Every year Baseball America surveys scouting directors and national crosscheckers asking them to vote on our Preseason College All-America team. This year 17 of the 30 teams participated, giving a solid cross-section of how scouts view the college talent heading into the 2016 season. As we have for more than 30 years, we ask scouting directors’ opinions because we’re attempting to look forward with this team, not back at past accomplishments. Our end of season College All-America Team rewards results, but our preseason list is a look at the top talent in college baseball.
Prognosticating which teams can get to Omaha is hard. Picking the national championship winner before a game has even been played? With the increased parity in college baseball—reflected most with three years in a row with first-time national champions in UCLA (2013), Vanderbilt (’14) and Virginia (’15)—identifying College World Series clubs gets harder every year, even as the “Power Five” conferences separate themselves from the rest of college athletics more and more with massive amounts of football money.
Identifying which players will be future big leaguers, though—we have that figured out at Baseball America. That’s because we enlist the scouting directors of Major League Baseball’s 30 clubs to pick the best players for us, in our Preseason All-America teams.
These are the most talented players in the country, as judged by those whose job it is to assess talent. This year, scouts who spoke on condition of anonymity told BA the college draft class of 2016 features depth over star power, both on the mound and in the batter’s box, with starting pitching potentially most improved in comparison to the 2015 class. However, this year’s class lacks last year’s record-setting shortstop talent.
The team includes several repeat members, with first-teamers A.J. Puk (moving from two-way utility to pitcher) and Kyle Funkhouser (the lone senior) repeating that honor from a year ago, with third-team righthander Cal Quantrill repeating his third-team honors after missing last season with Tommy John surgery. Other repeaters include catcher Zack Collins and two-way player Sheldon Neuse.
Scouts have some prospect fatigue with Clemson’s Chris Okey, though he still earned the votes to be a first-teamer. Directors voted in three bat-first catchers and like Wright State’s Sean Murphy best among the catch-and-throw options. Okey, a third-team choice a year ago, moves up to first team, while second-teamer Zack Collins was the first-team choice a year ago.
Chris Okey, Clemson
No. 72 on the BA 500 coming out of high school in 2013, Okey has played for five USA Baseball national teams in the last five years, ranging from 16U to the Collegiate National Team. Scouts have seen him in plenty of high-profile situations, and there’s no doubt that some want to see more out of the listed 5-foot-11, 185-pounder.
He’s a solid athlete for a catcher, as well as an aggressive hitter whose power emerged with the livelier ball introduced in 2015. It’s on defense where scouts want to see more polish from Okey, who still has lapses of concentration behind the plate, whether it’s handling pitchers, receiving pitches on both sides of the plate or showing inconsistent throwing mechanics.
Second-teamer Collins has been more productive offensively and has the added advantage of hitting lefthanded, but will be Miami’s full-time catcher for the first time as a junior. Sophomore J.J. Schwarz of Florida is the Southeastern Conference’s leading home run hitter but will have to overcome his modest athleticism to be an average catcher defensively, and lags behind fellow Florida sophomore Mike Rivera, with whom he shares catching duties.
A fairly weak spot in the 2015 draft class, this group has some impact potential in 2016, particularly at the hot corner, though it lacks depth. Several of the top players are sophomores, with first basemen K.J. Harrison (first-team) and Pavin Smith (third-team) eligible in 2017 while third baseman Will Toffey (second-team) is eligible in 2016.
K.J. Harrison, Oregon State
Scouts have liked what they’ve seen of Harrison but are concerned that he played exclusively at first base as a freshman, though he mashed for the Beavers. In high school in Hawaii, Harrison showed a strong arm and soft hands behind the plate to go with a powerful 6-foot, 200-pound frame, but with Logan Ice on campus, Oregon State was able to ease Harrison into college ball at a less-demanding defensive spot. Scouts are encouraged by buzz that Harrison could play some third base and catch this spring in addition to his work at first base, as he has power potential.
