Image credit: Trent Caraway (Photo by Bill Mitchell)
With fall baseball well underway and newcomers beginning to carve out meaningful roles on their respective teams, there is enough information available to project which freshmen are on track to provide the most impact. While this ranking does take into account each player’s future prospect status, much of the emphasis is placed on their potential impact this spring.
1. Trent Caraway, 3B, Oregon State
Following a record-breaking senior season at California power JSerra Catholic (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.), Trent Caraway had significant top-three round chatter heading into the draft.
Caraway this spring hit .462 and crushed seven home runs, 11 doubles, and drove in 20. Most impressively, Caraway broke former No. 1 overall pick Royce Lewis’ single-season hits record with 49. He dominated tough competition all spring and was a key reason as to why JSerra was able to repeat as CIF Division 1 South champions. There were many suitors for the physical third baseman early in the draft, but ultimately Caraway decided to honor his commitment to Oregon State.
Caraway heads to Corvallis as perhaps the most polished incoming freshman hitter. He boasts a lengthy track record of performance at the most notable events on the prep circuit, including a .417/.462/.667 slash line at the 2022 Area Code Games. Having turned 19 in March, Caraway is more of a finished product in terms of projection than most freshmen. His 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame oozes physicality with a thick lower half and serious forearm strength.
The best part of Caraway’s game is his offensive prowess. He hammers the baseball to all fields with most of his power coming to the pull side and has an advanced approach. Caraway has loose hands and big time bat speed, a combination that makes for an extremely rhythmic swing. He utilizes a toe tap and consistently generates plenty of torque in his lower half. Caraway has shown the unique ability to hit for both average and power, a trend that projects to continue throughout his collegiate and professional careers.
Caraway’s biggest question mark is his defensive future. While he has an above-average arm at third, he might end up at first base long term due to his limited range at the hot corner. Although a right-right first baseman isn’t the flashiest of profiles, Caraway’s ability with the bat could make up for any positional concerns.
Whether it’s at third base, first, or even designated hitter, Caraway figures to be a stalwart this spring in the Beavers’ lineup. There are holes at each corner infield spot following the departures of third baseman Mikey Kane (17th round, Chicago White Sox) and on-base machine Garret Forrester (3rd round, Pittsburgh Pirates). With the middle of the infield set with Washington State transfer Elijah Hainline (.337/.441/.615) and Travis Bazzana (.374/.500/.622), there will be a competition at the corners. Coach Canham could opt to slide junior Mason Guerra (.326/.414/.573) to third, which is where he played most of his games this summer, or let Caraway take the reins.
Due to his age, Caraway will be draft eligible following the 2025 season. Should he put together a strong couple of seasons in addition to a summer season that is likely to be spent in the Cape Cod League, Caraway again will be squarely in the day one discussion. Caraway this spring has the potential to take home Pac-12 freshman of the year honors and has freshman All-American upside.
2. Cameron Johnson, LHP, Louisiana State
Following a dominant 2022 summer circuit, Cameron Johnson entered the 2023 season as one of the most decorated prep arms in his class. The towering 6-foot-5 lefthander spent the first three years of his high school career at Bishop McNamara in his home state of Maryland, but transferred to national powerhouse IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., for his senior season.
Johnson was excellent this spring for the Ascenders, and pitched his way to a 6-0 record with an impressive 43-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27 innings. Johnson ranked as the No. 43 prospect on the BA 500, and drew significant day one draft interest, but he decided to honor his commitment to the defending national champion Louisiana State Tigers.
Johnson’s calling card is his thunderous, high-90s fastball that plays even harder than its already premium velocity. He hides the ball incredibly well, essentially throwing it from his back pocket, and attacks from a low, three-quarters slot. Johnson’s heater explodes out of his hand and gets on opposing hitters quickly. It has plenty of life through the strike zone and is a strong 60-grade offering.
While Johnson relies heavily on his fastball, he supplements it with an effective, low-80s slider. For the most part, Johnson maintains the same arm speed as he does on his fastball, though it will slow down at times. Currently, the slider is an above-average offering but has plus potential down the road. It has sharp, two-plane break and generates its fair share of swing and miss against both right and lefthanded hitters. Johnson’s slider is especially lethal against lefthanded hitters—both given the movement of the pitch and his release point.
