My College World Series bracket got busted thanks to Notre Dame and Auburn. With how well Tennessee and Oregon State had been playing, I figured they were on a collision course to Omaha. Unfortunately for the Volunteers, the #1 seed curse continues as the 1999 University of Miami squad remains the last top seed to win it all.
This year’s Tennessee team may go down as the greatest team to never win the national championship. I count three 2022 first-round prospects in SP Blade Tidwell, OF Jordan Beck, and OF Drew Gilbert. SP Chase Dollander will be one of the top pitching prospects in the 2023 MLB Draft, and fellow SP Chase Burns is already getting #1 pick hype for 2024. There’s an excellent chance that the 2022 Volunteers will have five first-rounders on the team, yet they didn’t make it to Omaha.
That’s because Notre Dame is a well-rounded squad that took advantage of the Volunteers bullpen in Game 3. Down 3-1 entering the 7th inning, the Fighting Irish finally got to Burns hitting back-to-back home runs. Tennessee never recovered from that gut punch, and it got worse with Notre Dame scoring three more runs in the eighth. It’ll be a tough road for Notre Dame at Omaha as they’ll have to navigate preseason #1 Texas and then either Texas A&M or Oklahoma. But this Fighting Irish team shouldn’t be taken lightly, and they have everyone’s attention.
I like Texas to face Arkansas in the College World Series final with the bracket set. Now watch it end up being Notre Dame vs. Ole Miss.
2022 MLB Draft Prospects to Follow
Texas: Ivan Melendez, First Base
A Golden Spikes and Dick Howser finalist for National Player of the Year, Ivan Melendez, is having a special offensive season. The “Hispanic Titanic” has hit 32 home runs with 94 RBI and an eye-opening slash line of .396/.516/.888. Melendez would be easily a top-five pick with those numbers if he were a year younger. Already 22 years old, MLB teams will use Melendez’s age against him come July’s draft, and chances are the highest he’ll get selected somewhere in the second round.
Despite being limited to first base defensively, Melendez is an impressive bat that I think has a real shot of rising through any farm system. For the White Sox, he certainly fits their mold as a right-handed mashing first baseman. While that’s not a very attractive profile given the team’s current redundancy at the position, the White Sox farm system needs more power bats. Jose Abreu isn’t sticking around forever, and we’ll see if Gavin Sheets recovers. Andrew Vaughn could use a tag team partner soon. Maybe that’s Jake Burger, but bringing Melendez into the fold would hedge that bet.
Oklahoma: Jake Bennett, Left-Handed Pitcher
SS Peyton Graham is the best draft prospect for Oklahoma, but LHP Jake Bennett has garnered my attention the most when looking through a White Sox draft prism. At 6’6″ 235 lbs, Bennett has a big body frame that MLB teams covet when searching for starting pitchers. The fastball varies in velocity, often sitting between 91 to 93 mph, but Bennett has shown an ability to reach back and hit 96 mph when needed.
The four-seam requires additional refinement, especially when Bennett tries to beat hitters up in the zone. It seems that Bennett is not getting enough spin on the fastball and, at times, becomes pretty hittable. Out of his 17 starts, Bennett has allowed seven-plus hits in seven of those games.
Pairing with the four-seamer is a slider and changeup. I think there’s an opportunity for MLB teams to work with Bennett on making a grip adjustment on his slider to introduce a cutter to help beat right-handed hitters inside. Like most college pitchers, the changeup needs more work to be a strikeout pitch at the next level. Bennett is an intriguing target starting the second round for a draft class lacking in healthy college starting pitching. It’s pretty clear the White Sox farm system needs more pitching, and Bennett could be a good addition, similar to Sean Burke.
Texas A&M: Jacob Palisch, Left-Handed Pitcher
The Texas A&M Aggies are not blessed with much 2022 MLB Draft talent. One pitcher that has caught my attention is left-handed reliever Jacob Palisch. He’s a graduate student that started his college career at Stanford and transferred to Texas A&M after the 2021 season. His stuff is not overwhelming (fastball is 87 to 89 mph) but effective. In 27 appearances out of the bullpen, Palisch has 60 strikeouts to nine walks in 52 innings. His season ERA is 2.60, and when the Aggies are in a pinch, Palisch is one of the first pitchers out of the bullpen.
Suppose the White Sox continue their recent draft spending strategy of going over slot with bonuses in the second and third rounds. In that case, they’ll need to identify college seniors or graduate players to pay them $20,000 bonuses to stay under the cap until the 11th round. Palisch could be a fit under those circumstances if Mike Shirley and Rick Hahn continue this draft strategy.
Notre Dame: Jack Brannigan, Third Baseman
Hailing from Orland Park, IL, Jack Brannigan had big moments against Tennessee during the Super Regional. Even though he went 3-for-12 in the three-game series, Brannigan hit two homers and played outstanding defense at third base.
Brannigan’s defensive ability is his strong suit, especially his throwing arm. He has pitched for Notre Dame with varying results. In 14.2 innings, Brannigan allowed 16 H and 12 ER, but struck out 28 batters. That’s impressive, but not as much when he hits the dirt, making a scoop and throw to nail runners at first base. Brannigan has a good shot of being a better-than-average defensive third baseman.
