With the 2019 NCAA Baseball season set to begin on Friday, we have updated our draft prospect rankings for this year, as well as the two drafts that follow. Each class can be found via this link to THE BOARD.
So what has changed since we last updated our rankings in the fall? There were more high school showcases throughout the autumn months, and college teams held fall practices and scrimmages, during which it was clear that some players had changed since the end of the previous season. Some January high school tournaments took place in warmer locales, and the junior college season began several weeks ago. We expect all of these rankings to change as the draft approaches, though our focus will be on the 2019 class for obvious reasons. The 2021 class rankings are mostly comprised of unsigned high school players from the 2018 draft, as well as a handful of high school players who have been identified early.
Does the 2019 class have any overarching themes, and how does it compare to other recent drafts?
It’s hard not to note the lack of exciting college pitching, though it’s also worth remembering that at this time last year, soon-to-be No. 1 overall pick Casey Mize was nowhere near the runaway, best-in-class arm he’d eventually become. We expect to have higher opinions of several college arms come June, but the list of guys who we’d bet on rising up our board is also just shorter than usual.
That’s not to say the entire class is bad. It currently appears well-stocked with college hitters (arguably the most widely-desired demographic by major league clubs), particularly college hitters who have a chance to stay up the middle.
Just how good is Adley Rutschman?
Rutschman, the Oregon State catcher, is currently our top prospect for the 2019 draft. At this point in the process, it’s natural for readers to ask if there’s a generational talent in this class, or if this year’s top prospect is better than past top picks. He’s better right now, for us and the scouts we talk to, than 2018 Georgia Tech catcher/Giants second overall pick Joey Bart, who is obviously an easier direct comparison than Mize, despite Mize going first overall last year. We have Rutschman as the only 55 FV player in this draft class; Bart was a 50 FV on our 2018 draft rankings, with the main difference being Rutschman’s superior hit tool. The rest of the tools are about the same. As you’ll see on our overall rankings later this week, Mize is at the lower end of the 55 FV tier, and we’d have Rutschman slightly above him, but sandwiched between the top catching prospect in the minor leagues (the Dodgers’ Keibert Ruiz) and the second one (Bart), which would slot Rutschman in the 21-40 overall range of a top 100, were he eligible.
Also, because the draft order is totally set, we can officially lay to rest the #PlayBadlyForAdley hashtag.
Will we have another Kyler Murray/Jordyn Adams situation?
It may not be as dramatic as the Murray soap opera has turned out to be, but there’s a good chance that we have two two-sport athletes with signability questions. High schoolers Maurice Hampton (No. 19 overall on THE BOARD, and a 4-star LSU WR recruit) and Jerrion Ealy (No. 38 for us, and a 5-star Ole Miss RB commit) are both premium two-sport talents whose signability major league teams will need to properly gauge and feel comfortable with if they’re going to take them, the way the Angels did with Adams last year and Oakland seemingly did not do with Murray.
Ealy’s narrative has already been quite dramatic, as he was once an Ole Miss commit before de-committing to consider other schools, including Alabama and Clemson. It was thought throughout the industry that if Ealy ended up in Clemson or Tuscaloosa, baseball would have no shot at him. He re-committed to Ole Miss last week; both he and Hampton are considered signable in the first round, at least.
What about two-way players?
Two of the names we find most intriguing as two-way possibilities are SoCal high school LHP/1B Spencer Jones and Houston-area MIF/CF/RHP Sanson Faltine III, also known as Trey Faltine. They’re both plus athletes with terrific breaking balls and presently fringy velocity (lots of 88-92), but they’re different hitters. Jones is a power projection bat while Faltine is more compact and speedy.
What about the next two classes?