One key for Johnson going forward to maximize his upside will be the development of a third pitch. He has a changeup in his arsenal, but he throws it sparingly and lacks feel for it. Mechanically, Johnson could sit deeper on his back side which would lead to him adding a touch more of velocity and allow his fastball to flirt with triple digits. Johnson lives around the strike zone and has shown above average command of his offerings. He is largely a finished product physically, but his 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame is fantastic clay with which LSU can work.
As for Johnson’s role in 2024, LSU’s weekend rotation is largely set in stone as the Tigers will rely on Alabama transfer Luke Holman (7-4, 3.67 ERA), Thatcher Hurd (8-2, 5.68 ERA), and one of Griffin Herring (5-2, 3.93 ERA), Nate Ackenhausen (2-1, 3.52 ERA) or Micah Bucknam (0-0, 11.57 ERA). Bucknam is coming off an impressive summer in the Cape Cod League where he worked a 3.94 ERA over the course of three starts. However, Coach Johnson has shown he isn’t afraid to rely on his true freshmen in past years so expect the big lefty to log meaningful innings next spring.
Looking towards the 2026 draft, Johnson has early first round upside and has a chance to be the top arm in the entire class.
3. Drew Burress, OF, Georgia Tech
Drew Burress exploded onto the national scene in 2022 after he hit .486 with 11 doubles and 17 home runs for Georgia power Houston County High School. Burress would go on to solidify himself as a top-five round draft prospect with impressive showings on the summer and fall circuit. In his senior season for Houston County, Burress hit .430 with 33 extra-base hits and led the Bears to their second state championship in three years.
Although there was serious draft interest within the top four rounds, Burress settled on honoring his commitment to his hometown Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. While small in stature at 5-foot-9, Burress has an impressive toolset packed into his compact frame with three that grade out as at least plus. With the departures of two regulars in the 2023 Yellow Jacket outfield in centerfielder Jake DeLeo (sixth round, Miami Marlins) and leftfielder Angelo DiSpigna (NDFA, Miami Marlins), Burress has the opportunity to earn a starting role by opening day.
Burress’ calling card is his ability with the bat. He has an open stance with the head of his bat pointed nearly straight at the ground behind his back shoulder. Burress leans slightly further back as the pitcher goes into his motion, but as the pitcher breaks his hands he gets into a good hitter’s position. It sounds unorthodox, but Burress repeats this operation well and is able to create quality contact. He has thunderous bat speed and does a nice job creating leverage in his swing, and shows off plus power—especially to the pull side.
While the most damage is done to the pull side, Burress has demonstrated the ability to drive the ball into either gap. He has solid feel for the barrel and pulverizes heaters, but struggles to pick up spin at times which leads to some swing and miss. Long term, Burress could be a power-over-hit profile.
He is also a plus runner, which bodes well in the outfield, where he covers plenty of ground to either gap and has a borderline 70-grade arm. Burress has the defensive chops to stick in center professionally, but worst case would make the move over to right. Burress’ power-speed combination is a tantalizing one, and he has 20-20 upside.
As far as where Burress will fit in this spring, his most likely destination is centerfield. The physical Stephen Reid (.339/.426/.616) is back for his fifth year and projects to man right field, while Maryland transfer Bobby Zmarzlak (.271/.465/.466) or speedster Parker Brosius will patrol left. After his freshman campaign, Burress has signed to play for the Cape Cod League’s Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox where he will get the chance to prove himself against even more high-quality competition.
Playing in the hitter-friendly environment that is Russ Chandler Stadium for the next three seasons, Burress is poised to put up gaudy offensive numbers. He is next eligible for the draft in 2026 where he could be one of the most prized college bats in the class and a day one selection.
4. Campbell Smithwick, C, Mississippi
Of all the class of 2023 catchers to make it to their respective college campuses, Campbell Smithwick has a chance to be the best of the bunch. Smithwick starred for Oxford High School (Oxford, Miss.), raking his way to a potential top-five round selection after hitting .463 with 22 extra-base hits and a .616 on-base percentage in his senior season. While he received interest as early as the third round, the 6-foot, 190-pound Smithwick’s commitment to his hometown Rebels never wavered.