Nick Senzel, Tennessee
The Vols have produced big league third basemen such as Joe Randa, Chase Headley and Matt Duffy, the 2015 MVP of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Senzel was MVP of the Cape Cod League last summer, adding to his long hitting track record. Scouts saw Senzel hit as a prep on a loaded Farragut High team in Knoxville, Tenn., that included current pros such as Nicky Delmonico, A.J. Simcox and Phil Pfeifer. He’s the best hitter of the crew, thanks to a polished approach and strong, quick hands.
|2016 Preseason All-America Teams|
|C||Chris Okey, Clemson||Jr.||R-R||5-11||195||.315||.389||.545||235||50||74||12||57||3|
|1B||K.J. Harrison, Oregon State||So.||R-R||6-0||200||.309||.401||.527||220||40||68||10||60||1|
|2B||Cavan Biggio, Notre Dame||Jr.||L-R||6-1||203||.258||.406||.462||221||45||57||9||26||14|
|3B||Nick Senzel, Tennessee||Jr.||R-R||6-1||205||.325||.399||.495||200||33||65||4||28||7|
|SS||Errol Robinson, Mississippi||Jr.||R-R||6-0||180||.297||.376||.364||209||31||62||1||30||6|
|OF||Kyle Lewis, Mercer||Jr.||R-R||6-4||210||.367||.423||.677||226||49||83||17||56||3|
|OF||Corey Ray, Louisville||Jr.||L-L||6-0||190||.325||.389||.543||265||46||86||11||56||34|
|OF||Buddy Reed, Florida||Jr.||B-R||6-4||210||.305||.367||.433||282||51||86||4||47||18|
|UT||Bobby Dalbec, 3b/rhp, Arizona||Jr.||R-R||6-4||220||.319||.410||.601||213||43||68||15||53||0|
|SP||Kyle Funkhouser, Louisville||Sr.||R-R||6-3||225||8||5||3.2||17||0||112||97||45||104|
|SP||Alec Hansen, Oklahoma||Jr.||R-R||6-7||235||5||6||3.95||15||0||82||75||44||94|
|SP||A.J. Puk, Florida||Jr.||L-L||6-7||230||9||4||3.81||17||0||78||59||35||104|
|SP||Logan Shore, Florida||Jr.||R-R||6-2||215||11||6||2.72||19||0||112||97||24||84|
|RP||Zack Burdi, Louisville||Jr.||R-R||6-3||205||6||1||0.92||20||9||29||16||8||30|
|UT||Bobby Dalbec, 3b/rhp, Arizona||Jr.||R-R||6-4||220||3||7||3.21||21||5||62||55||23||48|
The 2015 draft saw five college shortstops drafted among the top 30 picks, the most in draft history. There’s no way the 2016 class will match that group, though the second basemen supply more intrigue with the sons of big leaguers occupying the first two teams. Second-teamer JaVon Shelby (son of John) was expected to play more third base than second in 2016, but second-team shortstop Bryson Brigman, whose father played college baseball, projects more as a pro second baseman thanks to his lack of arm strength.
Cavan Biggio, Notre Dame
The son of Hall of Famer Craig, Cavan Biggio lacks his father’s overall athleticism and speed. At the plate his stance, with hands held high and plenty of pre-swing movement from the left side, is more reminiscent of former Notre Damer Craig Counsell, now the Brewers’ manager. The younger Biggio is his own player, though, with power potential and tremendous plate discipline. He led the Cape Cod League in walks in 2015 after ranking 14th in Division I. However, Biggio remains a fringy defender who has hit just .252 in his first two college seasons.
Errol Robinson, Mississippi
Robinson started for Ole Miss’ 2014 College World Series team as a freshman, owing to his above-average glove. He has the infield actions, body control, quickness and average arm strength for the position, though some scouts question whether he has the rocket arm to be a true plus defender. He showed more offensive ability in the Cape Cod League last summer, hitting .312 and using his above-average speed to be a useful, if not prolific, basestealer.
Brigman and Colby Woodmansee, the second- and third-team choices, both could go in the first three rounds as well, with Brigman offering more present hitting ability. Woodmansee has a much rangier body at 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, and is a split-camp player, beloved by some evaluators for his savvy and bat potential, while others see him as a tough profile who doesn’t fit at short.
