Projecting the College Players Taken on Day One of the Draft

As you’re probably aware, the first two rounds of Major League Baseball’s amateur draft took place last night. With the first 75 picks off the board, let’s take a look at what my KATOH projection system has to say about the Division 1 college players who have been selected thus far. I’ll be back with projections for the remaining players once we know where they are going.

Scouting the stat line is always dangerous, and it’s perhaps even more dangerous than usual at the college level, where the samples are small, the players are raw, and the quality of opposing pitching runs the gamut. Nonetheless, performance is often an overlooked component of prospect evaluation, and the players who outperform expectations in college often go on to do the same as professionals. A sortable table is included towards the end of this post.

4. Brendan McKay, LHP/1B, Tampa

KATOH Forecast: 8.0 WAR (0.3 as a hitter)

McKay was KATOH’s top draft-eligible player, largely due to his high strikeout totals. He also did a tremendous job of limiting hard contact, resulting in a 2.34 ERA this year. McKay was excellent in his freshman and sophomore campaigns, too, giving him a long track record of success. As a first baseman, McKay projects for just 0.3 WAR, which would make him one of the worst players drafted last night. However, since he’s primarily focused on pitching to date, I suppose one could argue he has more development left than your typical 21-year-old hitter with his numbers.

5. Kyle Wright, RHP, Atlanta

KATOH Forecast: 2.4 WAR

Wright’s 2017 numbers weren’t as exceptional as some of the other college pitchers in this class, but he has a very enticing track record. He also pitched exceptionally well as a sophomore in 2016 and as a freshman out of the bullpen. He’s racked up lots of strikeouts, he limits his walks, and allows very few homers. His 6-foot-4 frame doesn’t hurt, either.

7. Pavin Smith, 1B, Arizona

KATOH Forecast: 1.4 WAR

Smith struck out a mere 12 times this year, while belting 13 homers. He had more homers than strikeouts! That’s obviously a rare feat, even at the college level. Aside from his obscene strikeout numbers, though, Smith’s overall offensive numbers fall short of elite. He hasn’t shown a ton of power and, and the outlook for college first basemen isn’t encouraging.

8. Adam Haseley, OF, Philadelphia

KATOH Forecast: 2.8 WAR

Haseley was one of the top hitters in college baseball this year, slashing .390/.491/.659 for Virginia. He’s struck out just 21 times this year, yet has 14 homers. Throw in that he also draws walks and can run, and you have a rare combination of skills. As a result, KATOH pegged him as the top position player in the draft. KATOH’s one minor point of contention is Haseley’s lack of a track record: his performance prior to this season underwhelmed.

9. Keston Hiura, 2B, Milwaukee

KATOH Forecast: 1.3 WAR

A walks and doubles machine, Hiura slashed an insane .442/.567/.693 at UC Irvine this year. KATOH dings him a bit for playing in the Big West, which isn’t a tippy-top conference, but it’s hard to envision a better performance. He’s also on the young side, as he doesn’t turn 21 for another couple of months. I’m skeptical that KATOH is prone to underrate guys like Hiura, who put up ridiculous numbers in a conference that doesn’t produce a ton of big leaguers.

11. Jake Burger, 3B, Chicago (AL)

KATOH Forecast: 0.8 WAR

Burger walked more than he struck out last year (43 vs. 38) while also hitting 22 homers. Those homers made up nearly 30% of his hits, though, leaving him with a non-elite .328/.443/.648 batting line. Burger was easily one of the top players in the Mississippi Valley Conference this year, but his numbers weren’t necessarily overwhelming relative to the competition.

15. J.B. Bukauskas, RHP, Houston

KATOH Forecast: 3.1 WAR

Bukauskas put up big strikeout numbers at North Carolina this year, resulting in a stellar 2.53 ERA. His 13 homers between this year and last are a bit concerning, and at 5-foot-11, he’s quite short for a top pitching prospect. He doesn’t turn 21 until October 11th, making him significantly younger than most draft-eligible college players. He’s almost aged like a sophomore, which makes his performance very impressive.

