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In the last weekend of March, the Tennessee Volunteers waltzed into Oxford, Mississippi, and battered the Ole Miss Rebels in a three-game sweep outscoring them, 26-7.
Last weekend, these same Volunteers visited their heated rival in Nashville and, just like they did to the Rebs, swept Vanderbilt by a combined total of 16-4.
Looking at their most challenging part of the 2022 regular-season schedule, the Volunteers went 6-0 on the road and definitively proved they are the clear number one team in the country. The loss to preseason #1 Texas is the Volunteers’ only blemish this season as they are an impressive 27-1 and hold the inside track of hosting both a Regional and Super Regional.
Right fielder Jordan Beck, who is climbing draft rankings, had a solid weekend picking up key RBIs in the first two games. Trey Lipscomb continues to rake and garner National Player of the Year attention as he went 5-for-11 with a home run, triple, double, and 4 RBI. Center fielder Drew Gilbert carried the Vols on Sunday, hitting a home run and double.
This trio of hitters carries the offense, but the pitching has impressed me the most. Chase Burns was solid Friday night, going 5.2 IP 5 H 2 ER 1 BB 7 K. Chase Dollander followed that up by going 8 IP 3 H 2 ER 1 BB 6 K on Saturday, but it was Freshman Drew Beam who stole the spotlight. Pitching a complete game shutout on Sunday only allowed two hits while walking none helping his cause in sharing this week’s NCBWA Pitcher of the Week honors.
These three are not available in the 2022 MLB Draft, but they are worth following for the 2023 and 2024 MLB Draft classes. The preseason MLB Draft attraction for Tennessee, RHP Blade Tidwell, returned to action last Wednesday just pitching one inning. According to coach Tony Vitello, the plan is to continue easing Tidwell into action. Midweek starts could be on the horizon for Tidwell, which finally allows an excellent look to gauge where he’s physically after experiencing shoulder soreness.
While many of the top college programs are struggling to find quality arms to start a weekend series, Tennessee is looking to have four possible future first-round arms at the ready. We still have six more weeks left in the regular season and then conference tournaments, but the Volunteers’ arsenal of arms is a big reason they are a heavy favorite to win the College World Series.
NCBWA Top 25 Poll (Week of 4/4)
Five Prep Players to Watch
It appears rebuilding teams that have quality players available in trade are coveting younger prospects in return. That’s a problem for the Chicago White Sox, who have spent the last couple of years building up their teenage pipeline. It’s not at the same level as other contending teams, and it’s playing a factor in pulling off deals as San Diego did with Oakland for Sean Manaea.
There’s a delicate balance to play, though. Continuing to draft teenagers and spending the full International Pool allotment is an excellent way to build up trade assets, but the White Sox need to start developing the next wave of MLB starters. It may seem 2024 or 2025 are far away for a team with World Series aspirations, but if they want the contention window to last, more talent is needed.
Even though most 2022 MLB Draft Reports have been focused on college players, that’s because of timing. Prep seasons across the country are now in full swing, and more video of high school players is becoming available. You know all about Druw Jones, Temarr Johnson, and Elijah Green. Those three will go in the Top 10 picks and won’t come close to the White Sox at Pick 26. However, there should be plenty of options from the prep class to start following.
I’m excluding prep arms because it’s not the White Sox style. The last high school pitcher taken in the first round by the White Sox was Kris Honel in 2001. He never reached the majors.
Jackson Holliday – Stillwater HS (OK) – Shortstop (Oklahoma State Commit)
Druw Jones and Cam Collier are not the only players with ex-MLB Dad. Jackson Holliday is the son of Matt, who played 15 seasons, most famously for Colorado and St. Louis. While his Dad was a lumbering outfielder who raked from the right side, Jackson is a smooth left-hitting middle infielder. He does a good job of generating load in his swing and creating lift during batting practice.
Holliday tends to step out rather than forward toward the pitcher watching his showcase games. This swing tendency has his hips flying through the zone, and I wonder if it allows him to catch up on inside velocity? Any soft or breaking stuff located on the outside corner could give Holliday fits without adjusting.
