Students returned to class for the spring semester on many college campuses across the country this week, the latest sign the start of the college baseball season is fast approaching.
As players prepare for the season, scouts also are hard at work putting together evaluations for the 2016 draft. The college class will present them some challenges throughout the spring due to some of the quirks of the group.
Much like the high school class, the college class is led by a pair of pitchers who stand out entering the season—Florida lefthander A.J. Puk and Oklahoma righthander Alec Hansen. Puk was dominant down the stretch last season, as the Gators reached the College World Series. Hansen has shown electric stuff and is capable of throwing 100 mph.
While Puk and Hansen sit atop the class now, a few other pitchers are capable of pitching their way into that elite group. Stanford righthander Cal Quantrill, the son of former All-Star Paul Quantrill, and Oregon lefthander Matt Krook, both have elite stuff if they can get back to full strength following Tommy John surgery. Righthanders Kyle Funkhouser and Connor Jones are also among the nation's top pitchers.
The strength of the college position players in this year's class is in the outfield. Louisville's Cory Ray, Florida's Buddy Reed and Texas A&M's Nick Banks formed the starting outfield for USA Baseball's Collegiate National Team during the summer and are all potential first-round picks. They may be joined by Mercer's Kyle Lewis, Vanderbilt's Bryan Reynolds and Nebraska's Ryan Boldt, among others.
But the class' strengths are part of what will make this spring such a challenge for evaluators.
Friday night is traditionally reserved for aces, as college coaches try to get off to a strong start in their weekend series.
Puk, however, the potential No. 1 overall pick, is not expected to serve as Florida's Friday starter. He filled the Saturday slot much of last year, pitching behind righthander Logan Shore. The combination worked, as Florida won the Southeastern Conference Tournament and went on to reach the College World Series. Shore went 11-6, 2.72, and likely will be a first-round pick this June.
But Puk being pushed to Saturday makes for an unusual situation. In the last 10 years, 88 college pitchers have been drafted in the first round. Of those, only nine have been starting pitchers who didn't pitch the first game of the weekend. The median draft position of that group is the 24th overall pick, and only Trevor Bauer, the third selection in 2011, went in the top 10.
Still, even if Puk does pitch on Saturdays, as anticipated, it likely won't affect his stock much. Multiple scouting directors said it wouldn't factor into their evaluation.
“If A.J. Puk pitches on a Tuesday night, it's our job to evaluate and it's our job to evaluate whoever he's pitch against," one director said. “That's not going to stop someone from taking him really, really high."
College outfielders typically are not a highly sought genre of players in the draft. Scouts tend to look for players at premium defensive positions first, and there is more pressure on corner outfielders to hit, pushing them down draft boards. In the last 10 years, 59 have been chosen in the first two rounds. Twice in that time frame have none been selected in the first round and only one—Dustin Ackley in 2009—has gone in the first five picks.
This year, however, is a banner year for college outfielders. Team USA's best position prospects last summer were its outfielders and the Cape Cod League Top 30 prospects list was filled with outfielders as well. Some scouts think even Senzel, who will play third base for Tennessee, could end up in the outfield as a professional.
With so many high-end outfielders, the 2016 class could rival 2009, when nine college outfielders were drafted in the first two rounds, led by Ackley. Future All-Stars A.J. Pollock and Jason Kipnis were also among the college outfielders drafted in the top two rounds that year.
Scouting directors will also have to determine this spring how comfortable they are with high strikeout rates for top college hitters. Big league hitters have struck out more in the past eight years than at any other time in history, which might make teams more accepting of players' swing-and-miss tendencies.
But this year's class includes several players with abnormally high strikeout rates. Arizona third baseman Bobby Dalbec might have the most power in the draft class (he hit 16 home runs during the summer between the Cape Cod League and the Collegiate National Team), but he also has significant swing-and-miss. He struck out in 41 percent of his plate appearances on the Cape and has whiffed in 24.16 percent of his plate appearances in his first two years with the Wildcats. That is higher than any player drafted in the first round in the past 10 years.
Dalbec is not alone, however. Since 2005, college hitters drafted in the first round have had a median career strikeout rate of 13.47 percent. Of the hitters in the top 25 of this year's college 100, five (Ray, Reed, Reynolds, Banks and Dalbec) have strikeout rates of more than 16.31 percent, the 75th percentile. Another (Lewis), falls just inside the margin.
Scouting directors said they will want to look beyond the raw strikeout rate and find out why a player is swinging and missing.
“You definitely want to see a guy who can manage the strike zone," one director said. “If a guy is chasing and expanding the zone, that's more of a red flag than a guy who sells out for power."
