The college baseball season opens up today and of course we’re excited. I mean, the name of our site is Prospect Junkies for crying out loud. I toyed around with a few cheesy lead in sentences here to get you excited as well, but I figure if you’re reading this article you’re already in the right state of mind. Each week we’ll be highlighting some of the premier prospect matchups to watch for around the country. If that’s something you dig, keep reading.
(All team rankings are reflective of the NCBWA poll)
Kent State v. #8 Virginia: The defending national champion Wahoos won’t get a cupcake to start their 2016 campaign as they play Kent State in the opening game of the Caravelle Resort Classic in Myrtle Beach. The Golden Flashes have made a regional in 5 of the last 7 years which includes a trip to Omaha in 2012. Kent State is led by junior lefty Eric Lauer, an unsigned 17th round pick (Toronto) in 2013. Entering this season with a chance to get popped in the first round, Lauer was selected as a Second Team Preseason All-American by both Baseball America and Perfect Game. Working off a fastball at 90-92 mph, with a solid feel for his secondary pitches (slider, curve, changeup), Lauer led the Cape Cod League in strikeouts in 2015.
Virginia will counter Lauer with right-hander Conner Jones who enters the season as a Preseason All-American in his own right, and is a consensus top 10 overall college prospect. While not quite the strike thrower that Lauer is, Jones has shown the more electric arm, working in the mid 90s with his fastball a slider that serves as a true out-pitch. Having lost 3 pitchers in the first 5 rounds from their national championship team (Nathan Kirby, Josh Sborz, and Brandon Waddell) Virginia will rely heavily on Jones in 2016.
#10 California @ Duke: The Golden Bears traveling to Durham provides another intriguing prospect pitching matchup as California ace Daulton Jefferies will go head to head against Duke’s Bailey Clark. While Jefferies’ 6’0″ 180 lb frame doesn’t offer a lot of projection, he has a present low 90’s fastball that can run up to 95 mph . A junior, Jefferies won’t turn 21 until August making him relatively young for the college draft class. Jefferies pitched for Team USA as part of their Collegiate National Team (“CNT”) and allowed a team best .091 batting average against, while finishing second on the team with 14 innings pitched.
Clark, a 6’5″ 210 lb righthander, teamed with Jefferies on the CNT, posting 1.80 ERA in 5 innings over 3 appearances with 8 Ks. With a mid 3/4 cross-fire delivery, Clark doesn’t leverage his tall frame by throwing downhill. He does have a mid 90’s fastball and two off speed offerings (changeup, slider) that could play up as a professional.
Around the Horn:
It’s no coincidence that the three most prospect laden teams in the country enter the season ranked as the three top ranked teams in the preseason polls. While none of these matchups ranks as elite, they’ll give us a peak at dozen or so future first rounders.
Florida Gulf Coast @ #1 Florida: 6’7″ 225 lb lefty A.J. Puk (9-4, 3.81, 12.0 K/9) is my preseason pick to go first overall in the MLB Draft, and he’s not even the Gators Friday starter. That honor goes to Logan Shore (11-6, 2.72), who’s a 1st round prospect as well. Centerfielder Buddy Reed (.305/.367/.433) is part of a strong college outfielder class and sophomore catcher/DH J.J. Schwarz (.332, 18HR) has already established himself as one of the top bats in the 2017 class.
SIU Edwardsville @ #2 Louisville: Kyle Funkhouser (8-5, 3.20) became the highest drafted player in Louisville history last year when the Dodgers selected him 35th overall, but he chose to return for his senior season. Outfielder Corey Ray (.325/.389/.543, 34 SB) has 5 tool potential and teamed with Reed on the CNT last summer. Closer Zack Burdi (6-1, 0.92) is the younger brother of 2014 second rounder Nick Burdi (Twins). Last year’s Freshman of the Year, two-way standout Brendan McKay (9-3, 1.77 and .308/.418/.431) is a top prospect in the 2017 class.
San Diego @ #3 Vanderbilt: The national championship runner up Commodores lost Dansby Swanson and their entire weekend rotation to the draft, but the strength of their recent recruiting classes has positioned Vanderbilt for sustainability. Outfielder Bryan Reynolds (.318, 17SB) and right-handed pitcher Jordan Sheffield (5-2, 2.85) could both be first rounders.