This is the strength of the college hitting crop. All three first-teamers are likely first-round picks, and second-teamers Nick Banks (Texas A&M), Ryan Boldt (Nebraska) and Bryan Reynolds (Vanderbilt) all could be as well.
Kyle Lewis, Mercer
Lewis has the most to prove, considering he has had less time in the spotlight compared to other players from bigger-time programs, and fewer opportunities to prove it. After earning Andre Dawson physical comparisons last summer in the Cape Cod League, Lewis will have to mash to keep impressing scouts while playing against Mercer’s Southern Conference schedule.
While he often turns in below-average times to first out the batter’s box, Lewis is a better athlete than other mid-major slugging corner bats of recent vintage from the same geographic area, such as Georgia Southern’s Victor Roache and Jacksonville’s Adam Brett Walker, and has shown real hitting ability, leading the SoCon in batting and slugging last season while smashing 17 home runs and winning player of the year honors. He generates his power with bat speed and fast hands rather than being strength-oriented as Roache and Walker were, making scouts higher on his potential.
Corey Ray, Louisville
Ray has the combination of present skills and tools, projection and physicality to be the top college hitter drafted. He’s made tremendous progress since earning a starting job for the Cardinals late in his freshman year, igniting their offense last season with 34 stolen bases, best in the Atlantic Coast Conference and 11th in the nation. He’s a dual threat with power potential as well, though projections of just how many home runs he’ll hit as a pro vary. Some scouts see Ray as an 8-12 home run hitter and a future leadoff man. Others believe his sound swing and improving plate discipline will translate into 15-20 homers, with one scout comparing him to former Cardinals outfielder Ray Lankford.
“With Ray, you watch the swing and there’s no big red flags,” one scouting director said. “We’re watching to see this spring if he makes a little more contact, especially against lefthanders, and improves in center field. If does those things, watch out.”
Buddy Reed, Florida
Reed has the best body of any college position player, including the statuesque Lewis; both are listed at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, with the high-waisted Reed having room to add strength while still retaining his plus speed. Reed shines most defensively at present, as he’s a long strider with range, overcoming his inconsistent reads in center field.
Reed’s inconsistency extends to the batter’s box, where the switch-hitter remains raw in his approach. He shows flashes of hard contact, but his inexperience (he was a multi-sport prep athlete) shows. He’ll need plenty of at-bats to improve his pitch recognition and swing mechanics from both sides of the plate.
|C||Zack Collins, Miami||Jr.||L-R||6-4||220||.302||.445||.587||242||61||73||15||70||7|
|1B||Peter Alonso, Florida||Jr.||R-R||6-2||225||.301||.398||.503||143||33||43||5||32||0|
|2B||JaVon Shelby, Kentucky||Jr.||R-R||6-2||200||.312||.442||.525||202||29||63||9||44||4|
|3B||Will Toffey, Vanderbilt||So.||L-R||6-2||195||.294||.380||.420||255||45||75||4||49||8|
|SS||Bryson Brigman, San Diego||So.||R-R||5-11||180||.339||.395||.436||218||39||74||2||28||5|
|OF||Nick Banks, Texas A&M||Jr.||L-L||6-0||215||.364||.450||.536||239||51||87||8||48||9|
|OF||Ryan Boldt, Nebraska||Jr.||L-R||6-2||220||.344||.429||.408||218||45||75||1||21||9|
|OF||Bryan Reynolds, Vanderbilt||Jr.||B-R||6-2||210||.318||.388||.462||286||56||91||5||49||17|
|UT||Brendan McKay, 1b/lhp, Louisville||So.||L-L||6-2||212||.308||.418||.431||211||32||65||4||34||4|
|SP||Daulton Jefferies, California||Jr.||L-R||6-0||180||6||5||2.92||14||0||80||72||17||74|
|SP||Alex Lange, Louisiana State||So.||R-R||6-3||198||12||0||1.97||17||0||114||87||46||131|
|SP||Eric Lauer, Kent State||Jr.||R-L||6-3||205||5||4||1.98||15||0||86||63||26||103|
|SP||Mike Shawaryn, Maryland||Jr.||R-R||6-3||211||13||2||1.71||17||0||116||85||29||138|
|RP||Zach Jackson, Arkansas||Jr.||R-R||6-3||195||5||1||2.10||27||9||60||43||38||89|
|UT||Brendan McKay, 1b/lhp, Louisville||So.||L-L||6-2||212||9||3||1.77||20||4||97||53||34||117|
Though it is typically difficult to find legitimate two-way players in college baseball, this year produced a crowded utility ballot. Brendan McKay won Freshman of the Year honors a season ago and would likely hit in the middle of Louisville’s lineup and start on Friday nights if not for Kyle Funkhouser’s return. Michigan’s Carmen Benedetti and Wake Forest’s Will Craig received votes, as did Texas Christian freshman Luken Baker, who was on track to be an early draft pick last year until he sent a letter to teams telling them he intended not to sign.