Ray and Reynolds cut down on their strikeouts during the summer, and all players have another season to bring their strikeout rates more in line with the typical range. But it is likely that the first day of this year's draft will include a few college hitters with unbecoming strikeout rates.
|Rank||Name, Pos., School||B-T||Ht.||Wt.||Previously drafted||Video|
|1.||A.J. Puk, lhp, Florida||L/L||6-7||225||Tigers ’13 (35)|
|2.||Alec Hansen, rhp, Oklahoma||R/R||6-7||235||Rockies ’13 (25)|
|3.||Corey Ray, of, Louisville||L/L||5-11||185||Mariners ’13 (33)|
|4.||Buddy Reed, of, Florida||S/R||6-3||200||Rangers ’13 (35)||Video|
|5.||Nick Senzel, 3b, Tennessee||R/R||6-1||205||Never||Video|
|6.||Kyle Funkhouser, rhp, Louisville||R/R||6-3||225||Dodgers ’15 (1)||Video|
|7.||Connor Jones, rhp, Virginia||R/R||6-3||200||Padres ’13 (21)||Video|
|8.||Kyle Lewis, of, Mercer||R/R||6-4||195||Never|
|9.||Matt Krook, lhp, Oregon||L/L||6-3||205||Marlins ’13 (1s)|
|10.||Robert Tyler, rhp, Georgia||L/R||6-4||226||Orioles ’13 (28)||Video|
|11.||Bryan Reynolds, of, Vanderbilt||S/R||6-2||210||Never||Video|
|12.||Logan Shore, rhp, Florida||R/R||6-2||215||Twins ’13 (29)|
|13.||Ryan Boldt, of, Nebraska||L/R||6-2||212||Red Sox ’13 (22)|
|14.||Cal Quantrill, rhp, Stanford||L/R||6-3||185||Yankees ’13 (26)|
|15.||Mike Shawaryn, rhp, Maryland||R/R||6-3||211||Royals ’13 (32)|
|16.||Eric Lauer, lhp, Kent State||R/L||6-3||205||Blue Jays ’13 (17)|
|17.||Nick Banks, of, Texas A&M||L/L||6-0||215||Never||Video|
|18.||Bobby Dalbec, 3b, Arizona||R/R||6-4||219||Never|
|19.||Jordan Sheffield, rhp, Vanderbilt||R/R||6-0||185||Red Sox ’13 (13)||Video|
|20.||Dakota Hudson, rhp, Mississippi State||R/R||6-5||207||Rangers ’13 (36)|
|21.||Errol Robinson, ss, Mississippi||R/R||5-11||170||Never|
|22.||Corbin Burnes, rhp, St. Mary’s||R/R||6-3||205||Never|
|23.||Anthony Kay, lhp, Connecticut||L/L||6-0||187||Mets ’13 (29)|
|24.||Daulton Jefferies, rhp, California||L/R||6-0||180||Marlins ’13 (39)|
|25.||Chris Okey, c, Clemson||R/R||5-11||195||Padres ’13 (31)||Video|
|26.||Zach Jackson, rhp, Arkansas||R/R||6-3||195||Never|
|27.||Jake Fraley, of, Louisiana State||L/L||6-0||183||Never|
|28.||Stephen Wrenn, of, Georgia||R/R||6-2||185||Braves ’13 (28)|
|29.||Zack Collins, c, Miami||L/R||6-3||220||Reds ’13 (27)||Video|
|30.||Kyle Cody, rhp, Kentucky||R/R||6-7||245||Twins ’15 (2s)||Video|
|31.||Matt Crohan, lhp, Winthrop||L/L||6-4||200||Never|
|32.||Sean Murphy, c, Wright State||R/R||6-3||207||Never|
|33.||Sam Tewes, rhp, Wichita State||R/R||6-5||200||Blue Jays ’13 (22)|
|34.||Jared Poche’, lhp, Louisiana State||R/L||6-1||207||Never|
|35.||Zack Brown, rhp, Kentucky||R/R||6-2||200||Cubs ’13 (38)|
|36.||Cody Sedlock, rhp, Illinois||R/R||6-4||210||Never|
|37.||Zack Burdi, rhp, Louisville||R/R||6-3||209||Never|
|38.||Ben Bowden, lhp, Vanderbilt||L/L||6-4||225||Never|
|39.||Garrett Williams, lhp, Oklahoma State||L/L||6-1||199||Padres ’13 (33)|
|40.||Bailey Clark, rhp, Duke||R/R||6-5||210||Never||Video|
|41.||T.J. Zeuch, rhp, Pittsburgh||R/R||6-7||225||Royals ’13 (31)|
|42.||Kyle Serrano, rhp, Tennessee||R/R||6-3||200||Rockies ’13 (29)|
|43.||Dane Dunning, rhp, Florida||R/R||6-3||190||Blue Jays ’13 (34)|
|44.||Ian Hamilton, rhp, Washington State||R/R||6-1||195||Never|
|45.||Wil Crowe, rhp, South Carolina||R/R||6-2||240||Indians ’13 (31)|
|46.||Jake Rogers, c, Tulane||R/R||6-1||185||Never|
|47.||Bryson Brigman, ss, San Diego||R/R||5-11||180||Athletics ’14 (40)|
