of the Mets this past June. It’s more of a scouting comp than one driven by numbers, but here are the stats anyway…
303/.403/.532 with 20.0 K% and 12.9 BB% and 2/3 SB
274/.378/.528 with 12.5 K% and 13.8 BB% and 13/16 SB
Top is Quintana, bottom is Cortes. Not exactly twins, but not too far off the mark either. Spencer Steer is a stellar defender at the hot corner with enough offensively to profile as a starter with continued development. Caleb Webster from UNC Greensboro is one of my favorite off-the-radar picks as another potential plus glove at third with a strong track record at the plate.
Texas Tech JR 3B/RHP Josh Jung
Florida State JR 3B Drew Mendoza
Arizona JR 3B/SS Nick Quintana
Oregon JR 3B/2B Spencer Steer
North Carolina Greensboro JR 3B Caleb Webster
Dustin Ackley went second overall in 2009. Bryce Harper went first overall in 2010. Since then, only one college outfielder has cracked the draft’s top five: Corey Ray in 2016. Other top outfielders have gone at 9 (Kyler Murray), 8 (Adam Haseley), 7 (Andrew Benintendi), 10 (Michael Conforto), 13 (Hunter Renfroe), 15 (Tyler Naquin), and 11 (George Springer). If we changed it up to exclude junior college prospects — The Bryce Harper Rule — then his first overall selection gets stricken from the record in place of Michael Choice going tenth overall. As with every historical draft trend bit that we do, it’s worth remembering that all drafts are different and prospects are individuals with autonomy to succeed or fail all on their own. It’s still interesting to me that there appears to be a sweet spot for that first college outfielder off the board this past decade between picks five and fifteen.
The above is just a long way of saying that I think Matt Wallner, arguably the best outfield prospect in the county heading into the 2019 season, feels destined to wind up going somewhere in that five to fifteen draft range. His easy plus raw power, equally impressive right arm (up to 97 off the mound), average speed, solid athleticism, and big league ready 6-5, 220 pound frame all make him look like a right fielder straight out of central casting. The fact he’s been a two-way guy so far at Southern Mississippi — very successfully in 2017 (1.84 ERA), not so much in 2018 (7.98 ERA) — only makes him more enticing as a prospect. The thought of Wallner focusing solely on hitting in the pros and the subsequent potential developmental leap that shift in focus could lead to is really damn exciting. If a guy with a relatively similar background like Adam Haseley — who I still believe in as somebody who could carve out a career like Denard Span, Gerardo Parra, or Kole Calhoun, for what it’s worth — can go eighth overall, then where does that leave Wallner, better in literally all areas minus Haseley’s average-ish ability to roam center, this June?
The outfield class reminds me a little bit of the catcher class in the way that both positions have a clear top guy with a lot of flawed but interesting depth thereafter. I’m not sure there’s a second outfielder here as good as Shea Langeliers, but players like Michael Toglia, Thomas Dillard, JJ Bleday, Austin Langworthy, and Quin Cotton all could wind up in the first round mix with big springs. I’m a huge fan of Michael Toglia’s offensive game — forced to choose, his is the best hit tool in the 2019 college class — and think he’s a potential star at the plate. Defensively he may fit better at first base, but when you’re eleven months out from the draft it’s all right to be a little aggressive with defensive projections. I’m surprised I’ve never used this comp before, but I suppose it’s been one I’ve held off on because it’s too near and dear to my heart to use. There are elements of Togila as an offensive player that remind me of Nick Johnson, one of my all-time favorite hitters. As far as recent draft guys go, I think Evan White isn’t a terrible point of comparison. The fine folks at D1Baseball have mentioned Brandon Belt as a comp. I like that one, too.
Thomas Dillard has been a primary outfielder, but it sure sounds like he’ll be getting more time behind the plate as a junior. That’s obviously very good news for his draft stock, especially if he can transition as smoothly as expected to his old high school spot. I’m bullish on Dillard as a catcher, yet still intrigued enough by him as an offensive talent to buy him as an outfielder if need be. I don’t think it will come to that — he’ll join the catchers on the next update of this list — but it speaks to a player’s offensive upside if sliding a bit down the defensive spectrum doesn’t bother you all that much in your evaluation. Dillard is strong like bull, athletic as a cat, and a natural hitter like an animal that is good at hitting. A woodpecker maybe? I don’t know, use your imagination.
