College Baseball Opening Day: The players and teams to follow in 2018

The White Sox have drafted heavily from the collegiate ranks over the last few drafts, so here's a guide for following the trend

While baseball fans are eager to watch spring training games next week, today is Opening Day for college baseball. For the next four months, programs across the country will set their aims for Omaha and the College World Series, with major league scouts following them from game to game gathering intel for the MLB Draft that begins June 4.

It is worth following the college season because of the White Sox’ recent draft trends. In the last three years, only one high schooler was selected in the first 10 rounds each year: Corey Zangari in 2015, Luis Curbelo in 2016 and Sam Abbott in 2017. Looking back to 2010, and out of the 71 players the White Sox have drafted in the first ten rounds, only 14 of them were high schoolers. If the trend continues in Nick Hostetler’s third year of leading the draft effort, we should see plenty of selections from the college ranks.

Why so heavy on the college side? As Fangraphs Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen write, it’s because teams are getting useful data to pair with the scouting reports.

It’s too early to do a mock draft that would amount to anything much greater than a collection of guesses (here’s the draft order, for reference), but something to monitor is the presence of those clubs that lean risk-averse/analytic/etc. in the top half of the first round. In light of certain trends within the game — and, in particular, what appears to be a greater interest in near-ready, low-end-regular types — this could push college players (and, specifically, college bats) up into the high first round. Both Oregon State and Missouri State have TrackMan units at their home parks, so clubs will have multiple years of data on Madrigal and Eierman to aid their evaluations. Hitters from Virginia have benefited in much the same way from strong, large-sample TrackMan data in recent drafts.

You will hear about TrackMan more than ever before leading up to the draft. For those unaware what TrackMan is, it is similar to MLB’s StatCast. Using a Doppler radar, TrackMan now collects 27 data points such as exit velocity and spin rate.  Many college programs have installed it or are installing them, and so have the top showcase circuits. The White Sox are one of those “risk-averse/analytic” teams McDaniel and Longenhagen referenced. They’re taking scouting reports from the field and comparing to TrackMan data, leaning on analytics more than ever in an effort to key in on the parts of a prospect’s game that can translate to the major leagues. Because of cost, TrackMan data is going to be far more prevalent with college players than high schoolers.

Who is worth following in 2018? That list starts with the defending national champion Florida Gators. Baseball America has Florida #1 in the pre-season Top 25 thanks to an outstanding starting pitching staff led by RHP Brady Singer and RHP Jackson Kowar. Both took the summer off from pitching to rest up after the College World Series victory and are projected to be top-10 picks, with Singer as the top draft prospect. Following Florida is No. 2 Oregon State. A popular pre-season pick for the Golden Spikes award, 2B Nick Madrigal is widely regarded as the best position player from the college ranks this season.

After Florida and Oregon State you will want to watch some SEC action. Friday nights are going to be a lot of fun when conference play begins with Auburn RHP Casey Mize, Ole Miss LHP Ryan Rolison, Kentucky RHP Sean Hjelle and Arkansas RHP Blaine Knight. Outside of the SEC, South Florida LHP Shane McClanahan is getting a lot of top-five buzz, and RHP Logan Gilbert from Stetson and LHP Tim Cate of UConn are of interest as well.

Of course, there is Clemson’s 1B/DH Seth Beer. If he can perform closer to his freshman numbers Beer’s draft stock will rebound. TCU’s 1B slugger Luken Baker missed significant action due to a broken arm last year, but, if healthy, he can hit dingers with the best of them. Jake Burger’s college teammate from Missouri State, SS Jeremy Eierman, will demand attention as he hit 23 home runs last year. In a draft with few quality college middle infielders, Eierman could see his stock soar.

Below is my preseason 25-man tracking list for college players. During the season, I will update it with how the players are performing while adding new names when appropriate. I’ll be capturing more video this year and hope to bring highlights of these prospects to your attention. This initial list is in no particular order of ranking.

