Last week, when we published our updated Top 50 College Draft Prospects List, we emphasized how talented this year’s draft crop was. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at many of the intriguing names in this group to demonstrate what makes it so special. If you love the draft as much as we do, you’ll be shocked at how many interesting options teams picking during the first day will have—and that’s just on the college side!
Stay tuned, because next week we’ll debut our first mock draft of the spring.
When the college season started back in February, there were three guys firmly entrenched in the top tier of draft-eligible players—LSU OF Dylan Crews (1st in our current rankings), Florida OF Wyatt Langford (2), and Tennessee RHP Chase Dollander (5). With the season now three-quarters over, Crews is still in the pole position with Langford chomping at his heels, but Dollander, due to an uneven spring, has been replaced by LSU RHP Paul Skenes (3).
Simply put, Crews’ 2023 campaign has been historical. Facing top-flight SEC arms on a regular basis, Crews has posted an otherworldly .445/.600/.757 slash line with 13 home runs and a 56/28 BB/K ratio in 240 PAs. Additionally, Crews has proven his defensive mettle and provided ample evidence that he’ll be able to stick in CF for at least the first portion of his professional career. The compactly built Crews resembles former prospect Clint Frazier physically, but his overall style of play makes him the highest rated college outfielder since J.D. Drew and has sparked comparisons to the likes of Drew and Andrew McCutchen and even earned him the moniker Baby Trout. At this point, it would be nothing short of shocking if the Pirates did not select Crews with the first overall pick.
As tremendous as Crews has been, there are still multiple scouts who view Langford in the same stratosphere as the former. Despite missing some time because of a mid-section injury that required in-season surgery, Langford has slashed .400/.535/.813 with 14 homers and 35 XBHs in just 213 PAs. Equally impressive is his approximate 13 percent K-rate. More physical than Crews and blessed with 70 speed, Langford’s batted ball data and swing decisions are essentially a mirror imagine of Crews’. Langford is similar to Hunter Renfroe physically but projects more like a young Jack Clark. Don’t be surprised if Langford also begins his career in CF.
At 6-06/245, Skenes is a dead ringer for 155-game winner Andy Benes, but he projects to be even better. In fact, Skenes’ 2023 should put him on college baseball’s pitching Mount Rushmore with Ben McDonald, Mark Prior, and Stephen Strasburg. Armed with a fastball that sits in the 97-100 MPH range, a 70 slider, and an above average changeup, Skenes has been virtually unhittable this year, as evidenced by his 1.69 ERA, 5.2 H/9, and 17.2 K/9. Obviously, all the customary risks applicable to young pitchers apply here, but once Skenes enters pro ball, he’ll compete with the Phillies’ Andrew Painter for the honor of baseball’s top pitching prospect.
As indicated above, Dollander’s tough spring has taken him down several notches. His fastball still resides in the mid-90’s with plenty of movement, but his fabled slider, which earned him Jacob DeGrom comparisons, has backed up and impacted his entire repertoire. That said, he still provides the starter kit for a front-of-rotation hurler and it’s easy to imagine multiple player development departments picking in the top 10 convinced they can restore the 6-02/200 Dollander to his 2022 glory.
Hurston Waldrep (18) of Florida is another right-handed flamethrower who’s seen his stock fall precipitously his season. Previously thought of as an almost surefire top-10 pick with a physique and arsenal that evoke Ben Sheets comps, Waldrep’s been hurt by a drop in command, poor pitch calling, and the gopher ball (10 in 66 innings). However, like Dollander, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a team picking in the top half of the 1st round will believe it can fully harness Waldrep’s explosive stuff by making some tweaks to his operation.
Grand Canyon SS Jacob Wilson (4) has an interesting profile. Jack Wilson’s son is still waiting for his power to manifest as he fills out his 6-03/185 frame, but many evaluators view his hit tool as at least a 60—a development supported by Wilson’s .428/.476/.669 slash line and measly 2.6 percent K-rate in 189 PAs. In the field, Wilson lacks boundless range but boasts excellent hands and a strong arm. Most believe he can stick at shortstop, but if he can’t he’ll need to add more punch to his game.