At the plate, Brannigan is getting better. His 2021 slash line was good for college at .295/.385/.491, but 62 strikeouts to just 22 walks is a concern. The number of walks didn’t improve for Brannigan in 2022, but he cut down his strikeouts to just 46 on the season while increasing his home run output. Entering the College World Series, Brannigan is hitting .296/.361/.557 with 12 HR and 46 RBI.
Stanford: Brock Jones, Outfielder
A preseason Top 10 prospect, Brock Jones struggled out of the gate and saw his batting average at .247 on April 8th. His draft stock took a hit, and many publications began dropping Jones out of their Top 30 prospects. Then Jones got hot and raised his numbers to meet preseason expectations. He finished hitting .327/.455/.665 with 20 HR and 56 RBI. Once again, Jones is being viewed as a first-round talent and might be off the board when White Sox make their pick.
Jones can drive the ball to center field as he does an excellent job keeping his barrel in the zone. Especially against pitches on the outer half. He hit three home runs in Game 1 of the Super Regional vs. UConn.
I have a concern about Jones’ approach at the plate. While, at times, he displays patience and a willingness to work the count to draw a good number of walks (104 walks last two seasons), Jones also has a high number of strikeouts (134 last two seasons). I’ve seen a similar profile in Zack Collins when the White Sox selected him 10th overall in 2016. Sure, Collins posted big walk numbers in the minors, but we haven’t seen that type of walk rate in the majors for either the White Sox or Blue Jays. If pitchers are not afraid of you damaging pitches in the strike zone, they won’t nibble against you.
No matter which team takes Jones, and it could be the White Sox at Pick 26, his contact rate on pitches in the strike zone will need to be a focus. If he can be a hitter that consistently punishes hitters in the zone, Jones has a chance for that walk rate to carry with him to the majors.
Playing center field for Stanford, Jones has the athleticism to stick at the position. His throwing arm might grade below average and, for that reason, may move Jones to left field as he progresses professionally.
Arkansas: Cayden Wallace, Third Baseman
The Arkansas Razorbacks have one hell of an infield, and Cayden Wallace might be the best of that bunch. Despite the swing-and-miss concerns, Wallace has outstanding power that he flexed during those crazy Regional games against Oklahoma State. Wallace has six home runs and 11 RBI in his last nine games.
Defensively, I think Notre Dame’s Jack Brannigan is more consistent at third base, but Wallace has made some spectacular plays at the hot corner. One crazy play was against Oklahoma State when Wallace charged on a slow roller to field bare-handed and made an accurate throw to first base.
The strikeout rate will prevent Wallace from being taken in the first round, but I imagine he’ll be quickly off the board in the early second round.
Auburn: Blake Burkhalter, Right-Handed Pitcher
If you enjoy watching big beefy boys bashing dingers, Auburn’s Sonny DiChiara is your guy. Easily weighing 260+ pounds, DiChiara is Auburn’s best power bat, clubbing 22 HR in 2022. As a Senior first baseman, DiChiara’s name most likely won’t be called on Day 1, but there are some whispers he could be selected in the first five rounds. He’s just fun to watch and would be lethal in a Chicago softball league.
I’m paying more attention to Tigers closer Blake Burkhalter for the White Sox. Equipped with a standard four-seam and slider combo, Burkhalter has been one of the best relievers in college baseball. Just ask Oregon State, who couldn’t touch Burkhalter in their Game 3 loss as he went 2.2 scoreless innings striking out five.
Tennessee’s RHP Ben Joyce will garner a lot of attention because he throws 104 mph, but I like how Brukhalter handles his business. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and tunnels well with his slider with a sharp break at the end. I imagine for right-handed hitters, that pitch looks more like a cutter than a slider, but it’s an excellent strikeout pitch. As a Junior, Burkhalter wouldn’t be a $20,000 bonus type of prospect, but we’ve seen pitchers like him get selected after the 11th round signing $100,000+ bonuses. The White Sox must restock their pipeline with better quality relievers, and Burkhalter could be a good target.
Ole Miss: Dylan DeLucia, Right-Handed Pitcher
Derek Diamond was supposed to lead the Ole Miss starting pitchers in 2022, but that didn’t come to fruition as he continues to struggle. Enter Junior College transfer Dylan DeLucia. DeLucia has helped the Rebels make a surprising run through the NCAA Postseason, a right-hander with a devastating power curve.
DeLucia’s fastball is in the low 90’s mph range with arm side run that can bust right-handers inside. His best pitch is the curve that’s not a typical 12-to-6 drop. With a sharp break, DeLucia surprises left-handed hitters who get crossed up thinking a fastball is coming at them. There might be a chance where DeLucia throws multiple breaking pitches paired with his fastball, but I’m not seeing much of a changeup in his current arsenal. In the next level, DeLucia might be more of a reliever sticking with a two-pitch mix, but there’s a chance for starter potential if an MLB team wants to try that route.