2023 MLB Draft Report: Five College Bats To Watch for White Sox
The Chicago White Sox are 16-29 as I write this 2023 MLB Draft Report. This year’s first-round pick was viewed as an opportunity to either continue stockpiling high school talent to boost the farm system enough to merit trading from it in hopes of improving the major league club. Another idea was adding a college hitter or pitcher that could be fast-tracked to help replace some of the pending free agents, hoping to continue the competitive window.
Now this first-round pick could be launching another rebuild.
Picking 15th overall is not where a team wants to start that process. A rebuilding team would love to be in the Top 5 picks as there are some ca n’t-miss position player prospects and Paul Skenes, who might be the best college pitcher since Stephen Strasburg. Instead, the White Sox will be looking towards the back end of college players’ Top 10 but should have a few options in the prep Top 5.
In this week’s report, I’ll look at five college position players that could be available when the White Sox are on the clock. It should be noted that since Mike Shirley has taken over as Director of Amateur Scouting, the White Sox haven’t used a first-round pick on a college position player. That differs significantly from the strategy of Nick Hostetler, who used four straight years of first-round choices on college position players (Zack Collins, Jake Burger, Nick Madrigal, and Andrew Vaughn).
Enrique Bradfield Jr., Vanderbilt, Outfielder
A poor performance in non-conference play soured me on Enrique Bradfield Jr. as a for-sure Top 10 pick. I thought he would drop down boards if the poor offensive stats carried into SEC play, which features some of the best pitching in college baseball. Surprisingly, Bradfield Jr. has been faring better against SEC pitching, hitting .310/.465/.520 with 4 HR and 11 RBI in conference play.
There are almost no questions about Bradfield Jr.’s athleticism. He’s at least a 70-grade runner, which shows with his center-field defense at Vanderbilt. Those two skills are where Bradfield Jr. is at his best with speed and defense. What draws questions is Bradfield Jr.’s power potential at the next level. We’ve already seen one Top 5 pick in recent MLB Drafts with high contact ability but below-average power (Hello, Nick Madrigal).
The players in the majors display above-average power grades, not Bradfield Jr.’s game. His ISO in 2023 is .145, and he is slugging just .430 on the season. This season’s slugging percentage highlights how poor Bradfield performed in non-conference, with just four extra-base hits.
Bradfield Jr. is on the draft radar at Pick 15 because of his athleticism. With a strong postseason run, Bradfield Jr. could convince doubters – like me – that there’s more power potential.
Yohandy Morales, Miami U., Third Baseman
If anyone asks, “Who is the most White Sox prospect in this draft class?” my answer would be Miami’s, Yohandy Morales. A third baseman with good range and arm strength should stick at the position paired with power potential in the bat.
What makes him a “White Sox prospect” is the strikeout rate. Seeing a college hitter with a significant K%-BB% rate in a single season is a red flag. When it happens throughout a three-year college career, I’ve got questions. Is there a problem with pitch recognition? Is there too much chasing pitches outside of the zone? Is there an issue whiffing on pitches inside the strike zone?
The slash line for Morales is impressive: .401/.470/.660 with 13 HR and 53 RBI. But that batting average is greatly helped by a .462 BABIP. A big reason Morales is putting up better numbers in his Junior season is a significant increase in line drive rate. In Morales’ first two seasons at Miami, he was around a 16% LD rate. In 2023, Morales is hitting line drives at a 29% clip which is being taken from the fly ball rate.
As one of the biggest advocates of Ball in Air Offense, Morales’s groundball rate isn’t too concerning, but it’s worth paying attention to at 42.6%. Before postseason play, the strikeout rate is most concerning when evaluating Morales.
Matt Shaw, Maryland, Shortstop
The 2022 Cape Cod Player of the Year had a bumpy start to 2023, but Matt Shaw has been tormenting Big Ten pitching during conference play, hitting .426/.517/.894 with 13 HR and 37 RBI. Shaw has 23 home runs for the season, just four dingers behind the nation’s leader Jac Caglianone from Florida, who has 27. (If you are looking for 2024 MLB Draft prospects, put Caglianone on your shortlist if the White Sox does secure a Top 5 pick.)
The last time I wrote about Shaw, he played his worst game at Ole Miss. What I like about Shaw’s profile is I think the power is legit. He mostly stays in the gaps, but Shaw has displayed the strength with wood and metal bats to take pitchers out deep toward centerfield. At the next level, some of those deep flies may stay in the park with larger fields, but it could result in more doubles.
Shaw has also displayed better contact skills in 2023 and has flipped his K% and BB% rates.
My concern with Shaw’s offensive profile is a lot of ground balls or high fly balls. Only 10.5% of the balls in play from Shaw result in a line drive. His crazy 25% HR/FB rate probably won’t carry into the minor leagues, but almost half of Shaw’s batted balls are in the air. I worry in the minor leagues if Shaw will have a high infield fly rate, much like Todd Frazier did with the White Sox. Then again, Frazier was the last White Sox hitter to bash 40 or more home runs, so take the good with the bad.