2020 looks solid, led by two pitchers from the Georgia Bulldogs (right-handers Cole Wilcox and Emerson Hancock), and we’ve already identified about half of the top tier of talent (50 or better FV) that’s standard for a draft class. This class is also pretty balanced, with a solid mix of hitting and pitching, and prep and college talent, though the college talent leans heavily toward players from the SEC, ACC, and this summer’s collegiate Team USA. It seemed unusual this summer that there were so many 2020, and one 2021, prep pitchers getting into the mid-90s, but perhaps 15- and 16-year-olds hitting 95 mph is just normal now. 2021 is obviously leaning toward college talent at the moment, as many of the high school prospects are 15 years old today, so just a handful have emerged as elite talents (Brady House, Luke Leto, Nick Bitsko, Roc Riggio (!), Braylon Bishop, and Blaze Jordan).
Who has risen since the last rankings?
Missouri center fielder Kameron Misner was in the 90 to 100 area for us in the early fall, as he was a known tools type with injury issues who didn’t play over the summer, then started rising with a loud fall. San Jacinto JC (TX) right-hander Jackson Rutledge transferred from Arkansas and was in the mid-90s, touching 97 in the pen for the Razorbacks, but took a step forward at San Jac. He was solidly in the top 100 for us weeks ago until his season debut, when scouts told us it was a Nate Pearson starter kit, into the high-90s once again with two plus breaking balls and some starter traits, cementing his position further. TCU lefty Nick Lodolo finally had the velo bump in the fall we’ve been waiting years for. Florida righty Tyler Dyson started showing first round stuff in the fall as his rollercoaster is headed back up. Elon righty George Kirby is showing two pluses at times with some starter traits, and Campbell righty Seth Johnson is also in that general area, at another smaller North Carolina college.
On the prep side, Jacksonville-area third baseman Tyler Callihan slimmed down in the fall and got a little more athletic while also not looking bad in a short stint as a catcher, so his power bat is now in day one contention. Pennsylvania prep player, and younger brother of Reds center fielder Mike Siani, Sammy Siani also went from a solid follow to a real prospect with a loud showing in Jupiter in October.
How about all these Diamondbacks picks?
Because the Dbacks did not sign Matt McLain last year, got picks for losing Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock, and received a pick back from St. Louis in the Paul Goldschmidt deal, they’ll pick 16th, 26th, 33rd, 34th, 57th, 75th, 78th, and 94th in the upcoming draft. Not only does this mean Arizona will likely add eight 40 or better FV prospects to their farm system, it also means they have a ton of financial flexibility because their bonus pool size will be so large. Except for perhaps Atlanta, which also picks twice (at nine because they failed to sign Carter Stewart, and 21 as their normal pick), it could prove virtually impossible for teams to try to move over-slot high schoolers back to their second round picks, because the Dbacks will just be able to take them and meet their asking price if they want.
Will the current labor climate have any impact on the draft?
Amateur players get hosed by CBA negotiations because they don’t have a seat at the bargaining table, and the MLBPA (made up of players who have already been drafted and won’t ever have to be again) has continuously traded amateur players’ rights for its members’ own benefits, albeit insufficient ones. The lack of current free agent movement may begin to impact the decisions of high school athletes choosing between entering pro baseball now or waiting through three years of D-I college baseball before they re-enter the draft. If a college player is drafted at age 21 or 22 and takes two to three years to reach the Majors, their six-year service time clock will start when they’re 23-25 and they’ll hit the open market when they’re 29-31. The current state of free agency signals that those players may never have a big payday.
Mets first baseman Peter Alonso is a great example. He has done nothing but mash since he was a teen, but is the sort of prospect who doesn’t get paid out of high school, with clubs preferring to see less athletic corner types perform in college rather than take their prep versions in the first few rounds. Alonso kept hitting and now will be a 31-year-old R/R first baseman when he becomes a free agent. If 26-year-old superstars are struggling to get a fair shake in free agency, what kind of market can Alonso expect to have? We don’t know if this will impact the decision-making process of elite high school prospects, and perhaps a new CBA will soon make this a moot point. But it’s something we think players might start to consider.
Who could move up this spring?
We both picked a few guys we think will move up. Good luck to all the teams and players this spring.
Eric: J.J. Goss, Faltine, Gunnar Henderson, Kyren Paris, Tanner Morris
Kiley: Jackson Rutledge, Hunter Barco, Jack Kochanowicz, Kirby, Seth Johnson