Bobby Dalbec, 3B/rhp, Arizona
Scouts who believe in Dalbec see parallels between the righthander/third baseman and Kris Bryant. Like Bryant, Dalbec has a long 6-foot-4 frame, though Dalbec is a bit bigger (220 pounds to Bryant’s listed 215 in college) and has less body control. Both righthanded hitters strike out at lot, and both struggled with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team.
Dalbec salvaged his summer with a hot streak in the Cape, leading the league with 12 homers in 111 plate appearances due to elite bat speed. He played some shortstop and second base in the fall for Arizona, but some scouts aren’t convinced the Colorado prep product can stay in the dirt. He has the arm strength for right field if he has to move and is slated to move into Arizona’s rotation after spending most of his first two seasons coming out of the bullpen (36 of his 43 pitching appearances have come in relief).
The 2015 draft was a poor one for college starters, but 2016’s class has more depth and more players with single-digit potential—as long as they stay healthy. “Last year, guys were falling by the wayside left and right,” a scouting director said, “and the class wasn’t deep enough to sustain that. This year has more depth, more guys who have a chance to start.”
That depth extends beyond the first-teamers written about below and includes second-teamer Daulton Jefferies, who may be the class’ best combination of stuff and pitchability in a modest 6-foot frame, and Stanford’s Cal Quantrill, who has as high a ceiling as any college pitcher but is coming off Tommy John surgery and won’t be back full-speed likely until April. Third-teamers Connor Jones of Virginia and Robert Tyler of Georgia also have high first-round potential.
Kyle Funkhouser, Louisville
Funkhouser gives Louisville three preseason first-team All-Americans, tying Florida for the most of any school. No one thought he’d be a two-time first-teamer, though, considering he was Louisville’s highest-drafted player in program history last year as the 35th overall pick. That was farther down than he anticipated coming into the season, though, and Funkhouser will have to avoid another second-half fade like he had a year ago.
His physical, workhorse body profiles him as a starter, as does a plus fastball that he locates well when he’s going right. The only senior on the list, Funkhouser had no Plan B last year down the stretch when he couldn’t put hitters away if they caught up to his fastball. He still has to improve his breaking ball and changeup, with neither earning above-average grades, and looks more like a back-of-the-rotation option to most clubs, albeit a safe option.
Alec Hansen, Oklahoma
Hansen has the biggest fastball among college baseball’s starters, reaching 99 mph at times, and he pitches with a plus fastball more consistently than any of his peers. Hansen’s curveball and changeup also have flashed above-average, while his changeup gives him a solid fourth pitch.
At 6-foot-7, 235 pounds, Hansen also has imposing size and has many of the ingredients to be in the mix to be drafted No. 1 overall. However, he also has a long injury track record, including forearm soreness that ended his senior year at a Colorado high school, plus he didn’t pitch last summer or in Oklahoma’s fall world series because he wasn’t right physically. Consider Hansen the most volatile stock in the pitching portfolio.
A.J. Puk, Florida
Considering that Phillies team president and Hall of Famer Pat Gillick went to see Puk pitch in the fall in Gainesville, the Gators lefthander enters the spring as the most likely college player to be picked No. 1 overall when Philadelphia makes the selection in June.
