College Baseball Headlines, Surprises From MLB Draft Signing Deadline

Image credit: Oklahoma State's Nolan McLean (Photo courtesy of Oklahoma State)

The Aug. 1 deadline for draft picks to agree to terms with their teams has come and gone, and now we have a much clearer picture of what rosters will look like in college baseball in 2023. 

For the most part, things played out as expected, but as is the case every year, there were a few wrinkles along the way that are going to have an outsized impact on the way the upcoming college season plays out. 

These are the top headlines around college baseball from the draft signing deadline.

All-American Andrew Walters Returns to Miami

It was clear when Walters, a player projected to be drafted in the first few rounds, slipped to the 18th round that he was going to be a tough sign for the Orioles. That turned out to be the case, as the All-American righthander is heading back to Miami, where he has a 1.57 ERA in 57.1 innings across two seasons and will get to play with his younger brother Brian next season. It will be interesting to see how the Hurricanes choose to use Walters moving forward. Clearly he’s an asset as a short reliever, leaning on a fastball that touched 99 mph last season, but it also stands to reason that the coaching  staff would look into expanding his role into being more of a multi-inning reliever or even a starter, following in the footsteps of Carson Palmquist, last season’s ace who successfully made the closer-to-starter transition. 

Brandon Sproat Set to Rejoin the Florida Rotation

For the second draft in a row, the Mets failed to sign a highly-regarded SEC starting pitcher. Last year, it was Kumar Rocker. This year, it’s Florida righthander Brandon Sproat, who was taken in the third round. Sproat is one of the hardest throwers in the game, with a fastball that averaged nearly 96 mph last season and touched 100, and last season he was more than solid for the Gators in putting up a 3.41 ERA in 89.2 innings as the team’s ace after Hunter Barco went down with injury. As is, he and Southern Mississippi transfer righthander Hurston Waldrep project to be one of the best one-two rotation punches in the country, but if Sproat takes another step forward, it’s a Florida rotation that could be historically good. 

Two-Way Talent Nolan McLean Headed Back to Stillwater

A third-round pick of the Orioles, McLean will bring light-tower power back to Stillwater after hitting 19 home runs a season ago. Perhaps more intriguing, however, is what he could do on the mound for the Cowboys, who just lost Justin Campbell, Victor Mederos, Bryce Osmond, Roman Phansalkar and Trevor Martin to the draft. McLean last season had a 4.97 ERA as a short reliever—though that number dropped to 3.27 in regular season conference play—all while showcasing big-time velocity up to 98 mph. At a bare minimum, he looks capable of holding a role similar to Phansalkar and Martin, that of a high-leverage reliever who can throw multiple innings. But with a repertoire that also includes a slider and curveball that both flash off-the-chart spin above 3,000 rpm, McLean also on paper has the stuff to be a starter alongside Long Beach State transfer Juaron Watts-Brown. If he takes a step forward on the mound, McLean could prove to be the most impactful returner of this bunch. 

Quinn Mathews Returns to The Farm

Perhaps no pitcher at the College World Series last season had as much to do with his team being there as Stanford lefthander Quinn Mathews, who held just about every role imaginable on the way to putting up a 3.08 ERA in 99.1 innings. As a 19th-round pick of the Rays, there seemed to be a good chance from the get-go that Mathews would return to campus, especially when you consider how attractive a landing place Stanford is, given the academics and the fact that the Cardinal once again look the part of Pac-12 favorites in 2023. With the departure of righthander Alex Williams, Stanford went into this offseason looking for a new staff ace, and it looks to have one in Mathews. 

Mixed Bag of Results for Louisiana State

Anytime you’re recruiting the level of talent that LSU is recruiting, both among prep players and in the transfer portal, you’re going to win some and lose some in the draft. That’s certainly been the case over the last few weeks for the Tigers, and that continued at the deadline. One of the biggest surprises of deadline day was that Vanderbilt transfer shortstop Carter Young had reached a deal with the Orioles (who missed out on Walters and McLean, you’ll remember) for $1.325 million after taking him in the 17th round. With Baylor transfer shortstop Jack Pineda also signing, it means that LSU is going to have to go back to the drawing board a bit in the middle infield. What should help soothe LSU after Young’s surprise signing is that it didn’t suffer any last-minute losses to its incoming high school recruiting class. Most notably, righthander Jaden Noot, a 19th-round selection of the Brewers, did not come to an agreement with the team and will attend LSU. 

Slugging Infielder Brock Rodden Returns to Wichita State

One name that wasn’t viewed early on as a potential returner was Wichita State second baseman Brock Rodden, a 10th-round pick of the Athletics, but after rejecting an offer that Taylor Eldridge of the Wichita Eagle reported was right at the slot value of $151,300, he is indeed returning to the Shockers. Rodden led Wichita State in all three slash line categories at .338/.441/.653 and in home runs with 17, which helped him earn American Athletic Conference newcomer position player of the year honors after transferring from the junior college ranks prior to the 2022 season. He’ll certainly be among the preseason favorites to win AAC player of the year honors in 2023. 

Rutgers Gets Pair of Draftees to Campus

Rutgers signaled once again that it’s a force to be reckoned with by reeling in a pair of recruits who were drafted in catcher Hugh Pinkney, an Ontario native who was drafted by the Padres in the 17th round, and righthander Drew Conover, a Seton Hall transfer who was taken in the 20th round by the Tigers and who has been dominant in the Cape Cod League this summer. Between the results of the 2022 season—setting aside being snubbed for the postseason—the high-end talent on the roster like elite 2023 prospect outfielder Ryan Lasko and recruiting wins like this, everything seems to be moving in the right direction for Rutgers.

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