2022 MLB Draft Stock Watch: 4 Names With First Round Helium & Hunting For College Arms
Welcome to Baseball America’s 2022 Draft Stock Watch. This is a recurring feature we’ll bring throughout the draft season to explore rising and falling prospects and dig into different themes and topics with the class at greater length.
Welcome to our week three stock watch. While many Northern high school players have still not gotten started, there’s plenty of baseball action to catch up on around the country and scouts are already identifying players who are shooting up draft boards in major ways.
Today we will look at four players—including three high schoolers—who have major helium and are pushing themselves solidly into the first round despite not ranking there on our current draft board (which will be updated soon).
After that, we’ll continue to explore the college pitching class, which continues to get obliterated on the health front after Mississippi State righthander Landon Sims was removed from a game last weekend.
First Round Helium
Jackson Holliday, SS, Stillwater (Okla.) HS (No. 32)
Holliday, the son of former big league outfielder Matt Holliday, was an industry favorite selection as a player who could really rise this spring. Last summer he showed more strength than he has in the past and that caused him to swing and miss a bit more than he’s accustomed to, but evaluators loved his combination of physical projection, athleticism, long track record of pure hitting ability and defensive chops at shortstop.
So far this spring, he’s had a ton of scouting heat at his games, with teams who pick among the top 15 or so really bearing down on him in a big way. Because of that attention, and with how well he’s performed in the early going, it seems like the industry is starting to view him as the top high school shortstop in the class, and potentially the best prep hitter outside of the Druw Jones/Termarr Johnson/Elijah Green trio of prospects at the top of the class.
On opening day, Holliday went 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles and turned in near top-of-the-scale run times from the lefthanded batter’s box, albeit with a bit of a jailbreak involved in the run.
There is a perception that Holliday could be a tough sign out of his Oklahoma State commitment, but if he’s going in the top half of the first round that could become less of a concern—and that’s certainly where his stock is trending.
Justin Crawford, OF, Bishop Gorman HS, Las Vegas (No. 43)
Holliday isn’t the only son of a former big leaguer who is trending up in a big way. Justin Crawford, the son of Carl Crawford, is off to a scorching start in Las Vegas and like Holliday was a highly projectable hitter who scouts tabbed as a possible riser this spring.
Through seven games, Crawford is hitting .542 (13-for-24) with two home runs, two doubles, a triple, two stolen bases and four walks to one strikeout.
Crawford was already starting to tap into more power last summer and fall in batting practice, and while he’s added strength to his tall frame, he’s still lean with much more room for additional strength gains, while still being one of the better runners in the class.
Like Holliday, he’s a toolsy prep hitter who has a chance to provide good defensive value at a premium position, with a polished lefthanded bat, bloodlines and a body you can continue to dream on.
It feels like that combination of tools and ability fit solidly in the first round, with some teams picking in the back of the first round now wondering whether or not he’ll make it to their pick. Crawford is committed to Louisiana State.
Cole Phillips, RHP, Boerne (Texas) HS (NR)
Phillips just missed our preseason top 100 to start the season and will be a no-brainer addition to the list on our next update given what he has shown so far this season.
After pitching in the low 90s last summer and fall and touching 94, Phillips came out looking much more physically developed and has routinely been in the upper 90s and sitting in the mid 90s this spring.
That increased velocity has translated to a more powerful breaking ball as well, and some scouts have thrown Shane Baz comps on the Arkansas commit and placed him solidly in the first round based on talent.
It’s more common for prep righthanders to slide down draft boards as draft day gets closer, given the hesitancy the industry has with that specific demographic, but a barren college pitching class at the very top could change that calculus for teams.
Even if Phillips or a player like him doesn’t go in the first round, it’s common for them to get paid overslot in the comp rounds or second and third rounds, a la Bubba Chandler ($3 million in the third) last year.
Jordan Beck, OF, Tennessee (No. 50)
After three weeks, the high school class certainly looks a bit more exciting than the college group given where players from the respective demographics are trending. While there’s a number of prep players trending up, a few marquee college outfielders (James Madison’s Chase DeLauter, Stanford’s Brock Jones, Baylor’s Jared McKenzie) are trending in the opposite direction.
That’s not at all the case for Beck, who is coming off a strong weekend at the Shriners Classic, where he went 3-for-12 (.250) with one home run, one walk and no strikeouts. The stat line doesn’t scream “fantastic” weekend but the reports from scouts certainly do.
He impressed evaluators with his approach, contact ability (just two whiffs during the weekend, one on an elevated 91 mph fastball and one chasing a 76 mph curveball below the zone), physicality in the box and game power.
Even though many hard hit balls didn’t fall in for hits, Beck wore out the left and right center gaps with deep fly balls. On the season he is hitting .317/.370/.683 with four home runs, three doubles, three walks and three strikeouts.
It’s early, but if a player like Beck who has some of the best raw power in the class is making more consistent contact than he has previously and continues to perform he could be the first college outfielder drafted—especially if a team thinks he is athletic enough to start his pro career in center field.
10 2023 MLB Draft Prospects Moving Up Boards This Fall
10 notable risers from the latest update—featuring a heavy college flavor in what is shaping up to be an excellent college class.