16. Clarke Schmidt, RHP, New York (AL)

KATOH Forecast: 1.3 WAR

Schmidt was outstanding for South Carolina this year before he tore his UCL in April and had to undergo Tommy John surgery. Clarke’s strikeout numbers weren’t off-the-charts, so KATOH doesn’t love him as much as some of the other guys in this class, but he did enough things well to post a 1.34 ERA.

17. Evan White, 1B, Seattle

KATOH Forecast: 0.8 WAR

White amassed 24 doubles this year at Kentucky while also striking out in just 13% of his trips to the plate. He was one of the top hitters in the SEC this season. The downside is that he’s a first baseman, and the track record for college first basemen isn’t great. But White’s chipped in 15 steals between this year and last, which backs up the scouting reports about his athleticism.

18. Alex Faedo, RHP, Detroit

KATOH Forecast: 1.5 WAR

Although Faedo improved his ERA between this year and last, his peripheral stats trended in the wrong direction. His walks were up and his strikeouts ticked down. He was still excellent, but was a little less so this season. He’s also a little on the old side: he’ll turn 22 this winter.

20. David Peterson, LHP, New York (NL)

KATOH Forecast: 6.4 WAR

After putting up middling numbers his freshman and sophomore seasons, Peterson broke out in a big way this year. He posted an absurd 140:15 strikeout-to-walk ratio this year while only allowing two home runs. The BABIP gods weren’t with Peterson this year, bumping his ERA up to 2.51, but his peripheral stats were outstanding. KATOH also loves his 6-foot-6 frame. He’s a bit on the old side, as he turns 22 in September, but he’s still one of KATOH’s favorite draft-eligible pitchers. KATOH loves this pick.

22. Logan Warmoth, SS, Toronto

KATOH Forecast: 1.0 WAR

Warmoth hit a solid .336/.404/.554 as North Carolina’s shortstop, pairing 10 homers with 18 steals. He rarely walks but has demonstrated a rare combination of power and speed from a shortstop.

23. Jeren Kendall, OF, Los Angeles (NL)

KATOH Forecast: 1.1 WAR

Kendall’s performance fizzled a bit this year. A .307/.372/.556 batting line in a top conference is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but it’s very underwhelming after he hit .332/.396/.568 last year. His impressive power and speed remain intact, which is why scouts still adore him, but his strikeout rate rose to 25%. A 15% strikeout rate is a bit high for a college bat, so a 25% clip is alarming for someone who’s supposed to be an elite college prospect. Still, KATOH isn’t completely out on him because he does everything else so well.

24. Tanner Houck, RHP, Boston

KATOH Forecast: 5.1 WAR

KATOH loves this pick, as Houck was one the top-projected pitchers in the draft. Houck’s strikeout totals pale in comparison to KATOH’s other favorite pitchers, but he has a strong three years in the SEC to his name. Performance aside, he projects well due to his 6-foot-5 frame and his youth — he still hasn’t turned 21.

25. Seth Romero, LHP, Washington

KATOH Forecast: 1.4 WAR

Romero posted huge strikeout numbers this year, but did so in a small sample of innings as a swingman for Houston before he was kicked off the team. He comes from the AAC, which is a very good conference, but isn’t quite on the same level as the SEC, ACC, or Pac-12. KATOH projects him conservatively due to his coming from a non-elite conference and his small sample of performance.

30. Alex Lange, RHP, Chicago (NL)

KATOH Forecast: 2.1 WAR

Lange’s numbers haven’t improved over his time at LSU, but that’s OK because he was excellent from the get-go. He allows a few more homers than some of his peers – 21 total between this year and last – but he’s still been one of the SEC’s premier pitchers for three seasons now.

33. Kevin Merrell, SS, Oakland

KATOH Forecast: 1.1 WAR

Merrell enjoyed a breakout junior season this year, slashing .384/.464/.569 in the AAC. Merrell makes loads on contact, draws walks, and does damage on the bases. His pre-2017 performances were consistently mediocre and he didn’t play in a top conference, but his recent work has caught KATOH’s eye.

