Daily Prospect Notes: Conference Tournament Preview Part II

If you missed yesterday’s post, I’m spending a few days this week focusing on the college postseason, which began yesterday. For those who missed yesterday’s action, this YouTube channel and many like it post “highlights” consisting of the end of each plate appearance. You get a good feel for the flow of the whole game in about 15 minutes. They’re a great resource if you want to follow college baseball and softball but don’t have ESPN+. Below I have brief previews for the tournaments that begin today. This is done with a focus on the groupings with prospects, and the ones people can watch on streaming services (again, mostly on ESPN+). I’ll also be citing work from D1Baseball and Baseball America a lot. They are both indispensable resources for college coverage.

Big 12
Link to Bracket Link to Stats and Standings
Location: Oklahoma City
Format: 9 teams, 8v9 play-in, two 4-team double elim brackets
Top Team(s): Texas, TCU, Texas Tech
Top Prospect(s): Ty Madden, RHP, Texas / Jordan Wick, LHP, Kansas State

The best reason to watch the Big 12 tournament is to see Jace Jung hit. The COVID freshman posted a .366/.496/.766 line this year, was tied for fifth in the country with 20 homers, and had 46 walks against 35 strikeouts. He’s built a lot like his brother, Josh, the top Rangers prospect, except he’s left-handed, has better feel for turning on pitches than Josh did at the same stage, and plays second base rather than third. Plus, the younger Jung’s style of hitting is cool, and totally his own. Tech catcher Braxton Fulford has rare power for the position, as does COVID freshman shortstop Cal Conley, who is college baseball’s version of Brad Miller. All three Red Raider home run leaders play up the middle positions. Righty Brandon Birdsell muscles up and sits 95-plus pretty consistently, too. Tech is fun and talented.

This is a consequential tournament week for Baylor and Oklahoma, both of which are squarely on the bubble based on the BA and D1 projections. Baylor’s offensive leader is fifth-year senior Andy Thomas, but COVID freshman Jared McKenzie, a 2022 draft prospect who plays center field and has really great bat control, is their best prospect. Bears closer Luke Boyd is another college relief ace who succeeds even though he only throws about 91 because he locates an average slider with robotic consistency. They’ll be playing through injury and COVID absences on the pitching staff. Oklahoma also has a good prospect to watch for the 2022 draft in third baseman Peyton Graham, whose second year with the Sooners was not quite as raucous as his four-week 2020 tear, which might be partially because OU played few non-conference games due to several weather cancellations. He’s a well-rounded player with a very projectable frame even though he’s already added about 30 pounds since high school. If you want to see an obvious example of a long arm action then try to catch Oklahoma Friday night guy Wyatt Olds, who has been up to 97 and has a really hard slider, but is wild because his arm action is so messy.

The Sooners open with rival Oklahoma State. Freshman righty Bryce Osmond opened the season as their high-profile player, but aside from one dominant start against Texas, he has struggled. That dominant start came after extended rest though, which Osmond will pitch on this week as he comes off a two-inning outing on the 16th. The Cowboys also have thumper Christian Encarnacion-Strand, a JUCO transfer from Yavapai (AZ) who easily leads the team in homers with 15. From a prospecting perspective, his peripherals are concerning.

Other than Ty Madden, the high profile Longhorn pitchers have had mixed success, yet they sport a sub-3.00 ERA as a ballclub. Madden has looked a little less crisp in the box score over the last three weeks but he’s still reaching back for 96 late in games. Kolby Kubichek, who had a great 2019 Cape, has struggled with walks and was shut down for a while. He was slated to make a Tuesday start against Rice on the 18th as a tuneup for the postseason, but the game was cancelled. He’s a talented wild card for this week. Multi-inning relief weapon Tanner Witt, one of my top 2023 draft prospects, has been a little wild, too. Shortstop Trey Faltine (Sansone Faltine III, he goes by Trey) was a two-way high schooler who some teams preferred on the mound coming out. He’s draft eligible next year.

The makeup of TCU’s pitching staff might help them thrive in tournament play. Fifth-year seniors Haylen Green and Charles King are strike-throwing, multi-inning relievers who can eat innings, and King often comes in for high-leverage situations and then goes a couple of innings. Junior college transfer Drew Hill (92-94 with a good slider) is a fresh face who has also turned in some strong three- and four-inning relief outings toward the end of the year. Free-swinging Horned Frogs outfielder Phil Sikes has big power and a great baseball frame and compact freshman center fielder Elijah Nunez is a dynamic athlete who has had some growing pains, while fellow frosh outfielder Brayden Taylor has one of the best rookie statlines of the 2021 season: .320/.440/.556, 10 HR, more walks than strikeouts, and 10-of-11 on steal attempts. I’m hoping to see Taylor’s pretty, low-ball swing be tested by velo at the letters throughout the postseason.

Conference USA
Link to Bracket Link to Stats and Standings
Location: Ruston, LA
Format: Eight-team Double Elimination
Top Team(s): Old Dominion, Charlotte, LA Tech, Southern Miss
Top Prospect(s): Bryce McGowan, RHP, Charlotte / Reed Trimble, CF, Southern Miss (2022)

The four teams listed above are all in the national top 25, per both BA and D1. All four won at least 20 conference games and 30 games overall. Florida Atlantic was the only school within nines games of those four. This tournament has the least national postseason implications since it’s likely one of those four teams wins the thing while the other three get at-large bids. Charlotte’s season has helped by two transfers: third baseman Austin Knight (who I wrote about at length here; his numbers are great) came from Tennessee, while shortstop Jack Dragum from Virginia. Righty Bryce McGowan will sit about 95 and work with a pretty good slider and changeup, but he has 30 control. Louisiana Tech center fielder Parker Bates is a short-levered hitter who sprays contact to all fields and will occasionally catch a gut-high heater he can pull out of the park. Old Dominion senior left fielder Kyle Battle and Southern Miss DH Charlie Fischer are among the NCAA leaders in walks. Battle has 17 homers and is 10th in the NCAA in ISO. Southern Miss center fielder Reed Trimble is a twitchy 2022 with power, speed, and strikeout issues.

Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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SF Draft Talk
1 year ago

I believe Trimble is draft eligible this year. DOB is 6/6/2000.