Puk’s plusses are easy to see—he’s 6-foot-7, lefthanded and can reach 95-97 mph with his fastball, using a good downhill plane. He was more comfortable last summer with Team USA locating the heater in the 92-93 mph register, though, with his slider and changeup playing as average to slightly above-average. Puk will have to maintain his modest athleticism, but his wide hips give scouts some pause about how big his body eventually will get.
Logan Shore, Florida
Headed for his third straight season as the Gators’ Friday starter, Shore had uncommon polish coming out of a Minnesota high school. He’s a performance-pick starter who has a chance to join the Ian Kennedy-Mike Leake phylum of No. 4 big league starters.
Shore has started to show flashes of improved, crisper stuff across the board. His sinking, low-90s fastball and changeup earn above-average grades, with some giving the change plus grades. Shore’s slider gives him another pitch to get early-count groundball outs to go with his fastball. He may need a fourth pitch eventually to help combat lefthanded hitters, but he could avoid that by taking his fastball command up a notch, from control to true command.
With more emphasis on relievers in the major leagues, it is not surprising to see so many talented pitchers in college bullpens as well. Burdi is seen as a reliever at the next level, but both second-teamer Zach Jackson and third-teamer Ben Bowden may get a chance to start as professionals. In fact, both could end up in the rotation this season as Arkansas and Vanderbilt try to sort out their pitching staffs.
Zack Burdi, Louisville
Scouting directors voted Burdi’s older brother Nick, now in the Twins organization, as the first-team All-America closer prior to the 2014 season as well. They join past brother tandems such as the Drews (J.D. and Stephen), Shelbys (John and JaVon this year) and Weeks (Rickie and Jemile) in having two brothers voted as All-Americans.
Like his older brother, Burdi is a flamethrower. While he hasn’t reached 100 mph like Nick, the younger Burdi pumps his fastball into the upper 90s regularly with a hard slider that can be a swing-and-miss pitch as well.
|C||J.J. Schwarz, Florida||So.||R-R||6-2||215||.332||.398||.629||256||60||85||18||73||1|
|1B||Pavin Smith, Virginia||So.||L-L||6-2||200||.307||.373||.467||270||38||83||7||44||2|
|2B||Tommy Edman, Stanford||Jr.||B-R||5-10||180||.296||.383||.377||223||42||66||1||29||4|
|3B||Ronnie Gideon, Texas A&M||Jr.||R-R||6-3||240||.294||.359||.522||136||19||40||7||41||0|
|SS||Colby Woodmansee, Arizona State||Jr.||R-R||6-3||192||.308||.355||.454||240||36||74||5||44||2|
|OF||Jake Fraley, Louisiana State||Jr.||L-L||6-0||183||.307||.372||.427||225||50||69||2||35||23|
|OF||Jeren Kendall, Vanderbilt||So.||L-R||5-11||180||.281||.394||.530||185||34||52||8||40||19|
|OF||Stephen Wrenn, Georgia||Jr.||R-R||6-2||185||.324||.400||.482||222||38||72||8||28||28|
|UT||Sheldon Neuse, ss/rhp, Oklahoma||Jr.||R-R||6-0||195||.275||.342||.424||229||26||63||6||43||10|
|SP||Connor Jones, Virginia||Jr.||R-R||6-3||200||7||3||3.19||18||0||116||94||52||113|
|SP||Cal Quantrill, Stanford||Jr.||L-R||6-3||185||2||0||1.93||3||0||19||15||8||20|
|SP||Jordan Sheffield, Vanderbilt||R-So.||R-R||6-0||185||5||2||2.85||22||0||60||39||43||55|
|SP||Robert Tyler, Georgia||Jr.||L-R||6-4||226||1||1||5.32||6||0||24||22||11||29|
|RP||Ben Bowden, Vanderbilt||Jr.||L-L||6-4||225||6||1||2.89||26||2||37||32||14||49|
|UT||Sheldon Neuse, ss/rhp, Oklahoma||Jr.||R-R||6-0||195||1||1||1.12||6||1||8||6||2||6|