35. Brent Rooker, 1B/OF, Minnesota

KATOH Forecast: 2.7 WAR

Rooker’s 2017 numbers are off the charts, and he was unquestionably the best hitter in college this year. The senior has slashed .392/.498/.820 with 23 homers and 18 steals. Rooker’s power makes him very exciting — not just the homers, but also his 30 doubles. The obvious caveat, though, is that he’s aged like a senior and doesn’t have much pedigree. Not only did this season come out of nowhere, but he’s also coming up on his 23rd birthday. Still, KATOH likes him better than every draft-eligible hitter not named Adam Haseley.

36. Brian Miller, OF, Miami

KATOH Forecast: 0.8 WAR

A speedster from North Carolina, Miller slashed .343/.422/.502 last year due in large part to his high-contact approach. Miller hasn’t shown a ton of power yet, but his ISO jumped from .038 as a freshman to .159 as a junior. Despite the middling power, he still managed to be one of the best hitters in the ACC this year.

38. Stuart Fairchild, OF, Cincinnati

KATOH Forecast: 0.8 WAR

Fairchild put up big power numbers this year, blasting 17 homers and 18 doubles in 60 games. He also swiped 20 bases this year, giving him an enticing combination of power and speed. Fairchild’s strikeout and walk numbers weren’t great, however, suggesting his hitting approach could use some work.

43. Greg Deichmann, 3B/OF, Oakland

KATOH Forecast: 1.0 WAR

Deichman mashed 19 homers at LSU this year and walked in over 16% of his plate appearances. He strikes out a bit much but has an overall encouraging offensive profile for a third baseman.

44. Drew Ellis, 3B, Arizona

KATOH Forecast: 1.8 WAR

A powerful third baseman, Ellis slashed .367/.457/.729 this year at Louisville. He hit a remarkable 20 homers this year and complemented it with a 14% walk rate. His six steals suggest he also has some degree of athleticism.

45. Spencer Howard, RHP, Philadelphia

KATOH Forecast: 0.8 WAR

Howard pitched very well for Cal Poly as a swingman this year, posting a 1.95 ERA and striking out 97 in 88 innings. As a sophomore who doesn’t turn 21 until late July, Howard is a lot younger than most of the other college guys who were drafted.

47. Griffin Canning, RHP, Los Angeles (AL)

KATOH Forecast: 6.6 WAR

Canning struck out 140 and walked just 32 this year on his way to a 2.34 ERA. He pitched excellently as an underclassman as well, giving him three years of strong performance in the tough Pac-12 conference. He reportedly fell this far due to something that showed up in an MRI, which obviously wasn’t incorporated into my projections, but KATOH adores him.

49. Gavin Sheets, 1B, Chicago (AL)

KATOH Forecast: 0.9 WAR

Sheets paired 20 homers with a 12% strikeout rate this year, making him one of the top hitters in the ACC and all of college. He also turned in a similarly strong performance last summer on the Cape. Unfortunately, like many of the best college bats in this draft, he’s limited to first base, and the history of college first basemen isn’t great.

51. Joe Dunand, 3B, Miami

KATOH Forecast: 0.4 WAR

Dunand popped 18 homers for NC State this year, but did little else offensively. That type of power from a third baseman in the ACC is impressive, but KATOH’s underwhelmed by his lackluster strikeout and walk numbers that resulted in a .368 OBP.

56. Corbin Martin, RHP, Houston

KATOH Forecast: 0.1 WAR

Martin was very mediocre for Texas A&M this year, posting a 3.35 ERA and middling peripherals in 23 appearances – 12 of them starts. He’s also a bit on the old side, as he was born in 1995. He also pitched exceptionally well in his 14 innings on the Cape last summer.

62. Morgan Cooper, RHP, Los Angeles (NL)

KATOH Forecast: 1.5 WAR

KATOH loves Cooper and sees this pick as something of a steal. Cooper posted big strikeout numbers this year, leading the Big 12 with 110. He also did an excellent job of limiting hard contact. His 6-foot-5 frame is another point in his favor. Cooper was born in 1994, making him quite old for a draft prospect. But it’s hard to find fault with his performance at Texas.

65. Wil Crowe, RHP, Washington

KATOH Forecast: 0.1 WAR

My KATOH system is way down on Crowe because his 2017 numbers have been underwhelming. He’s struck out less than a batter per inning and finished up with an ERA in the mid-3s. On top of that, he’ll turn 23 in September, making him roughly a year-and-a-half older than many top college players.