JJ Bleday is average to above-average in just about all phases of the game — notably power, arm, and speed — so it’s easy to project him as a potential regular if he keeps hitting like he did last season. Austin Langworthy is similar with a trade off of some size (Bleday has about five inches on him) for some athleticism. I think he’ll hit and get on base, so it’ll come down to whether or not the power and speed take enough of a 2019 jump to see whether or not he’ll profile as a regular. I guess I compare every college outfielder to Adam Haseley these days, so why not mention that I think there are a lot of similarities between Langworthy and Haseley as both entered their draft years? Quin Cotton is another guy on the cusp of potential regular/fourth outfielder; we’ll learn a lot more about him this spring with so many smart prospect writers based out of Arizona likely providing salient updates.
Ryan Ward hit .409/.449/.636 with 21 BB/10 K last season for Bryant. He’s currently hitting .311/.421/.400 with 15 BB/9 K this summer for the delightfully named Ocean State Waves in the NECBL. Everybody has different standards, but, for me, it’s pretty damn clear that Ryan Ward can hit a little bit. The prep catcher turned shortstop turned outfielder (and second baseman) is as athletic as you’d expect with impressive physical strength packed into his 5-11, 200 pound frame. I personally love the fact he’s at Bryant — as mentioned earlier, one of my favorite schools when it comes to how they recruit and coach up their hitters — but if it’s attention from bigger schools you crave, then know that Ward received interest from St. John’s, Kentucky, Texas Tech, and Maine (with apologies to the Black Bears, three out of four ain’t bad) back in high school. Ward will go into 2019 with two seasons of college eligibility left after a wrist injury knocked out most of his true freshman season, so signability could be a consideration for teams interested in the multi-talented prospect. The best way to quell that concern is to hit so much that they have to draft you and give you that early round slot money (or a bit more).
Dominic Fletcher is like the Logan Davidson of outfielders. Maybe that’s a bit rich, but stay with me. Scouts are going to love him — rightfully so, of course — while the more analytically-inclined might be more prone to take a wait-and-see approach. Both guys have been good to very good so far but their respective upside is on another plane entirely. There’s no better all-around center fielder in this college class than Fletcher, a 5-9 spark plug with real power, enough speed, and plenty of arm strength. If he can refine his ultra-aggressive approach even a little, he could wind up in the first round. He’s not on the same level as Travis Swaggerty for me, but he’s not that far off.
Chase Murray is a great athlete and plus runner. That combined with huge sophomore numbers at Georgia Tech make him particularly intriguing. Austin Shenton’s first healthy year at Florida International was fantastic. If he can convince scouts that he can return to his prep position (third base) then his stock will soar. He’s still pretty nice as an outfield prospect. Hunter Bishop has struck out 94 times while walking just 33 times through two seasons at Arizona State. That alone should probably disqualify him from this list. I mean, the only way he should be on here would be if he were a special athlete with monster tools like, say, plus raw power, plus to plus-plus speed, and above-average arm strength all wrapped up in a 6-5, 215 pound frame, right? Matt Gorski isn’t quite on that level, but he’s pretty damn close. Gorski is another big (6-4, 200), strong, athletic outfielder with above-average to plus foot speed and arm strength. Dominic Canzone can’t match those guys in size and strength, but he sure can hit. Draft-eligible sophomore Pat DeMarco has similar expectations heading into his first collegiate draft year. This year doesn’t have a ton of true center field leadoff types (speed/patience), so a guy like Matthew Fraizer stands out.
Southern Mississippi JR OF/RHP Matt Wallner
UCLA JR OF/1B Michael Toglia
Mississippi JR OF/C Thomas Dillard
Vanderbilt JR OF JJ Bleday
Florida JR OF/LHP Austin Langworthy
Grand Canyon JR OF Quin Cotton
Bryant rSO OF/SS Ryan Ward
Arkansas JR OF Dominic Fletcher
Georgia Tech JR OF Chase Murray
Florida International rSO OF/3B Austin Shenton
Arizona State JR OF Hunter Bishop
Indiana JR OF Matt Gorski
Ohio State JR OF Dominic Canzone
Vanderbilt SO OF Pat DeMarco
Arizona JR OF Matthew Fraizer