Though Maryland’s Matt Shaw (6) and Ole Miss’ Jacob Gonzalez (7) are currently shortstops, they offer starkly different profiles. Gonzalez was once thought to be a candidate to go 1-01, but everything from doubts emanating from his unorthodox swing to questions surrounding his ability to stick at SS long-term have caused him to fall a bit. While Shaw’s ability to remain at “the 6” has never been up for discussion, his explosion this spring following a .360/.432/.574 campaign last summer on the Cape have has propelled him to top-half-of the-first-round consideration. With his high-octane bat, Shaw projects as second baseman in the Brian Dozier mold.
Brayden Taylor (8) is another player whose 2023 hasn’t gone according to script. The TCU 3B has battled back from a brutal start to post a respectable .281/.419/.589 slash line and lowered his K-rate below the all-important 20 percent threshold (18.8 percent). He offers above average defense at the hot corner and is slightly young for the draft class. If Taylor finishes strong, he could still hear his name called in the top half of the 1st round.
Though we were admittedly tough in ranking Wake Forest RHP Rhett Lowder (9), it’s possible that the Demon Deacons’ ace could hear his name called within the top 10. Though he’s not as flashy as the Skenes/Dollander/Waldrep troika, he’s highly reliable and projects as a mid-rotation stalwart. His fastball can reach the mid-90’s and his changeup is one of the best in this draft class.
Sprinkled throughout out Top 20 are a number of left-handed-hitting, toolsy outfielders with power to spare. Arizona’s Chase Davis (10) is the highest ranked of these sluggers and currently has the most helium. Davis’ lowering of his K-rate from 22.8 percent in 2022 to 13.7 percent this year—while boosting his SLG from .583 to .722—is a testament to his improved operation and swing decisions. He’s also an exceptional athlete with a strong arm who’s been compared to Carlos Gonzalez.
Mississippi State’s Colton Ledbetter (12) doesn’t quite have Davis’ everyday power, but his maximum exit velocity of 117.2 portends more juice is coming and he’s demonstrated his ability to play a solid CF. Also, with a 19.2 percent BB-rate against SEC pitching and 17 steals, Ledbetter could develop into a top-of-the order dynamo in due time.
Virginia Tech’s Jack Hurley (15) was tasked with replacing Gavin Cross as the Hokies middle-of-the order enforcer and has not disappointed. The Pennsylvania native has ridden a mid-season power surge to a .333/.425/.755 bonanza while showing evaluators he can play an above average CF. His batted ball data has been particularly impressive. That said, scouts have dinged Hurley for questionable swing decisions, especially on outside breaking pitches.
Until this season, Arkansas’ Jace Bohrofen (19) was viewed as a player who’d had far more success in 218 Cape Cod PAs (.280/.376/.516) than during the spring. However, that’s all changed this year, as the tooled up Bohrofen has dominated to the tune of a .355/.475/.663 slash line with 13 dingers. Evaluators continue to keep an eye on Bohrofen’s propensity to swing and miss, as his K-rate is right at the 20 percent mark. In addition to his offensive prowess, the 6-02/205 slugger boasts one of college baseball’s best arms in RF and has demonstrated he can effectively move to CF in a pinch.
Speaking of CF, Vanderbilt speedster Enrique Bradfield Jr. (14) may not have the power of the last four guys, but MLB’s new rules have significantly increased the value of players with his skill set. Bradfield’s speed and glove approach 80 and he has strong bat-to-ball ability. The development of his power will ultimately determine whether he follows the career arc of near Hall of Famer Kenny Lofton or that of 14-year major leaguer Juan Pierre.