67. Cory Abbott, RHP, Chicago (NL)

KATOH Forecast: 1.0 WAR

Abbott was one of the top pitchers in the WCC this year, striking out 130 innings in 98 innings en route to a 1.74 ERA. KATOH’s not terribly enthused, however, for a few reasons. He pitched in the WCC, which isn’t a tippy-top conference. And while he did play on the Cape last summer, his performance there was underwhelming. He’s also neither particularly tall (6-foot-1) nor young (turns 22 in September).

68. Daulton Varsho, C, San Diego

KATOH Forecast: 0.0 WAR

Varsho played in the lower-tier Horizon Conference, and KATOH rarely likes hitters from weak conferences. Varsho was third among hitters from weak conferences who didn’t play on the Cape, however, so he’s one of the best among guys in his situation. I’m skeptical of KATOH’s ability to place low-conference hitters on the same scale as their elite-conference counterparts.

70. Tommy Doyle, RHP, Colorado

KATOH Forecast: 0.2 WAR

Doyle was lights-out as Virginia’s closer this year, finishing up with a 1.87 ERA in 34 innings. KATOH loves his 6-foot-6 frame, but his numbers were just OK despite his pitching exclusively in relief.

74. Zac Lowther, LHP, Baltimore

KATOH Forecast: 1.8 WAR

KATOH loved what Lowther did on the Cape last summer, and he followed in up with an excellent junior season at Xavier. Lowther struck out 123 batters across 83 innings, and did a great job of suppressing hits. The two minor knocks against him statistically are his walk rate and the non-elite competition of the Big East Conference.

75. JJ Matijevic, 1B, Houston

KATOH Forecast: 0.7 WAR

After a down sophomore season, Matijevic had a big summer on the Cape and has carried it over to his junior year. Matijevic has flirted with a .400 average at Arizona with tons of doubles, which makes for an enticing offensive profile. However, he’s limited to first base and could stand to walk more.

*****

College Picks from Rounds 1 and 2
Pick Player Pos Team KATOH
4 Brendan McKay LHP/1B Tampa 8.0
5 Kyle Wright RHP Atlanta 2.4
7 Pavin Smith 1B Arizona 1.4
8 Adam Haseley OF Philadelphia 2.8
9 Keston Hiura 2B Milwaukee 1.3
11 Jake Burger 3B Chicago (AL) 0.8
15 J.B. Bukauskas RHP Houston 3.1
16 Clarke Schmidt RHP New York (AL) 1.3
17 Evan White 1B Seattle 0.8
18 Alex Faedo RHP Detroit 1.5
20 David Peterson LHP New York (NL) 6.4
22 Logan Warmoth SS Toronto 1.0
23 Jeren Kendall OF Los Angeles (NL) 1.1
24 Tanner Houck RHP Boston 5.1
25 Seth Romero LHP Houston 1.4
30 Alex Lange RHP Chicago (NL) 2.1
33 Kevin Merrell SS Oakland 1.1
35 Brent Rooker 1B/OF Minnesota 2.7
36 Brian Miller OF Miami 0.8
38 Stuart Fairchild OF Cincinnati 0.8
43 Greg Deichmann 3B/OF Oakland 1.0
44 Drew Ellis 3B Arizona 1.8
45 Spencer Howard RHP Philadelphia 0.8
47 Griffin Canning RHP Los Angeles (AL) 6.6
49 Gavin Sheets 1B Chicago (AL) 0.9
51 Joe Dunand 3B Miami 0.4
56 Corbin Martin RHP Houston 0.1
62 Morgan Cooper RHP Los Angeles (NL) 1.5
65 Wil Crowe RHP Washington 0.1
67 Cory Abbott RHP Chicago (NL) 1.0
68 Daulton Varsho C San Diego 0.0
70 Tommy Doyle RHP Colorado 0.2
74 Zac Lowther LHP Baltimore 1.8
75 JJ Matijevic 1B Houston 0.7

We hoped you liked reading Projecting the College Players Taken on Day One of the Draft by Chris Mitchell!

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Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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Barnard

JJ Matijevic was announced as a 2B I believe, would that change his forecast if the conversion is successful? Thought it was an interesting little storyline