Lauded for his offensive skill set, Smithwick is a bat-first catcher with an advanced pure hit tool and budding power. He sets up in the box with an open front side and high handset. Smithwick has a noticeable barrel tip with a slight load and small stride. With two strikes, he eliminates both his open front side and stride to maximize his ability to move the baseball.
Smithwick has a rhythmic, line-drive oriented swing with a direct path to contact and above average feel for the barrel. He has advanced pitch recognition skills and low chase rates which makes for a sound approach. Smithwick this fall has started to show off his power potential and has already blasted four home runs, his farthest traveling an impressive 457-feet with an exit velocity of 110 MPH. Most of his damage is done to the pull side and will continue to grow into more power as he matures physically.
Smithwick is a plus defender behind the dish. He moves well laterally, consistently corrals balls in the dirt, and has a strong, accurate throwing arm. Smithwick has a quick transfer and his throws carry through the base. He has a lengthy track record of handling premium velocity and quality breaking balls given his experience playing for both Team USA’s 18U National Team and the Evoshield Canes.
Following the departure of Calvin Harris (4th round, Chicago White Sox), Smithwick is poised to be Coach Bianco’s starting catcher on opening day. He has been one of Ole Miss’ most productive hitters this fall and is on track to hit in the top half of the order.
When he is next eligible for the draft in 2026, Smithwick will still be young for the class as he will have just turned 21 years old. Catchers who can hit are hard to come by, and if Smithwick is able to have a quality three-year career he could be selected in the first round. Smithwick is already signed to play for the Chatham Anglers of the Cape Cod League this summer, but he figures to be squarely in the mix for Team USA’s Collegiate National Team.
5. Ethan McElvain, LHP, Vanderbilt
In the history of its program, Vanderbilt has had 18 pitchers selected inside the top two rounds of the draft. While he has yet to throw an official pitch at the collegiate level, freshman lefthander Ethan McElvain has flashed that type of upside. In his senior season, the Nolensville High School (Nolensville, Tenn.) product worked a perfect 6-0 record with a 0.95 ERA and 89 strikeouts across 44.1 innings pitched. McElvain pitched himself into a potential top 100 overall draft choice and although he had plenty of opportunity to sign, his commitment to Vanderbilt remained steadfast.
At 6-foot-4 and 210-pounds, McElvain has an ideal frame for a pitcher. He has a physical build with a thick lower half and present upper-body strength. McElvain attacks hitters from a three-quarters slot with present arm speed. He features a fastball, slider, and a developing changeup. McElvain’s heater last spring sat in the low-90s, but this fall has been in the 94-96 mph range and up to 97. It plays especially well on the armside with running life through the zone.
McElvain’s best pitch is his low-80s slider. He has advanced feel for the pitch and is able to manipulate its shape well. Against righthanded hitters, it has a more vertical shape with added depth. However, it is especially lethal against lefthanded hitters with more horizontal movement and sweeping action. It generates tons of swing and miss and is comfortably a 60-grade offering.
He seldom throws it, but McElvain also has a mid-80s changeup in his arsenal. It is the least polished of his three pitches, but could eventually be an average offering. The continued development of at least a serviceable third pitch will go a long way towards bolstering his starter profile.
McElvain this fall has had arguably the best showing of any true freshman on the roster. Most notably, he spun two shutout innings and notched four strikeouts against Wake Forest. McElvain’s command has appeared to take a step forward and in game action, he has consistently been around the strike zone.
Vanderbilt returns two-thirds of its rotation from last spring in southpaws Devin Futrell (8-3, 3.44 ERA) and Carter Holton (4-1, 4.11 ERA). Fireballer Greysen Carter (2-1, 4.08 ERA), who boasts a triple digits fastball, Bryce Cunningham (2-3, 6.43 ERA), or Air Force transfer Sawyer Hawks (4-0, 2.84 ERA) seem like the most viable options to round out Coach Tim Corbin’s weekend rotation. Even if he is not in a starting role, McElvain this spring figures to log plenty of innings on the mound. He is primed to make a jump to the rotation full time starting next season.