Mikey Romero – Orange Lutheran HS (CA) – Shortstop
When watching film of Mikey Romero, I enjoy his overall game. Smooth defensively and already can throw from multiple angles. Romero has stellar body control on slow rollers to make accurate throws on the run and demonstrates a strong arm on plays in the hole. Watching him play the shortstop position reminds me of watching Ed Howard, who was a first-round pick in the 2020 MLB Draft. I don’t think there is any question that Romero will stick at the position.
Offensively, Romero has impressive contact skills. He does a good job of keeping his head still, and his swing is compact. Not a lot of lower body movement generated pre-swing, but Romero consistently barrels up pitching. Now, because there isn’t that type of more downward body movement like Jackson Holliday has, Romero is not projected to be a power hitter. Maybe someone who hits 15 to 20 home runs a season during the minors but carries a high batting average. High floor type of prospect.
SoCal Procase Trackman Data – June 20, 2021, via Prep Baseball Report
|Exit Velocity Max||Exit Velocity Average|
|98.9 MPH||91.4 MPH|
Gavin Kilen – Milton HS (WI) – Shortstop
We’ve seen prep players from Wisconsin emerge in recent years as first and second-round picks. Gavin Lux is the most famous of them all, and in hindsight, maybe he should have been the White Sox pick 10th overall in 2016.
Now comes Gavin Kilen from Milton, Wisconsin. A small town of 5,573 people off Highway 26 north of Janesville. I know this town very well. It’s home of the Milton House, a safehouse part of the Underground Railroad. Humblebrag alert: Milton is also where I had the best baseball game of my mediocre High School career (4-for-5, 5 RBI). The baseball talent coming out of Milton has been nothing special for decades.
So notice my surprise when Kilen appears on multiple draft prospect lists. When I watch the film of Kilen from midwest showcases, I see a lot of similarities with Mikey Romero. Solid body control with smooth throwing motions suggests Kilen is a long-term fit at shortstop. Perhaps he can be moved to second base if an organization likes another player better at the position. Another left-handed bat focused more on contact quality than raw power, Kilen is difficult to strike out.
Again like Romero, not a lot of load from the lower half pre-swing, but the head stays still, and the swing is consistent. Maybe a 40-grade power (10-15 home runs) and 50+ grade contact profile. If I had to pick out of this draft class who would be this year’s Colson Montgomery, a prep player who didn’t garner much attention early in coverage but started to rise up boards getting closer to the draft, it’s Kilen.
South Milwaukee Preseason I.D. and Super 60 Showcase Results via Prep Baseball Report
|Year||60 Yard Dash||Throwing Velo Max||Exit Velocity Max|
|2022||6.71 seconds||92 mph||100.0 MPH|
|2021||7.04 seconds||92 mph||96.0 MPH|
|2020||7.02 seconds||88 mph||85.0 MPH|
Justin Crawford – Bishop Gorman HS (NV) – Outfielder (LSU Commit)
Continuing the prospects with ex-MLB Dad is Justin Crawford, son of Carl. The latter spent 15 seasons in the majors with Tampa, Boston, and Los Angeles. Just like his Dad, Justin Crawford is a toolsy outfield with eye-opening speed (70+ grade), running a 6.19-second 60-yard dash.
At 6’3”, 175 pounds, Crawford can add more strength to his body frame, but his current swing is not conducive to being a power hitter. Instead, Crawford does an excellent job of keeping the barrel in the zone to make quality line-drive contact. While he may never hit more than 15 home runs in a season, Crawford’s ability to hit line drives with his plus-speed can still be an extra-base machine.
Defensively, Crawford has an incredible range with an average arm (82 mph outfield velocity from showcases). I don’t think there is any doubt he’ll be a center fielder, but if a team prefers someone else, it’s because of arm strength. Perhaps something a future MLB organization can work to help Crawford improve in that attribute.
Henry Bolte – Palo Alto HS (CA) – Outfielder
A prep player I’m intrigued about is Henry Bolte out of Palo Alto. When watching his film from showcases and fall ball, Bolte has power potential. Bolte has a slight leg kick in an open stance that allows his hips to pull through the zone. Not much of a pull hitter, Bolte has shown impressive strength driving the ball to center and right field. When asking scouts that attended the national showcases, they point out that Bolte struggled with breaking stuff during games. Something to monitor in his development during the spring season. Defensively, I could see a team trying Bolte in center field based on his above-average speed.