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Checking In On The 7 Draft-And-Follow Prospects From The 2022 Class

Image credit: JeanPierre Ortiz (Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)

One of the key new changes from the 2022 CBA is the return of the draft-and-follow rule. 

Prior to the 2007 draft, teams were able to select junior college players and maintain their rights to sign players for almost a year after being initially drafted. Notable players who were signed as draft-and-follow players include lefthander Andy Pettitte, righthander Roy Oswalt, designated hitter and first baseman Travis Hafner, lefthander Mark Buehrle and catcher Jorge Posada.

To be eligible as a draft-and-follow, a player must be selected after the 10th round and not sign with a club at the signing deadline. Additionally, the player must attend a junior college for the following fall and spring semesters. Players who meet both criteria above will be considered a draft-and-follow player.

Teams with signing rights to draft-and-follow players will be allowed to sign those players for up to $225,000 and that amount does not count against the bonus pool. This is one difference from the previous draft-and-follow system, which didn’t operate in a bonus pool environment for the draft.

The other 29 clubs are not allowed to contact draft-and-follow players until the start of the closed period, which in 2023 starts on July 2. If no deal is agreed to, draft-and-follow players will become draft-eligible for the 2023 class and be open to communication from other teams and selection in the draft.

Below are the seven draft-and-follow players from the 2022 class: 

Christian Oppor, LHP, Gulf Coast (Fla.) State JC

Oppor ranked as the No. 190 prospect on the BA 500 in the 2022 class and his scouting report from a year ago reads as the sort of prospect who is perfectly suited to take advantage of the juco route in today’s minor league environment that caters to polished college players. From JJ Cooper’s report at the time:

“Oppor has a long way to go. He has yet to find a great pre-start routine—he usually doesn’t find his best stuff until multiple innings into his outings. The new format of the minors, with no short-season leagues, works against a team drafting Oppor, and he may need a couple of years of work to be ready for full-season ball, but he has the arm strength and athleticism to potentially be worth the patience.”

So far this spring he’s thrown 19.2 innings and posted a 3.66 ERA, with 32 strikeouts (14.6 K/9) and 12 walks (5.5 BB/9). After pitching in the low 90s and touching 96 out of high school, Oppor has improved his velocity a few ticks and has sat around 92-93 mph and touched 97-98 at peak. He’s largely pitched off that fastball, but also uses a sweeping slider around 80 mph and will flash a low-80s changeup. 

Oppor was noted for his athleticism out of high school, and he continues to show that on the mound this spring, with an easy and fluid arm action that allows him to deliver a quality fastball with minimal effort. He’s done a solid job throwing the fastball for strikes, despite his overall walk rate, but he could improve his feel for his slider and changeup. 

Malachi Witherspoon, RHP, Northwest Florida State JC

Witherspoon was the highest-ranked player on this list a year ago, checking in at No. 102 overall out of Fletcher High in Neptune Beach, Fla. Witherspoon stood out for his youth and feel to spin a hammer curveball in the 3,000 rpm range but he was viewed as a “high-risk, high-reward projection righthander” who lacked much experience on the mound—another perfect profile for the juco route.

Witherspoon has pitched as a starter and reliever with Northwest Florida State JC this spring, but has struggled to an 8.38 ERA over 9.2 innings, with 13 strikeouts (12.1 K/9) and four walks (3.7 BB/9). 

He has thrown his fastball around 91 mph from a higher, three-quarter arm slot and has continued to show feel for a sharp, 12-to-6 curveball around 80 mph. The pitch has plenty of depth but also late-biting action at times, though he doesn’t land it in the zone too frequently. On top of the fastball/curveball combo, Witherspoon has mixed in a mid-80s changeup, though his feel for the pitch still seems rudimentary.

Carson Dorsey, LHP, Gulf Coast (Fla.) State JC 

Dorsey ranked No. 311 on the 2022 BA 500 and led Gulf Coast (Fla.) State JC in innings pitched in 2022. He is doing the same in 2023, with 25 innings after five starts, with a 0.36 ERA and 39 strikeouts (14.0 K/9) compared to 10 walks (3.6 BB/9).

While Dorsey still doesn’t have overpowering fastball velocity, his average is up a tick, going from 88-89 mph a year ago to 90-91 so far in 2023 and the pitch is still generating an above-average number of whiffs thanks to solid riding life. It also seems like Dorsey is throwing his breaking ball with a bit more consistent power in the upper 70s this spring, with better control as well.

Austin Ehrlicher, RHP, Santa Rosa (Calif.) JC 

Ehrlicher wasn’t ranked on the 2022 BA 500, but was drafted after he struck out 43 batters in 38 innings as a freshman with Santa Rosa (Calif.) JC. So far this spring he’s pitched in four games and posted a 2.21 ERA over 20.1 innings, with 19 strikeouts (8.4 K/9) and six walks (2.7 BB/9). 

Ehrlicher has a lean and skinny, 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame and throws from a three-quarter slot with good arm speed. He’s pitched with a fastball in the low 90s that has touched 95 and mixed in an upper-70s curveball with solid depth, a mid-80s changeup that he’s pounded the zone with and an occasional low-80s slider with short-breaking action. 

Cade Perkins, LHP, Cowley (Kan.) JC 

Perkins struck out 102 batters in just 48.1 innings of work as a high school senior and the Giants selected him in the 19th round. He has a solid pitching frame and attacks hitters from an extended three-quarter slot and might add some deception thanks to fairly significant cross-firing action. 

Cowley doesn’t get the season started as early as some of the more southern junior colleges, and also had its first two games of the season canceled, so Perkins has thrown just twice so far this spring. Control has been an issue, as Perkins has walked eight batters in just four innings, while striking out six and posting a 6.75 ERA.

JeanPierre Ortiz, SS, Chipola (Fla.) JC 

Ortiz was regarded as one of the top defensive shortstops in the 2022 prep class, but questions about his light offensive profile led him to be ranked as the No. 373 player on the BA 500. Scouts questioned both his impact and pitch recognition, but through 17 games, he is second on Chipola’s team with six home runs and has slashed .370/.444/.722 with 14 strikeouts and eight walks.

Ortiz is listed about 10 pounds heavier than he was in high school, and is now at 6-foot, 175 pounds, though he still has a lean frame and build overall. The slick-fielding shortstop has still had some trouble with contact on sliders, and he hasn’t faced a ton of velocity, but one of his home runs came against a 95 mph fastball that he hit over the left field fence. 

Carter McCulley, INF/OF, Pensacola (Fla.) State JC 

The only other hitter on this list after Ortiz, McCulley hit .310/.446/.661 with five home runs and more walks than strikeouts in high school, but headed to Pensacola (Fla.) State JC after the Dodgers took him in the 20th round—just a 15-minute drive from his Pensacola Catholic High School.

Through his first 14 games, McCulley has hit .244/.400/.400 with a pair of home runs, 12 walks, 11 strikeouts and six stolen bases, while playing shortstop, third base and outfield. The righthanded hitter has a solid frame that looks like it can add a good amount of strength still, with decent bat speed as well.

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