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2022 MLB Draft Stock Watch: West Coast Risers, Prep Pitchers With Added Velocity & A Pop-up Juco Arm



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.

We updated our 2023 college draft rankings earlier this week, so be sure to check those out if you are a true draftnik and want a head start on next year’s class.

In today’s stock watch, however, we’re jumping around the country and touching on a few players on the West Coast with helium, digging into some big-name prep arms who are coming out with added velocity and also looking into an intriguing juco pitcher in the Southeast who’s getting plenty of love.

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Priority Prep Pitchers With Added Velo

Noah Schultz, LHP, Oswego (Ill.) East HS (No. 30)

If you check back at our first-round to-do list for Schultz, his two areas to improve were 1) add physicality and power and 2) refine his changeup.

Early feedback from scouts who’ve seen the 6-foot-9 southpaw indicate he has checked off both of those items with a flourish. Schultz mostly pitched in the low 90s last summer, but early in the season this year he has been pitching above 93 mph and touching 97-98 at peak. That’s a significant improvement in velocity and with it he’s also increased the power of a breaking ball that was in the mid 70s last summer and was recently in the 80-84 mph range.

That power alone would be enough to shoot Schultz up draft boards, but he also showed a mid-80s changeup with surprisingly good feel, considering he rarely threw the pitch over the circuit.

If Schultz is able to maintain this sort of velocity over the course of his season, while continuing to show the advanced feel for pitching he’s long had, he has a real chance to be the first lefthander selected in the draft—ahead of prep pitchers like Jackson Ferris (Fla.), Brandon Barriera (Fla.) and Tristan Smith (S.C.) and college lefties Hunter Barco (Florida) and Carson Whisenhunt (East Carolina).

Jacob Miller, RHP, Liberty Union HS, Baltimore, Ohio (No. 70)

Miller is also trending up with more velocity early this season. After touching 94-95 last summer, scouts have seen him pitch in the 95-97 mph range in recent outings while showing a breaking ball that could be the best in the prep class—and ahead of both of our current top high school righthanders Dylan Lesko and Brock Porter.

Miller has shown the ability to spin two breaking balls and both have shown plus potential this spring and received loud grades from evaluators.

Our preseason report of Miller cited a lack of physicality, but it sounds like he has improved his body over the offseason and is much stronger this year.

Like all of the high school pitchers this year—perhaps outside of Lesko—there are some nits you could still pick with Miller, and a lack of a real changeup is one of them at the moment. Considering his feel to spin the breaking ball, though, that’s not a major concession as most high school pitchers need to refine that pitch at advanced levels.

Jackson Cox, RHP, Toutle Lake HS, Toutle, Wash. (No. 71)

Cox is another smaller righthander who has seemingly benefitted from hard work over the offseason, coming out this spring with noticeably more physicality to his frame.

Like Miller, scouts have raved about Cox’s feel to spin the baseball and he has shown a 79-83 mph curveball with short and late break and spin around the 3,200 rpm range. The pitch has earned 60 and better future grades.

On top of the breaking ball, Cox has pitched in the 92-95 mph range with a solid changeup that he hasn’t used as much in games but has shown during bullpens and control that could be above-average down the line.

Cox might not be solidly inside the first round range just yet but it sounds like he won’t last too long after that and could be an over-slot option to a team with multiple picks or a selection in the supplemental rounds.

West Coast Risers

Jacob Melton, OF, Oregon State (NR)

Do you remember OF Aaron Zavala (Oregon) and 1B Kyle Manzardo (Washington State) from last year? Two Pacific Northwest bats who trended up in a big way during the spring and eventually found themselves in the second round? Well, it seems like Melton is this year’s version of the Pacific Northwest helium bat.

After 19 games, Melton is hitting .413/.442/.825 with eight home runs (topping the six he hit in 32 games in 2021) and is getting tons of love from West Coast scouts.

Melton played mostly right field a year ago, but now he’s playing center field and scouts think he has the speed to stick there, with impressive exit velocities and a 6-foot-3, 208-pound frame that could continue adding more strength and power.

His swing can be inconsistent at times and he will need to cut down on his swing and miss—particularly outside of the strike zone—but there are a lot of positive indicators with Melton, who opened the season with a 17-game hitting streak.

Right now he feels like a pretty easy top-three round selection.

Trystan Vrieling, RHP, Gonzaga (NR)

Vrieling is another massive up-arrow prospect on the West Coast who will slot safely into the top 100 on our next draft update.