Finally, I don’t think Shaw is much of a shortstop. He needs a lot of work to be more polished at the position. He should get every opportunity to improve defensively in A or A+ ball, but any MLB team should be ready for a position change if it doesn’t appear shortstop is in the cards.
Kyle Teel, Virginia, Catcher
I wrote about Teel earlier this season, and much of that report has been held up. What’s fascinating is we are learning what’s essential regarding catchers defensively with the rule changes. Arm strength and transition from home to second base may matter much more than what they have the last five years, with stolen base activity picking up. If automated pitching calling arrives soon, that should lessen the impact of pitch framing skills for catchers. Obviously, pitch blocking will always be necessary, with pitchers seemingly learning how to throw harder and with more spin.
Teel is the best catcher in this draft class, and with how little quality there is in major league catching, he may be taken before Pick 15. Despite a one-knee blocking approach, Teel has displayed excellent athleticism behind home plate and has a strong arm. I’m confident defensively that Teel will hold up.
Offensive-wise, I think Teel’s power stroke will lead to more doubles than home runs. This lack of home run potential is acceptable for any MLB catcher, as impact hitting is a scarce trait. I like better contact skills from a recent film I’ve seen from Teel. After hitting .276 last year, Teel has increased his batting average to .412, and his slugging percentage has risen by more than 200 points (2022: .439 SLG / 2023: .659 SLG).
The arrow is pointing up for Teel. With how little catching depth the White Sox currently have, Teel wouldn’t be a bad idea as an ideal target at Pick 15. But many teams have issues with a lack of quality catching in their systems, so maybe Teel will already be off the board.
Brock Wilken, Wake Forest, Third Baseman
From a batted ball perspective, Brock Wilken has become one of my draft crushes in this class. Wilken has a massive fly ball rate of 57.7%, and throughout his college career has hit more than 50% of his batted balls in the air. Now that’s Ball in Air type of offense!
Wilken recently set a new Wake Forest career record in home runs and is one of the nation’s leaders, with 24 in 2023. The strikeout rate dragged Wilken’s draft profile in his first two seasons—the ugly ratio in 2022, posting a 24.2% K-rate with just an 11.6% BB-rate.
In 2023, Wilken significantly improved his pitch recognition and plate discipline. The walk rate is now above 20%, which is excellent. However, Wilken still strikes out at a high clip of 18.4%. His hitting approach of generating as much loft as possible exposes him to pitches in the strike zone.
Defensively, Wilken might not end up professionally at third base, as he has limited range moving laterally. He does charge in on slow rollers and bunts well, so perhaps Wilken can improve at the hot corner with some coaching. I would say Wilken’s defensive profile is similar to Jake Burger’s, in which there are some skeptics outside of Chicago about his ability to stay long-term at the position.
Thus lies the problem with Wilken. Chances are he’s a bat-first corner infielder, more likely at first base, or possibly a designated hitter. If there is one area the White Sox have depth, it’s that profile. But if the White Sox wanted to add more hitters who hit the ball in the air, Wilken is that kind of hitter.
Adding to his Most White Sox Pickness, Yohandy Morales is also Cuban (his dad, former major leaguer Andy, defected)
As pointed out above Josh:
If available, this will probably be the pick; cause this scouting departs does not know how to draft anything else.
And, it is unfortunately a safe bet, who ever is taken at 15, will be probably be a bust or mediocre at best. Since, this organization cannot develop talent.
If you’re going to kickstart a rebuild, may as well start at catcher, if you like him.
Although, I was luke warm on Teel, earlier this draft cycle, I now would be thrilled with that selection as I just don’t believe the Sox have a future starting catcher anywhere in their org. That said, I think he has elevated himself up the board and won’t be an option at 15. I think this forces the Sox to look for catching in round 2 and beyond. Of these 5 players Matt Shaw would be my pick as I believe he definitely is the safest of this group, and he showed out on the Cape last year with wood bats. Me personally, at this point, am hoping the Sox go prep with this selection. I loved Jonathan Mayo’s most recent mock of Aidan Miller. He looked destined to be a top 10 pick during last summer’s showcase season, yet being sidelined with a broken hamate has caused him to slide a little. I think that there is definite value there. I also am intrigued by Thomas White. The Sox definitely need more left handed pitching and he looks to be the best that would be available at pick 15.
How does Teel compare with Zach Collins at this point? Collins was supposed to be the C for this window. Missed terribly with that pick.
Sorry for the late response, Dennis.
Teel has A LOT better contact skills than Zack Collins. Collins had a crazy BB-rate at 28.5% in his Junior year, but that also included 19.3% K-rate. He actually had more walks in his Junior year (78) than base hits (69).
We know that Collins is patient but his ability to make consistent contact within the strike zone was lacking.
I don’t see that happening to Teel, but I also wouldn’t expect Teel to walk as much as Collins. Ultimately, Teel might be a .270/.340/.410 type of hitter in the majors. But a lot better defensively than Collins was who had his doubters even on draft day.
TL/DR: I like Teel better than Junior year Collins