McElvain has a chance to be one of the most impactful freshman arms in the country and could earn an invitation to pitch for Team USA’s Collegiate National Team. With a strong three seasons in Nashville, McElvain could be one of the first college arms off the board in 2026 when he is next draft eligible.
6. Roch Cholowsky, INF, UCLA
Roch Cholowsky has long been a popular name within scouting circles and is perhaps the most advanced incoming freshman in all of college baseball. The 6-foot-2, 193-pound shortstop was ranked as the No. 42 overall player on the final Baseball America Top 500 draft rankings, but was always viewed as a tough sign due to his strong commitment to UCLA. While Cholowsky received significant interest in the top two rounds of the draft, he opted to take his talents to Westwood and play for coach John Savage.
A product of West Coast power Hamilton High School, in Chandler, Ariz., Cholowsky was a two-sport standout. On the gridiron he was a dual-threat quarterback with an offer from Notre Dame, but most notably he was the Huskies’ star shortstop on the diamond. Cholowsky was named the 2023 Gatorade Arizona Baseball Player of the Year after hitting .466 with 11 home runs and 35 RBI, and led his team to a 26-5 record and a state championship.
Cholowsky’s calling card is his double-plus defense up the middle. On top of his excellent baseball sense, Cholowsky has quick feet and has plenty of range in either direction, but especially to the glove side. He is comfortable coming in on the baseball and attacking it, as well as throwing from multiple arm angles. Cholowsky has an above-average arm with silky smooth hands and will without a doubt stick at the position long term.
At the plate, Cholowsky is currently a hit-over-power profile, but this spring he did show off some juice to the pull side. He has a medium-high handset and lays the barrel almost completely flat over his back shoulder and employs a rhythmic, easy load with loose hands through the strike zone. There is some quickness in his barrel, but what stands out is the polish and ease in his operation. Cholowsky has solid bat-to-ball skills, as well as a sound approach—both of which will serve him well against Pac-12 pitching. Cholowsky’s hit tool is above average with his power being a tick below average, but it’seasy to envision the power grading out as at least average once his draft year rolls around.
UCLA’s middle infield will be a bit crowded this spring as the Bruins return both Cody Schrier (.278/.381/.466) and leading hitter Duce Gourson (.319/.438/.515), but Cholowsky projects to carve out an everyday role somewhere on the dirt. He is versatile enough and has the actions to hold his own at either second base or even third base, so expect Cholowsky to be a regular in the Bruins’ starting nine this season.
Looking way ahead, Cholowsky has the potential to be the next star out of UCLA and has top-10 overall potential in the 2026 draft if he proves his offensive chops against college competition.
7. Hunter Dietz, LHP, Arkansas
When it comes to class of 2023 southpaws who made it to college, Hunter Dietz is poised to have as productive a 2024 season as anyone.
Last spring, the imposing 6-foot-6, 230-pound Dietz was part of a star-studded Calvary Christian (Clearwater, Fla.) rotation that featured Liam Peterson (No. 91 on BA 500) and fourth-round pick Landon Maroudis. Against top notch competition, Dietz put together an impressive season where he pitched his way to a perfect 9-0 record with a 1.47 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 57 innings.
There was plenty of buzz surrounding Dietz heading into the July draft and although there was a chance he would be selected in the top five rounds, Dietz ultimately decided to take his talents to Arkansas where he projects to be a key piece for Coach Dave Van Horn. Dietz checks plenty of boxes and has the makings of a future Friday night starter in the SEC and potential day one draft pick. He’s a tall, physical, lefthanded pitcher with little effort in his delivery, a starter’s pitch mix, and above-average control of his arsenal.
On the mound, Dietz has a loose, clean arm action and attacks from a high, three-quarters slot. He has good direction and works well down the mound. Dietz features a fastball, slider and a changeup with his low-80s slider being the best of the three with plus potential. The slider is most effective against lefthanded hitters with two-plane break and ample horizontal movement. Dietz’s above-average pitchability also enables him to land the pitch for strikes against righthanded hitters, though at times it can get loopy.