Vrieling is listed at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds and has plenty of projection in his frame. After relieving for Gonzaga during the 2020 and 2021 seasons he has transitioned to a starting role this spring and through five starts and 31.2 innings, has posted a 2.84 ERA with 48 strikeouts (13.6 K/9) and 12 walks (3.4 BB/9).

He’s sitting with a fastball around 91-93 mph, but has run the pitch up to 96 with a curveball, cutter and changeup that have gotten good amounts of swing and miss. His fastball also has solid vertical life. Scouts have been impressed with Vrieling’s ability to hold his velocity deep into outings and twice so far he’s pitched eight innings—once against Cal State Fullerton and once in a shutout against Long Beach State.

Vrieling works with an up-tempo, fairly clean delivery with a three-quarter arm slot and plenty of arm speed.

Payton Brennan, OF, Rocklin (Calif.) HS

It’s shaping up to be quite a strong year for Northern California, with college hitters like OF Brock Jones (Stanford) and OF Dylan Beavers (California) as well as high school hitters OF Henry Bolte and C Malcolm Moore.

Brennan went into the year unranked, but it sounds like there are scouts who could like him better than both of the other high school hitters mentioned above and potentially as the top NorCal prospect in the country.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound outfielder dealt with injuries last summer and wasn’t seen as frequently as other top high school players in the country, but scouts raved about his tool set and body and figured he had a chance to shoot up boards if he was healthy.

It seems like that’s been exactly the case. He is an easy plus runner who can play center field and has a chance for an above-average arm. On top of that he’s shown power from the left side with impressive bat speed and leverage. It sounds like the UCLA commit is a real five-tool prospect who is turning plenty of heads.

He could be a tricky signing, however, as UCLA has done a tremendous job getting its top recruits to campus in recent years.

Tracy Smith (Andrew Woolley Four Seam Images)

Michigan Hires Tracy Smith As Next Coach

Michigan tabbed Tracy Smith as its next baseball coach.

A Pop-Up Juco Righty

Colby Holcombe, RHP, Northeast Mississippi JC (NR)

It’s safe to say that Northeast Mississippi JC has never had a draft prospect like Colby Holcombe. After all, the school has had one player drafted directly out of Northeast Mississippi ever—Benny Haynie in the 38th round in 1967.

Now 55 years later, the school has a chance to have a day two pick.

Holcombe, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound true freshman righthander, is one of the more intriguing pop-up prospects in this year’s draft class. When he arrived at Northeast Mississippi, he was sitting 91-92 and touching 94 mph. Now he’s become one of the better pure arm strength pitchers in the class.

After a strong offseason in the weight room with an emphasis on deadlifts, Holcombe is now regularly sitting 95-96 mph according to Tigers head coach Richy Harrelson and scouts. He touched 99 mph for the first time during fall ball and has done so a number of times since. His fastball is somewhat straight, but he’s locating it well. He is working on a power breaking ball to go with a changeup he throws with solid feel and conviction.

Holcombe’s nickname is “Big Donkey.” His strong and solid lower half shows why he’s earned the moniker.

“He never had a true routine,” Harrelson said. "I think he’s gotten into a routine now. He just feeds off of it. Our players love him. He’s such a good teammate. He loves our team. He takes coaching. You can push him."

Holcombe struck out seven and walked none in four scoreless innings while allowing two hits in his college debut against East Central (Miss.) JC. He then allowed one hit and no walks in seven scoreless innings against Jefferson (Mo.) JC while striking out 12. In his third start against Kaskaskia (Ill.) JC, Holcombe threw the first five innings of a seven-inning no-hitter. His last two outings have seen him get hit for the first time, but he’s currently 2-2, 2.05 with 48 strikeouts and nine walks in 26.1 innings.

Holcombe has committed to Mississippi State and is set to go there next year, but there’s a chance he never makes it to Starkville. Holcombe started to get noticed during the fall, and now he’s become a must-see pitcher for a large number of MLB teams. Multiple scouts pegged him as a potential third-to-fifth-round pick if he continues to impress over the remainder of the season.

“We’ve had numerous guys who have come to Booneville who had never come to Booneville before,” Harrelson said.

Whatever happens, the likelihood is this will be Holcombe’s lone year of junior college ball. Next year he’ll either be pitching in the Southeastern Conference or in pro ball.

“That’s what we feel like juco baseball is for is to get these young men to where they want to be," Harrelson said. "If they are one and done to help them achieve a goal, we feel like we’ve done him justice."

–JJ Cooper

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