2018 Draft Tracker: Casey Mize Making His Case
Welcome to the second Draft Tracker of the 2018 season. If you missed the first edition, you can check that out here.
Baseball America has done Draft Trackers in the past, but we’re bringing back the feature this year to give readers a glimpse of the movement of some of the top players in the class every other week.
We are now a full month into the college season, and while there’s still some time left before the MLB Draft in June—81 days, to be exact—the top of the class is starting to take shape and scouting directors are forming opinions on players that will impact their decisions in the draft room.
Let’s jump in.
Casey Mize | RHP | Auburn
Mize is coming off of a no-hitter of Northeastern in which he retired the first ten batters he faced and allowed just one baserunner—who reached on a throwing error—over nine innings. After four starts, Mize is 4-0, 2.13 and has gone at least five innings in each start while striking out no fewer than seven batters in any game.
The Auburn ace is making a strong case as the best pitcher in the 2018 draft class and it’s not just because of statistical performance. Scouts rave about the deep repertoire that’s allowed Mize to strikeout 38 batters in 25.1 innings over his first four starts, while walking just three. Some evaluators say he has four plus pitches between a fastball in the mid 90s, a devastating split-finger, a mid-80s slider and a recently added cutter that's in the upper 80s.
Mize seems to have no trouble locating his entire arsenal, and has a 38-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio a year after leading Division I pitchers in that exact category. Additionally, through games played on March 13, Mize has the second-lowest WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) of any Division I arm in the nation at 0.51. Of the 355 pitches he's thrown so far this season, 243 of them have been strikes—good for a strike percentage (68.5%) higher than the 2017 MLB average (63.2%).
Before the season, Mize's to-do list was topped by staying healthy, and while that could still change at any point, he's stayed on the mound so far—and he's dominated.
Alec Bohm | 3B | Wichita State
The college bats will rise they say, and Bohm seems to be another hitter who’s trending in the right direction, as was the case with South Alabama outfielder Travis Swaggerty in our March 1 Draft Tracker. Bohm is tied for the team lead with five home runs—along with fellow potential first rounder Greyson Jenista—and is hitting .340/.471/.736 through 15 games with extra-base hits in nine of those games.
It's a small sample, and the competition that Bohm has faced to this point couldn't be described as elite, but the frequency that he's hitting for extra bases is extremely high. Sixty-one percent of Bohm's hits have gone for extra bases, compared to the 36-37 percent rates during his 2016-2017 seasons with Wichita State.
On top of that—or perhaps, along with that—Bohm has walked 14 times compared to eight strikeouts. Last season Bohm took a big stride forward with his strikeout-to-walk ratio, going from 2.78 in 2016 to 1.07 as a sophomore, but he's never walked more than he's struck out over a full season. As the Shockers move through their schedule and get into conference play, Bohm will get the chance to display his offensive ability against better pitching, but so far he's doing what he needs to do at the plate.
The track record for top of the draft college hitters who play in the dirt is good, and it's hard to find a single blemish on Bohm's collegiate resume—aluminum or wood. Throw in Bohm's near top of the class raw power and it's hard to envision him getting passed up many times come June.
Cole Winn | RHP | Orange (Calif.) Lutheran
Winn put himself high up on draft lists after a very loud performance at the Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif., last summer. So far this spring has separated himself from the rest of the arms in southern California.
Winn transferred from Colorado to one of the strongest areas in the country for prep baseball, though it is admittedly a down year for the 2018 draft class in the region. Still, with Orange (Calif.) Lutheran High, Winn is showing impressive stuff in the Trinity League—thought to be one of the toughest leagues in the country—and has also pitched well against No. 5 overall prospect Brice Turang, who is as polished a prep hitter you'll find.
The Mississippi State commit has been up to 96 mph with a sharp curveball that he can locate in the zone or bury below it and get batters to chase. According to scouts in the area, he's also added a slider recently, and it's been impressive at times as well. Winn came out looking more physical with lots of added muscle according to multiple scouts, and the reports on his makeup from both scouts and Orange Lutheran head coach Eric Borba are off the charts.
