Although the 2022 draft is still over a week away, the 2023 draft train has already left the station. In late June, the top 50 college players (most, but not all, representing the ’23 class) migrated down to USA Baseball Headquarters in Cary, NC to participate in the “Stars vs Stripes” 5-game series that lasted thru July 4th. This showcase was an audition for the 25-man squad that is traveling to Haarlem, Netherlands for the annual Honkball Tournament kicking off July 9th.
Concurrent with the Stars vs Stripes series, the 96 best rising high school seniors congregated in Cary for the PDP (Prospect Development Pipeline) League, a week-long event that features the country’s best 18-and-under players and serves as the primary identification event for the 18U National Team. Many players in the PDP League also will compete in the MLB-USA Baseball High School All-American Game held at Dodger Stadium during MLB All-Star Week.
College Baseball Nation was on the scene in Cary to report on the first portion of both the Stars vs Stripes series and PDP League. What follows is a brief recap of some of the players who stood out in both competitions. As the summer progresses, we’ll have much more on the ’23 draft class, including a list of the top 30 collegiate players that will debut shortly after this month’s draft.
Stars vs Stripes
Dylan Crews, OF, LSU: The early favorite to be the first college player drafted next year, Crews did not disappoint. He displayed excellent pitch recognition and a short, crisp swing that generated plenty of power—as evidenced by his 413-foot home run off a hanging slider over the Blue Monster in Durham Bulls Park Friday night.
Jacob Gonzalez, SS, Ole Miss: Expect Gonzalez to challenge Crews all of next spring for the mantle of top college position player. The well-proportioned 6-02/200 Gonzalez is silky smooth on both sides of the ball and hammered a booming double immediately preceding Crews’ dinger.
Enrique Bradfield, OF, Vanderbilt: Comparing Bradfield to long-time MLBer Kenny Lofton is not a stretch. Bradfield has always boasted Lofton’s blazing speed, but he’s also started to fill out and added some thump to his game. On defense, Bradfield gets excellent reads and effortlessly glides to everything.
Jacob Wilson, SS/3B, Transfer Portal (Grand Canyon University): No player has raised his stock more than Wilson in the early days of summer. The lanky infielder displayed an uncanny knack for finding the barrel and showed off his burgeoning power with two homers. It should also be noted that in 275 PAs in the WAC this spring, Jack’s son struck out just SEVEN times (no, this is not a typo). On defense, Wilson has excellent range, soft hands and a cannon arm.
Brayden Taylor, 3B, TCU: Taylor is another hitter with strong plate discipline, and this trait was on display during the entirety of the Stars & Stripes series. He also showed the ability to impact the baseball, hitting one round tripper and finding the barrel on several other occasions. Taylor is sure handed with a strong, accurate arm at the hot corner.
Wyatt Langford, OF, Florida: Though Langford’s stat line was rather pedestrian, his batted ball data from the first two games of the series was not. His compact, yet powerful, swing enabled him to drive the ball no fewer than five times Thursday and Friday evening. He also exhibited a keen eye. A former catcher, Langford has transitioned well to the corner OF. He tracks the ball deftly and all of his throws are on line with good carry.
Brock Wilken, 3B, Wake Forest: An imposing figure at 6-04/220, Wilken had trouble making contact this spring (24% K-rate). That was not the case the first two nights of the series as the Florida native went 4/9 with a double that almost left the ballpark and just one strike out. On defense, Wilken possesses a strong, yet not-always-accurate arm and will need to work on his agility. Wilken ultimately was not selected to travel to Holland and rejoined Harwich in the Cape Cod League, where he will get much-needed reps. It will be interesting to see which developmental path Wilken follows—will he develop into a Bobby Dalbec all-or-nothing type who eventually moves off of 3B, or will he continue to improve and possibly one day resemble Austin Riley?
Teddy McGraw, RHP, Wake Forest: Not overly physical at 6-02/210, McGraw was up to 95 MPH with his fastball and flashed a plus slider with excellent pitch metrics. He still needs to improve his overall command, however.
Ross Dunn, LHP, Arizona State: Let’s just say that Dunn did not look like the pitcher with a 4.88 ERA or 1.42 WHIP this spring. He sequenced expertly, mixing at will a 93-94 MPH heater with a fading mid-80’s changeup and 83-84 MPH slider. At 6-03/220, Dunn is perfectly proportioned with tapered shoulders and powerful legs.
Rhett Lowder, RHP, Wake Forest: A dead ringer for Mike Clevinger with his long, curly locks, Lowder put on a clinic Friday night. His fastball was up to 95 with plenty of hop and his slider was hellish, particularly for right-handed hitters.
Max Clark, OF, Vanderbilt commit: So far, Clark is the marquee name amongst rising HS seniors. He resembles Jarred Kelenic at the same age with better speed and a stronger arm. He didn’t have a banner PDP performance statistically, but all his tools were evident.
Walker Jenkins, OF, North Carolina commit: Clark’s foil in the HS class, Jenkins also didn’t have a great series (though he turned it on a bit towards the end of the week). He’s a legitimate 5-tool talent who looks like he could add another 10-15 pounds onto his 6-03 frame.
Kevin McGonigle, 2B, Auburn commit: McGonigle raked for the entire week in Cary, showing why he has one of the best pure hit tools in the entire class.
Campbell Smithwick, C, Ole Miss commit: Smithwick stung the ball on Friday, showcasing a super-quick bat against premium stuff. He’s one of the youngest players in the class and won’t turn 18 until a week before the draft.
Thomas White, LHP, Vanderbilt commit: This is what a young Steve Avery looked like more than 30 years ago. The 6-05/210 White filled the zone, striking out seven opposing hitters in 3 IP with a 95 MPH fastball and knee-buckling curveball.