As strong as this year’s draft class is, it is sorely lacking in quality catchers. The sole exception, however, is Virginia backstop Kyle Teel (17). Teel, a left-handed bat, he’s starred on both sides of the ball since arriving in Charlottesville. This season, the New Jersey native is hitting a robust .416 with nearly as many walks as strikeouts and nine home runs. His 35 percent caught stealing rate is indicative of his strong catch-and-throw skills. Should the team that drafts Teel decide to expedite his arrival to the big leagues because of his advanced bat, he offers enough athleticism to project as a solid everyday right fielder.
Tennessee’s Jared Dickey (31) would be the 2nd rated catcher on this list, but it’s doubtful he’ll continue behind the dish as a pro. Dickey has taken well to the outfield, demonstrating good lateral movement and a strong, accurate arm. At the plate, his left-handed swing is short to the ball with plenty of loft. He’ll likely find a home in the 2nd round.
Wake Forest 3B Brock Wilken (13) has rebounded nicely from a subpar sophomore season that saw him post a 24.2 percent K-rate. Wilken has driven his K-rate down to 19.2 percent while belting 23 home runs and slugging .811 as he’s improved significantly against breaking pitches on the outside of the zone. While his actions in the field are stiff, he has decent hands and a howitzer for an arm. Scouts remain divided on whether Wilken will emerge as a prototype slugging 3B in the Austin Riley mold or whether he’ll gradually move off the position and morph into an all-or-nothing slugger a la Bobby Dalbec.
Miami’s Yohandy Morales (25) was another third sacker racing up draft boards at press time. Morales’ 6-04/210 frame always allowed scouts to dream on his power potential, but this year he’s improved his swing decisions markedly, which has seen his K-rate fall from 21.4 percent last year to 19.0 percent in 2023. Morales’ actions at 3B are smoother than Wilken with nearly identical arm strength.
FAU’s Nolan Schanuel (16) has one of the more interesting profiles in this year’s draft class. His swing decisions, batted ball data, and performance (.454/.614/.891 with 18 dingers and a 59/14 BB/K ratio) are all elite. However, the left-handed-hitting first baseman loses points with scouts because of where he is on the defensive spectrum and the less-than-stellar pitching he faces in the C-USA. Schanuel has dabbled in RF at various points during his collegiate career and not been overwhelmed.
One of the more interesting story lines as draft day approaches will be the status of Texas RHP Tanner Witt (20). Witt pulled himself out of the shortened 2020 draft then proceeded to have a banner freshman year for the Longhorns in ’21. Unfortunately, early last year he succumbed to a sprained elbow ligament that required Tommy John surgery. Unlike other highly rated pitchers who have undergone the procedure early in their collegiate career then just threw bullpens as juniors—like Cal Quantrill and Connor Prielipp—Witt has opted to pitch in game situations. While the results haven’t been pretty as Witt waits for his high-spin mid-90’s heater and venomous slider to re-appear, he has earned the admiration of scouts who’ve been present. He'd make an excellent supplemental round pick for a team with money to burn.
Like Witt, LSU’s Grant Taylor (34) had to go under the knife for Tommy John earlier this spring. But Taylor’s track record is even more sparse than Witt’s. The 6-02/230 righthander threw just 31 innings in 2022 as a freshman and followed that up with 21 frames last summer on the Cape. But, man, were those 21 innings dominant. Taylor struck out 30 hitters and walked just two, featuring a nuclear arsenal almost any college hurler not named Skenes or Dollander would be envious of. And, to top it off, Taylor was even better in fall ball. He’ll make an excellent consolation prize for an organization that misses out on Witt.
Just prior to the 2021 draft, many thought Duke SS Alex Mooney (37) would sign a well over slot deal to go pro. The stars not aligning was the Blue Devils’ gain, as Mooney has improved all facets of his game and has been compared to Mark Loretta for his steady performance.
While Texas A&M’s Nathan Dettmer (43) hasn’t had the season he had hoped for, he still offers a super-charged arm that could take off with the help of the right player development staff. His quickest path to big league success could be at the back of a bullpen as a fastball/slider specialist.