During the high school season Dietz pitched in the low 90s with his heater and touched 94, though it was 93-95 and topped out at 99 in his first fall outing for the Razorbacks. He stays behind the baseball nicely and it has carrying life through the zone. Combining Dietz’s advanced command with the velocity and pitch shape makes the fastball an above-average offering.
Dietz’s changeup is the least polished pitch in his repertoire, sitting in the mid 80s without a ton of life. If he is able to take a few ticks of velocity off the offering and add some tumbling life, it has the chance to become a quality third pitch.
Arkansas in 2024 projects to have one of the most formidable rotations of any team in the country. It will likely feature a pair of premium lefthanders in Texas Tech transfer Mason Molina (6-2, 3.67 ERA) and junior Hagen Smith (8-2, 3.64 ERA), as well as the electric Brady Tygart (3-1, 3.20 ERA). Dietz probably won’t be logging many weekend starts just yet, but he will certainly be in the discussion to be the team’s Friday starter in 2025.
Regardless of how Coach Van Horn decides to use the decorated freshman, he is on track for a prominent role on the pitching staff and will log meaningful innings in his first college season. With three successful seasons at Arkansas, including two that are likely to be spent in the weekend rotation, Dietz has first round upside in 2026.
8. Liam Peterson, RHP, Florida
Calvary Christian (Clearwater, Fla.) last spring boasted one of the most impressive rotations in the country. It featured a fourth-round draft pick in Landen Maroudis, current Arkansas lefthander Hunter Dietz and Liam Peterson. The youngest of the three, Peterson had an excellent senior year to the tune of a 1.78 ERA with 73 strikeouts across 39.1 innings.
Between his performance on the mound, a jump in both velocity and stuff, and sheer projection there was significant top-three round chatter surrounding Peterson. The opportunity was there for Peterson to sign, but he instead decided to honor his commitment to Coach Kevin O’Sullivan and the Gators.
Listed at 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, Peterson has an imposing mound presence. He has a lanky, high-waisted build and pitches from a three-quarters slot. Peterson primarily throws a fastball and a curveball and fires his breaking ball from a slightly lower slot. He has a relatively short arm stroke and tons of arm speed. Peterson’s heater this fall has been his best pitch. It has sat in the 95-98 MPH range and averaged 95.7 MPH. It jumps out of his hand and features carrying life through the zone, consistently getting over the barrel of opposing hitters. Currently, it is an above-average pitch with a chance to become a true plus offering.
To supplement his fastball, Peterson has a tight-spinning, high-70s curveball. This fall it has performed well against both right and lefthanded hitters. It has plenty of teeth, depth and two-plane break. It profiles as a likely out pitch and one that will generate its fair share of swing and miss. While Peterson has a changeup in his arsenal, he has thrown it sparingly this fall. Continuing to develop a quality third pitch will go a long way for Peterson and help his chances of earning a weekend role.
Peterson is young for his class and will be 18 years old for the entirety of the 2024 regular season. As he matures physically and grows into his frame, Peterson’s body control on the mound should improve which will help his command and strike-throwing ability.
In looking at Peterson’s potential role this spring, it is unclear whether he will be a rotation piece or pitch out of the bullpen. Two-way superstar Jac Caglianone (7-4, 4.34 ERA) is the only returning weekend starter from 2023, while sophomore lefthander Cade Fisher (6-0, 3.10 ERA) figures to make the jump from the bullpen to the rotation. With a competition for the third weekend starter spot, Peterson could pitch his way into the role.
Regardless of whether or not he cracks the rotation, Peterson this season will be a key piece for Coach O’Sullivan and will log meaningful innings. He is not draft eligible again until 2026, but Peterson has a chance to be one of the premier college arms in the class with first round upside.
9. Luke Stevenson, C, North Carolina
Luke Stevenson in 2023 had one of the most productive seasons of any hitter in the country. The Wake Forest High School (Wake Forest, NC) product hit an eye-popping .512 and posted an equally impressive on-base percentage of .648. He slugged 11 doubles, 17 home runs, and drove in 58 runs in just 33 games played. Stevenson earned an invitation to the MLB Draft Combine, where he turned in a standout performance.
Per MLB Pipeline, Stevenson in batting practice hit 13 balls 95+ and his in-game exit velocity of 94.2 mph ranked ninth among all high schoolers. While he had played himself into a potential top-five round pick, Stevenson ultimately decided to take his talents to Chapel Hill.
