Updating the 2023 Draft Prospect Rankings

Jake Crandall/ Advertiser / USA TODAY NETWORK

As the 2023 NCAA baseball season gets underway, so too does this year’s Prospect Week, which begins with a fresh coat of paint on my 2023 draft prospect rankings. I asked around the industry for thoughts about how many prospects it makes sense to ordinally rank at this time of year, and scouts’ and executives’ answers ranged from as low as 30 to as many as 75, with most answers falling close to 50. Typically, there are enough 40+ FV or better prospects by draft day to fill the first two rounds of the draft. For this update, I worked back through the players who already populated the 2023 rankings on The Board to revise their grades and reports, revisited my 2022 summer and fall in-person scouting notes, and integrated data from last season to identify and then help evaluate college prospects who weren’t already on there. I did that until I stopped finding players who comfortably hovered around the 40+ FV line or above.

Ideally, my draft list will eventually include all of the eligible players who are talented enough to make a pro team’s prospect list. Usually about 150 players end up migrating to the pro side of The Board right after the draft, a good many of whom haven’t even popped up yet. For a handful of them, the draft itself is my means of identification, with post hoc analysis generating their grade and ranking. Players who I already have notes and opinions about but who exist beneath the 40+ FV scope that I have hard ranked right now still make sense to have on The Board, just not yet with an ordinal ranking. The number of players in the 40 FV tier (future fifth starters and middle relievers, low-ceiling bench hitters, and volatile high school pitchers) and below is so substantial that it’s almost impossible to maintain a precise ranking into the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds of the draft (we’re talking about 200 rapidly changing youngsters at that point) since chunks of that would be rendered obsolete as early as this weekend. I have a few of these kinds of players bucketed by demographic below the ordinally ranked guys, as I have on past draft lists. Players will be added to those buckets, and the depth of the ordinal rankings will increase as the spring marches along and these players can be assessed with greater precision.

I’m pretty excited about this draft class, particularly the high school hitters, a group I think runs deep enough that there will still be interesting players left well into the third round once we reach draft day, though a good many of them might be tough to sign there. If that’s true, then the top of the 2026 class might be unusually deep since more talented high schoolers than usual will stand to buoy their stock by going to school and performing, though that’s obviously a long way off. After last year’s class was extremely light on college pitching, this year’s group is closer to normal, and there are about a half dozen guys who look like first round talents entering the season. Injuries almost always create attrition with at least a portion of this group, which we can only hope will be counterbalanced by the emergence of other pitchers.

The new, looser transfer portal rules and incentives created by NIL opportunities have caused a seismic shift in the way talent flows to and throughout collegiate athletics, and baseball is no exception. Five of my top 25 prospects here have passed through the portal. Even if it isn’t consumed with the same fervor as football or basketball are in our culture, college baseball players have newfound earning potential and agency. It’s hard to predict the long-term effects of these changes on scouting, but it’s safe to say there will be some. For now, the biggest impact is that LSU has built a super team of sorts, and are now in their second year of coaxing early-round prospects to Baton Rouge for their amateur swan song.

When data and technology began to creep into college baseball as avenues of talent assessment and player development, some blue blood programs ignored these tools and fell behind, an issue that’s rampant throughout programs out west like Arizona State and Fullerton. It’s plausible that changes to the rules around transferring and amateur compensation will have a similar impact, creating opportunities for the programs that quickly learn how best to navigate these new processes to make a push for Omaha more consistently, while some traditional powers take a step back.

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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1 year ago

It’s Christmas, in February