Winn is another of the many prep pitchers to start the season strong, and he should be able to take advantage of the relative lack of depth in SoCal this year when June rolls around.
Griffin Conine | OF | Duke
Conine entered the spring as one of college baseball's most prolific home run hitters, and while he's still leaving the yard with a frequency similar to his 13-homer 2017 season, his strikeout concerns have only grown.
The whiff rate has been an issue previously, but Conine's strikeout rates from 2016 (18.8%) and 2017 (16.8%) have been dwarfed by his strikeout rate (28.6%) this season through 16 games. The Blue Devil right fielder has shown a tendency to expand the zone and swing through breaking balls and as a player in a corner, much of his value will be tied to the bat. That's not to say that Conine's power production cannot or will not outweigh the strikeout concerns, but at this point his performance has to make scouts wonder.
It's certainly a small sample of at-bats, and given the lack of hitters and the strengths of the 2018 class (ie: pitching), Conine could certainly play his way in the other direction, but the early returns aren't encouraging. He'll get ample opportunity to prove himself once again in the ACC and in front of decision makers as the season progresses.
Nick Sprengel | LHP | San Diego
The early reports on Sprengel were not encouraging and the San Diego southpaw already slipped from No. 60 on our initial top 200 draft prospects list to No. 132 on our most recently updated and expanded top 300 prospects list.
His fastball command seemingly disappeared entirely early in the season and he had to fight himself to get the pitch over the plate, eventually resorting to using his secondary offerings more frequently to get in the strike zone.
While his last few starts have been more encouraging and the strikeouts are still there (25 strikeouts in 15 innings), evaluators are looking for him to find the fastball command he's had in the past. In 2017 Sprengel walked 3.62 batters per nine innings and in 2016 it was even lower at 2.62 per nine. Currently Sprengel has a 4.20 BB/9 which is far from outlandish, but doesn't illustrate the concerns that in-person evaluators have had. He's thrown 59.1 percent of his pitches for strikes through his first three games.
The walk rate issues trace back to Sprengel's time with Team USA's collegiate team last summer, when Sprengel posted a 2.89 ERA and 0.67 opposing batting average as a reliever, but walked eight batters in 9.1 innings.
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Gunnar Hoglund | RHP | Fivay High, Hudson, Fla.
Perhaps it's doing Hoglund a bit of a disservice to call him a "pop-up" player, as the 6-foot-4 righthander and Mississippi commit showed some interesting talent throughout the summer and performed at several big showcase events including Perfect Game's National Showcase, East Coast Pro and Florida Diamond Club.
Still, he was just outside the initial top 200 draft prospect rankings, but has since made a jump that many Florida players are seemingly making with decision-makers close by during Spring Training. Hoglund's fastball has been up to 96 mph which is several ticks up from his previous high (in the 92-93 mph range) and his curveball—which was in the 76-78 mph range at Perfect Game National last summer—has taken steps forward as well. Hoglund throws out of a high, three-quarter slot and had good deception over the summer by hiding the ball well with a crossfire delivery.
Hoglund ranks as the No. 125 prospect currently, with a chance to move as high up as the second or third rounds if he continues throwing with the stuff he's shown lately.
One To Watch
Steve Hajjar | LHP | Central Catholic (Lawrence, Mass.) High
A big, 6-foot-5 lefthander with athleticism and a good body, Hajjar could be one of the Northeast arms that inevitably rises up boards every spring. Committed to Michigan, Hajjar has been in the 90-93 mph range in the past with a tweener breaking ball in the upper 70s to low 80s.
Given the amount of eyes Florida players have been receiving, Hajjar is headed down to the Sunshine State to throw a bullpen where he should be seen by a number of scouts and could jump up boards depending on how he throws.
Hajjar is one of the youngest players in the high school class which is another factor that will help his cause this June. Of the prep players ranked on the 300 draft prospect list, only five are younger than Hajjar. He currently ranks No. 266.