Baseball has now returned for slightly over a week. Early storylines abound — such as Matt Kemp and the Dodgers starting the season 9-1 and the Los Angeles Angels struggling out of the gate — but as the next three or four weeks come to pass, more and more attention will shift to the MLB Draft.
Will the Houston Astros take prep outfielder Byron Buxton number one overall, or will they go the collegiate route and select right-hander Mark Appel? How far will right-hander Lucas Giolito fall after his spring injury? Which player does your favorite team covet in the first round?
All of those questions lack clear answers at this point. However, collegiate games are being played around the country, and the more high-profile players continue to take center stage amongst scouts and baseball fans alike.
Here are how some of the top draft-eligible collegiate players are performing this spring:
Mike Zunino, Catcher (University of Florida)
Zunino has been considered the top collegiate position player available in the upcoming draft for quite some time. He has the power potential teams covet behind the plate and profiles as at least an average defender at the major league level. As illustrated by his statistics this year, the young man is carrying the Florida Gators’ offense. He utilizes all fields and has seen little drop off in his power since switching to the new collegiate bats a year ago. A sure top-five pick, unless something dramatically changes within the next couple months.
Mark Appel, Right-Handed Pitcher (Stanford University)
The right-hander has many scouts and talent evaluators divided in terms of actual upside. Some see a top-of-the-rotation starter in his mid-90s fastball and pair of quality offspeed pitches, while some see a guy with elite stuff on the mound who is simply too hittable for what he brings to the table. Indeed, Appel is the only top-flight pitcher on this list that owns an ERA above 3.00. The opponent’s batting average sits at a minuscule .193, though, so perhaps there is too much concern over his “hitability” on the mound. The young man still profiles to go in the top five picks of the draft.
Kyle Zimmer, Right-Handed Pitcher (University of San Francisco)
Zimmer shot up draft boards when his velocity spiked this spring, reportedly hitting 96-97 MPH at times with his fastball. Concerns surfaced over the weekend when he lost a significant amount of velocity in his most recent start, but the projectability of his power FB/CB repertoire remains. His 60-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio has been tremendous this spring, as well. Jim Callis of Baseball America recently stated that he preferred Zimmer to Appel, even after the reports of decreased velocity surfaced over the past weekend, which indicates just how good Zimmer can be.
Andrew Heaney, Left-Handed Pitcher (Oklahoma State University)
Largely seen as the top collegiate lefty in the upcoming draft, Heaney has thoroughly impressed this spring. Through this weekend, Heaney has the second-most strikeouts of anyone in NCAA Baseball. He features a fastball that can touch 93-94 MPH, as well as a slider and a changeup. As Lefties with low-90s fastballs do not grow on trees, Heaney could be drafted a bit higher than expected. His stuff profiles as back-end of the first round. However, a team could pop him in the middle of the first-round if they are seeking a low-floor, signable collegiate pitcher.
Deven Marrero, Shortsop (Arizona State University)
It has been a disappointing season for Marrero. He has really struggled at the plate and is not showing the power improvement that scouts wanted to see this spring. Ultimately, talent evaluators believe he can be a .280-.300 hitter at the plate with fringe-average power for a shortstop, but he should have no problem sticking at shortstop at the big league level. That is a very valuable player for any organization. As much as teams undoubtedly would have liked to see Marrero tear the cover off the ball for ASU this spring, he is still a likely top-ten pick in the draft.
Kevin Gausman, Right-Handed Pitcher (Louisiana State University)
Gausman is one of the young men who greatly improved his draft stock this spring. Reports have him hitting 99 MPH on the radar gun with his fastball with regularity — and with movement — which is enough to catapult anyone up team’s draft boards. He possesses good feel for a changeup and has struck out a ton of collegiate hitters. His command is a bit questionable, as his mechanics are a bit inconsistent according to several online scouting reports, but the raw stuff is perhaps the best in the draft in terms of top-end projectability. A couple scouting reports suggest Gausman could be even better when he focuses on his slider and scraps the curveball, as well. Gausman profiles as a top-ten draft pick at this point in the spring.
Patrick Wisdom, Third Baseman (Saint Mary’s College)
The young man suffered through a brutal stretch at the plate to begin his collegiate season, but has really improved at the plate in recent games. He possesses above-average power at the plate and that is beginning to show itself in games. The performance will have to continue to improve throughout the remainder of the spring if he expects to sneak into the middle of the first round, but his above-average glove at third base should ensure that he is taken somewhere in the late first round or in the supplemental round, at the very least.
Richie Shaffer, Third Baseman (Clemson University)
Shaffer has lit up the collegiate ranks this spring. He was named National Hitter of the Week from April 1-7 and currently gets on base more than every other time to the plate. Scouts were concerned about his defense heading into the season, but reports have been encouraging. He possesses plus power in his swing to both sides of the diamond, and that power already shows itself in games. His OPS is better than that of Zunino, and Shaffer could be pushing himself into the top-half of the first round.
Pat Light, Right-Handed Pitcher (Monmouth University)
At 6-foot-6 and with a fastball that has reportedly hit 96 MPH early this year, it’s no wonder that Light is being looked at as a back-end first round prospect. He has had trouble sustaining his velocity deep into games — as he often sits in the high-80s in later innings — though that could be improved in a professional conditioning program. Light has only walked nine batters in eight starts. That suggests he commands the baseball rather well. If a team believes the right-hander can better sustain his velocity deeper into starts, he could sneak into the back-end of the first round.
Marcus Stroman, Right-Handed Pitcher (Duke University)
Stroman has been one of the most impressive pitchers of the entire spring. He leads the NCAA in strikeouts and owns a phenomenal 1.81 FIP in almost 60 innings of work. His low-90s fastball and nasty slider have handcuffed opposing hitters. Despite all of this, he may not be any more than a late-to-mid first round pick. The reason? He stands 5-foot-8 and simply does not have the prototypical stature that big league organizations desire in a starting pitcher. Thus, many scouts see Stroman as a shut-down reliever, not unlike Sonny Gray from last year’s draft. It will be interesting to see where the young man ends up, as his talent and production would otherwise make him a top-ten pick.