Player School Position 2017 Season Stats
Brady Singer Florida RHP 126 IP, 9-5, 3.21 ERA, 129 K, 32 BB
Shane McClanahan South Florida LHP 76 IP, 4-2, 3.20 ERA, 104 K, 36 BB
Nick Madrigal Oregon State 2B .380/.449/.532 27 BB, 16 K, 26 XBH
Ryan Rolison Ole Miss LHP 61.2 IP, 6-3, 3.06 ERA, 64 K, 24 BB
Casey Mize Auburn RHP 83.2 IP, 8-2, 2.04 ERA, 109 K, 9 BB
Jackson Kowar Florida RHP 108 IP, 12-1, 4.08 ERA, 84 K, 44 BB
Logan Gilbert Stetson RHP 89 IP, 10-0, 2.02 ERA, 107 K, 26 BB
Jeremy Eierman Missouri State SS .313/.431/.675 41 BB, 61 K, 23 HR
Travis Swaggerty South Alabama OF .361/.487/.567 47 BB, 43 K, 10 HR
Griffin Conine Duke OF .298/.425/.546 41 BB, 45 K, 13 HR
Greyson Jenista Wichita State OF .320/.413/.509 32 BB, 46 K, 9 HR
Joey Bart Georgia Tech C .296/.370/.575 16 BB, 50 K, 13 HR
Alec Bohm Wichita State 3B .305/.385/.519 29 BB, 31 K, 11 HR
Tristan Pompey Kentucky OF .361/.464/.541 46 BB, 56 K, 10 HR
Tim Cate UConn LHP 75.2 IP, 4-3, 3.33 ERA, 102 K, 31 BB
Luken Baker TCU 1B .317/.454/.528 – missed significant action with broken arm
Seth Beer Clemson 1B .298/.478/.606 64 BB, 35 K, 16 HR
Steele Walker Oklahoma OF .333/.413/.541 25 BB 39 K 8 HR
Matt Mercer Oregon RHP 88 IP, 6-7, 3.16 ERA, 59 K, 30 BB
Jake McCarthy Virginia OF .338/.425/.506 26 BB, 35 K, 23 XBH
Kyle Isbel UNLV OF .290/.349/.446 18 BB, 39 K 21 XBH
Sean Hjelle Kentucky RHP 108.2 IP, 11-4, 3.89 ERA, 102 K, 33 BB
Lars Nootbar USC 1B .313/.419/.510 36 BB, 33 K, 7 HR
Blaine Knight Arkansas RHP 90.2 IP, 8-4, 3.28 ERA, 96 K, 20 BB
Zach Watson LSU OF .317/.376/.507 17 BB, 42 K, 9 HR

 

Predictions

  • College World Series: Florida vs. Florida State
  • Golden Spikes winner: Seth Beer
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Josh Nelson
Josh Nelson

Josh Nelson is the host and producer of the Sox Machine Podcast. For show suggestions, guest appearances, and sponsorship opportunities, you can reach him via email at josh@soxmachine.com.

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MonicaMG

This is very helpful, so far on the twitterverse I only heard about Beer.

evenyoudorn

boomer

Eagle Bones

I still don’t know nearly enough about these guys, but if there is some launch angle upside with madrigal, that seems like a good option.

katiesphil

Bah. SSS.

MrTopaz

FWIW, FKLaw does not seem to be a fan of Brady Singer at all.

MrTopaz

I didn’t see him tonight, but all the twittering seem to indicate the sort of performance that might start to alleviate doubts. Of course, Law is the only one I’ve seen cast doubt on Singer, so maybe this is him waving his contrarian flag.

Jason.Wade17

Flagged for no inclusion of the University of Louisville.

Jim Margalus

Nick Hostetler checks in.

lil jimmy

Hahn pointed to High school infielders, and college pitching. With that in mind, I put my money on RHP Logan Gilbert from Stetson .

armchairGM

josh stowers seems like a white sox kind of guy

PauliePaulie

Sox need to put down the TrackMan until it can recognize hitches in swings and girth related defensive issues.

MrTopaz

After reading MLB Pipeline’s top 50 draft blurb about Eierman, where they say his tools could make him a gold glove third baseman if he had to move, I have jumped to a few absurd conclusions:

1- there’s something vaguely Matt Chapman-y about Eierman at third.

2- the White Sox will reach a similar conclusion, and pick him at 4, continuing their recent trend of picking college power bats.

3- He’ll either bomb, or be good enough to push his old friend Burger off the org’s 3B depth chart, and Burger will flounder at another position and will never make it to the big leagues with his favorite team, which I find sad, and vaguely Shakespearean.

I’ve become irrationally convinced that these are the only possible outcomes.

PauliePaulie

4) The pick leads to an investigation by MLB into a Wilder-esque bonus skimming scheme with the Coaches from Louisville and Missouri State.

lil jimmy

Too bad he can’t use an aluminum bat in the Majors.

Trooper Galactus

Wait, Beer’s stock fell after posting a line of .298/.478/.606, 64 BB, 35 K, 16 HR? What am I missing here?

PauliePaulie

He’s not just bat only. He’s aluminum bat only.

lil jimmy

Plus he got slower. If on an 20-80 scale you are a 20….. well, Konerko was a predraft 25

seven11

Base clogger

jorgefabregas

Meaning he hasn’t hit in more than one summer wood bat league.

PauliePaulie

4

Trooper Galactus

Still, is his swing shit with a wooden bat? I understand he’s virtually useless outside of what he does on offense, but if he’s there in the second round would he still not be worth grabbing?

PauliePaulie

I think the Sox have already drafted too many bat only guys who have serious red flags on their bats. He’s not Brent Rooker. He’s not even AJ Reed.