Hunting For College Arms
Gabriel Hughes, RHP, Gonzaga (No. 63)
Hughes is one of the more prominent up-arrow college arms after the first three weeks of the season. He has taken the ball through at least six innings in each of his first three starts against New Mexico, Cal State Fullerton and Oklahoma State, while racking up 30 strikeouts compared to just five walks. Through March 8, Hughes sits in 12th place among all Division I pitchers in strikeouts.
Both scouts and analysts have praised his pure stuff, and evaluators think it's a package of real first round-type weapons. His average fastball velocity is up several ticks compared to what he was throwing through the same time period in 2020 and 2021, and this year he’s sat with a 94-95 mph fastball that has been up to 97.
Last weekend against Oklahoma State, he was still getting to 96 mph in the sixth inning. He used the pitch to rack up 18 whiffs, with most of those coming near the top of the strike zone. On top of an overpowering fastball that likely plays up with good extension, Hughes has also shown a wipeout slider in the low 80s and a changeup in the low 80s that has been less frequently used, but still has shown solid arm-side movement and some swing-and-miss characteristics.
Hughes has the stuff to pitch himself into the first round, but scouting departments will want to see him post more consistently and show better strike-throwing ability over the course of the season to pull the trigger on him in that range. Through three weeks, his walk rate (2.4 walks per nine innings) is significantly better than the rates he showed in 2021 (4.4 walks per nine) and 2020 (4.6 walks per nine), and if he keeps that up he should be able to take advantage of the current state of college pitching at the top of the class.
Justin Campbell, RHP, Oklahoma State (No. 82)
While Hughes has gotten more of the scouting buzz in recent weeks given his pure stuff, don’t forget about Campbell, who pitched for Oklahoma State against Gonzaga last Saturday and struck out 10 over 7.1 innings, while allowing just one hit, one run and one walk.
Currently ranked on our board in the early third round range, Campbell has gotten plenty of up-arrow feedback this spring after posting a 3.12 ERA over three starts, with 27 strikeouts and four walks.
Unlike Hughes, Campbell does have a solid track record of starting with impressive control, and he's never posted a walk rate higher than 3.0 walks per nine in any of his three seasons with the Cowboys. So far this year, that mark is at 2.1 walks per nine.
Campbell pitches heavily off of a low-90s fastball that has been up to 95-96 mph at peak this spring, but also works in a mid-70s, 12-to-6 curveball and a changeup around 80 mph. He has shown feel to land both of those offerings and will also occasionally mix in a harder, low-80s slider. His fastball does feature standout induced vertical break, but he also throws with steeper downhill plane from a 6-foot-7 frame and a high, three-quarter arm slot.
With a solid four-pitch mix and starter traits, it seems like Campbell is tracking up more towards the second round range.
Brandon Sproat, RHP, Florida (NR)
Sproat has been an enigma for evaluators, who want to love him given his fantastic natural arm talent and pure stuff, but have had a hard time separating that talent from his results. Sproat was coming off a 2021 season where he posted a 6.65 ERA and walked 6.2 batters per nine, while mostly pitching out of the bullpen and only logging 21.2 innings.
That was tough to swallow and was the reason Sproat didn’t land on our preseason top 100 draft list. However, he showed how special he can be when he has everything together last weekend against Miami. He got the Saturday start and turned in 6.1 solid innings, with eight strikeouts, two walks, no runs and just four hits allowed.
In that game—as well as overall so far this season—Sproat was in the strike zone much more frequently than in 2020 or 2021 with each of his pitches: a mid-90s fastball that touched 97, a mid-80s changeup and a mid-80s slider. The changeup in particular looked good in this outing, with impressive tumble and fading life that was a real weapon, especially against lefthanders.
He was named the SEC pitcher of the week for his efforts and if he can retain this sort of control over the course of the season, he’ll fly up draft boards. Sproat will need to keep doing this week in and week out, however, as scouts won’t easily forget his previous performances—no matter how exciting the pure stuff is.
Chance Huff, RHP, Georgia Tech (NR)
Like Sproat, Huff is a college pitcher who will need to dispel a reputation as a questionable strike-thrower who had primarily worked out of the bullpen prior to this season. After starting just one game in 2021, Huff has stepped into Georgia Tech’s Friday night role, and through three starts has performed admirably.
Through 18 innings he has posted a 2.00 ERA, while striking out 24 batters and walking four. Last weekend against rival Georgia, Huff turned in arguably the best start of his career and allowed just one run (via the homer) over seven innings while allowing three hits, striking out six and walking two.
His fastball velocity is up a tick compared to a similar time frame from a year ago, and last Friday he sat in the 93-94 mph range and touched 96. The pitch doesn’t have a ton of life and is described by scouts pejoratively as a “flat” pitch that doesn’t generate a ton of swing and miss. He got just two whiffs on the offering in this outing and instead turns to a firm, short-breaking slider in the mid-to-upper 80s as his primary bat-misser.
Huff’s stuff doesn’t jump off the page, but it’s solid and so far this spring scouts have said he has looked like a starter. Like Sproat, he will need to continue posting like this throughout ACC play to make evaluators forget about his history as a strike-thrower. He will also likely get dinged by many models for being 22 on draft day.