At 6-foot-1, 210-pounds Stevenson has a prototypical catcher’s build. He is plenty physical with a thick lower half and strength in his wrists and forearms. In the box, Stevenson oozes comfortability and confidence. He has a low maintenance setup with his knees slightly bent, a medium-high handset, and a minimal load and stride. It is a direct, compact swing that is tailored to spray line drives all over the yard.
Stevenson has above average bat speed as well as an advanced feel for the barrel. Simply put, he is a hitter. While his hit tool grades out as plus, Stevenson has above average power to the pull side. For as tantalizing as Stevenson’s offensive profile is, he is also an outstanding defender behind the dish.
He is a great receiver who consistently works below the baseball and steals strikes. Stevenson moves well laterally and does an outstanding job of controlling balls in the dirt. He has excellent catch-and-throw skills with a plus arm to boot. His baseball IQ is fantastic and is never afraid to backpick an opposing baserunner.
Stevenson this fall has made his presence felt on both sides of the baseball for the Tar Heels. He has been one of their top performers offensively while showing off his defensive skill set. Coach Scott Forbes returns no catching from last year’s roster as Tomas Frick (.322/.408/.571) was drafted, Dylan King (.250/.438/.417) transferred to Central Florida, and Eric Grintz (.214/.389/.333) opted to use his last year of eligibility at High Point. At this point, Stevenson is on track to be the opening day starter at the position.
Catchers who can hit are always at a premium, and Stevenson fits the bill to a tee. He figures to be squarely in the mix for the ACC’s Freshman of the Year award and has freshman All-American upside. Stevenson this summer has signed to play for the Harwich Mariners of the Cape Cod Baseball League where he will face the best talent college baseball has to offer. As a draft eligible sophomore in 2025, Stevenson has top-two round potential.
10. Will Gasparino, OF, Texas
Will Gasparino has been entrenched in the baseball world for his entire life. He grew up as the Los Angeles Dodgers spring training bat boy and is the son of Dodgers scouting director Billy Gasparino. As time went on, Gasparino bloomed into a premium prospect. He was a two-time Area Code Games attendee and a standout during his time at national powerhouse Harvard Westlake’s (Studio City, Calif.).
Heading into his senior season, there was top two round chatter surrounding Gasparino. However, he suffered a hand injury that caused him to miss the start of his season and performed inconsistently after his return to the lineup. In the lead up to the draft there was still a chance for Gasparino to be a top-three round selection, but he ultimately decided to honor his commitment to the University of Texas.
At 6-foot-6 and 215-pounds, Gasparino has a big league frame and is as tooled out as any true freshman in the country. Offensively, he is currently a power over hit profile. Gasparino sets up in the box with a slightly open front side and a medium-high handset. He possesses plus bat speed as well as plus power.
In order for Gasparino to maximize his immense upside, he will need to improve his pitch recognition skills and refine his approach. Swing-and-miss issues are not uncommon with hitters of Gasparino’s stature, especially at the prep level. With plenty of reps across his three-year college career on top of summer ball, Gasparino has nothing but time to solidify his plate skills.
On defense, Gasparino has an above average arm and is an excellent athlete. He moves like a gazelle in the outfield with plenty of range and advanced baseball sense. Between his throwing arm, athleticism, and instincts Gasparino has the defensive chops to potentially stick in centerfield.
The long-levered Gasparino is also a plus runner and a threat on the basepaths. He has legitimate five-tool upside and could be an opening day starter for the Longhorns. Coach Pierce will be tasked with replacing two-thirds of his 2023 outfield following the departures of rightfielder Dylan Campbell (4th round, Los Angeles Dodgers) and Eric Kennedy (NDFA, Kansas City Royals). Veteran Porter Brown (.323/.426/.545) will anchor a corner outfield spot, but Gasparino has a golden opportunity to win the starting job in center.
Gasparino’s ceiling is immeasurably high, and he figures to be in the mix for the Big-12’s Freshman of the Year Award. Should he put together a productive collegiate career, Gasparino in 2026 has a chance to be selected in the top half of the first round.