|48.||Heath Quinn, of, Samford||R/R||6-3||220||Indians ’13 (12)|
|49.||Keegan Thompson, rhp, Auburn||R/R||6-2||197||Never|
|50.||Jacob Heyward, of, Miami||R/R||6-3||201||Braves ’13 (38)|
|51.||Mitchell Jordan, rhp, Stetson||R/R||6-2||200||Never|
|52.||Mitchell Traver, rhp, TCU||R/R||6-7||255||Cardinals ’15 (28)|
|53.||Ryan Howard, ss, Missiouri||R/R||6-1||194||Giants ’15 (31)|
|54.||Hayden Stone, rhp, Vanderbilt||R/R||6-3||185||Never|
|55.||Ryan Hendrix, rhp, Texas A&M||R/R||6-0||205||Indians ’13 (17)|
|56.||Riley Smith, rhp, LSU||R/R||6-2||180||Pirates ’15 (31)|
|57.||Jon Kilichowski, lhp, Vanderbilt||L/L||6-5||210||Cubs ’15 (39)|
|58.||Will Craig, 3b, Wake Forest||R/R||6-3||230||Royals ’13 (37)|
|59.||Colby Woodmansee, ss, Arizona State||R/R||6-3||195||Never|
|60.||Justin Dunn, rhp, Boston College||S/R||6-0||170||Dodgers ’13 (37)|
|61.||Stephen Alemais, ss, Tulane||R/R||6-0||190||Never|
|62.||Anfrenee Grier, of, Auburn||R/R||6-1||180||Tigers ’13 (39)|
|63.||Tyson Miller, rhp, Cal Baptist||R/R||6-4||190||Never|
|64||Tyler Stubblefield, lhp, Texas A&M||L/L||6-4||210||Braves ’13 (36)|
|65.||Garrett Hampson, ss, Long Beach||R/R||5-11||175||Nationals ’13 (26)|
|66.||Shaun Anderson, rhp, Florida||R/R||6-4||225||Nationals ’13 (40)|
|67.||Zac Houston, rhp, Mississippi State||R/R||6-5||234||Never|
|68.||Chad Smith, rhp, Mississippi||R/R||6-4||198||Indians ’15 (23)|
|69.||Jake Elliott, rhp, Oklahoma||R/R||6-7||230||Never|
|70.||Andrew Lantrip, rhp, Houston||R/R||6-2||175||Never|
|71.||Zac Gallen, rhp, North Carolina||R/R||6-0||180||Never|
|72.||Eli White, ss, Clemson||R/R||6-3||180||Pirates ’15 (37)|
|73.||Matt Thaiss, c, Virginia||L/R||6-0||195||Red Sox ’13 (32)|
|74.||Kel Johnson, of, Georgia Tech||R/R||6-4||204||Never|
|75.||Gio Brusa, of, Pacific||S/R||6-3||220||Cardinals ’15 (23)|
|76.||Peter Alonso, 1b, Florida||R/R||6-2||225||Never|
|77.||Lucas Erceg, 3b/rhp, Menlo (Calif.)||L/R||6-3||205||Never|
|78.||Andrew Calica, of, UCSB||L/R||6-1||190||Indians ’12 (17)|
|79.||Cavan Biggio, 2b, Notre Dame||L/R||6-1||185||Phillies ’13 (29)|
|80.||Nick Solak, 2b, Louisville||R/R||5-11||172||Never|
|81.||Will Toffey, 3b, Vanderbilt||L/R||6-2||195||Yankees ’14 (23)|
|82.||Sheldon Neuse, 3b/rhp, Oklahoma||R/R||6-0||195||Rangers ’13 (38)|
|83.||Willie Abreu, of, Miami||L/L||6-4||225||Reds ’13 (14)|
|84.||Stephen Nogosek, rhp, Oregon||R/R||6-1||172||Never|
|85.||Chad Hockin, rhp, Cal State Fullerton||R/R||6-2||200||Never|
|86.||Daniel Pinero, ss, Virginia||R/R||6-0||210||Tigers ’15 (36)|
|87.||Blake Tiberi, 3b, Louisville||L/R||5-11||200||Never|
|88.||Cory Wilder, rhp, North Carolina State||R/R||6-4||223||Never|
|89.||Dustin Hunt, rhp, Northeastern||R/R||6-5||195||Never|
|90.||Jon Duplantier, rhp, Rice||L/R||6-4||225||Never|
|91.||Tommy Edman, 2b, Stanford||S/R||5-10||180||Never|
|92.||Tucker Forbes, rhp, UCLA||R/R||6-8||235||Giants ’15 (30)|
|93.||Trever Morrison, ss, Oregon State||L/R||6-0||175||Red Sox ’13 (38)|
|94.||Ronnie Dawson, of, Ohio State||L/R||6-2||225||Never|
|95.||Danny Garcia, lhp, Miami||L/L||6-1||195||Never|
|96.||Chandler Eden, rhp, Texas Tech||R/R||6-2||175||Blue Jays ’15 (17)|
|97.||Stephen Woods, rhp, Albany||R/R||6-2||205||Rays ’13 (6)|
|98.||Carmen Benedetti, rhp/1b, Michigan||L/L||6-2||225||Never|
|99.||Andre Scrubb, rhp, High Point||R/R||6-4||260||Never|
|100.||Lake Bachar, rhp, Wisconsin-Whitewater||R/R||6-1||216||Never|