After what seems like an eternally long offseason, pitchers and catchers reported to spring training this week and today is the first day of college baseball, which means we have survived another winter without baseball. Considering these milestones on the calendar, I thought this a prudent time to channel my inner Jim Callis and Mel Kiper Jr. to publish a preseason list of the top prospects available in this June’s amateur draft.
#1 Jeren Kendall OF Vanderbilt University
In a year light on college position players, Kendall stands out as an elite athlete with the potential for five tools. The knocks on Kendall are the questions about his swing-and-miss and ability to recognize spin at the plate, but he projects to stay in center field as a professional and should not escape the top-5 picks in June.
#2 Hunter Greene RHP/IF California HS
The clear top high school prospect in this year’s class, Greene is easily the top pitcher in the crop and has a legitimate argument to being the best hitting prospect as well. While teams might be tempted by his bat, most scouts project him on the mound, due to his upper-90s velocity and polished 3-pitch arsenal. Typically team shy away from high school arms at the top of the draft, but Greene stands an excellent chance of being selected in the top-3 picks and perhaps #1 overall.
#3 Alex Faedo RHP University of Florida
A powerfully built 6-5 220lbs. Faedo possesses a quality 3-pitch repertoire, featuring a mid-90s fastball, tough slider and quality changeup. He may not own the same raw stuff as 2016 Florida 1st Round pick A.J. Puk, but Faedo has a solid delivery and shows good command of the strike zone. He should dominate the SEC on Friday nights this spring and profiles as a #2/#3 starter in the majors.
#4 Tanner Houck RHP University of Missouri
A massively built 6-5 200+lbs righty, Houck is the next in an impressive list of Missouri pitchers in the past decade. Houck features a low three quarters release point which is difficult on right-handed hitters, not to mention a fastball in the mid-90s, a hard breaking ball and an impressive changeup. He needs to refine his mechanics and control, but Houck has everything one would want in a college pitching prospect.
#5 J.B. Bukauskas RHP University of North Carolina
A local product from Stone Bridge High School in Northern Virginia, Bukauskas is a shorter right-handed pitcher at 6-0 220lbs. with a blazing fastball that has reached 100mph. In addition, he has a mid-80s slider that is a plus pitch and a developing changeup. He was a possible 1st round pick three years ago but has dramatically improved his stock while pitching for the Tar Heels.
#6 Alex Lange RHP Louisiana State University
The strength of this year’s draft, especially at the top, is college pitching and Alex Lange is yet another impressive southern right-handed pitcher. Lange is a projectable 6-3 200lbs with an impressive low-90s fastball that he locates well, along with a plus (or better) curveball. He throws a changeup but it is extremely raw at present, leading critics to wonder if he is a future closer. Nonetheless, he should act as LSU’s Ace this season and profiles as a 1st round pick in June.
#7 Kyle Wright RHP Vanderbilt University
Wright is yet another in the impressive crop of SEC starters this season, and he might be the most polished of the entire group. Standing an impressive 6-4 220lbs, Wright features a low-90s fastball that he commands well through the entire strike zone, an impressive curveball and a fringy changeup. Wright needs to improve his changeup to remain a starter as a professional, but Wright profiles as a durable mid-rotation workhorse in the majors.
#8 Royce Lewis SS/CF California HS
If we assume Hunter Greene is a pitcher, then Royce Lewis currently ranks as the top high school hitter in this draft class and is a legitimate five tool prospect. Long known in prospect circles, Lewis has notable and impressive bat speed, along with some bat-to-ball skills, allowing him to project to hit for both average and power in the future. Defensively he has plus speed and a plus arm, allowing him to profile well either at shortstop or center field long-term.
Presently, he reminds me a great deal of last year’s 1st overall selection Mickey Moniak, in that he’s an emerging hitter with outstanding tools and exceptional makeup. Also like Moniak, he ranked outside the top-5 prospects this time last year, but has the potential to be the first overall pick.
#9 Brendan McKay LHP/1B University of Louisville
A legitimate 2-way prospect both as a pitcher and a hitter, most scouts and myself prefer McKay on the mound, as he has excellent command and control of his low-90s fastball. Additionally, McKay throws a above-average curveball with excellent depth, plus the occasional changeup. He is known to have a terrific demeanor on the mound and scouts often mention his competitiveness as a player. McKay is the clear top left-handed college pitcher in this class and should not escape the top-15 picks.
#10 Hans Crouse RHP California HS
If not for Hunter Greene, Crouse would be receiving more hype as the top high school arm, as he stands a projectable 6-4 185lbs with a punishing low-to-mid-90s fastball and a powerful low-70s curveball with depth. As with more high school pitchers his changeup needs development, but scouts have observed the offering as average, with potential to improve. He is committed to USC, but the sun failing to rise tomorrow is about the same likelihood he will step foot on campus next fall.
Honorable Mention -> Jordon Adell RHP/OF Kentucky HS, Tristan Beck RHP Stanford University, Michael Gigliotti CF Lipscomb University, D.L. Hall LHP Georgia HS, Mike Rivera Catcher University of Florida, J.J Schwartz Catcher/1B University of Florida, Kevin Smith SS University of Maryland