Image credit: Lebarron Johnson (Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images)
Every year, the draft has significant implications not only for Major League Baseball but also for college baseball teams around the country. How teams navigated the draft both in terms of current college players and incoming recruits will shape the game for the next few seasons.
This year’s signing deadline isn’t until July 25 and some of the fallout from the draft won’t be known until then. But we can make reasonable assumptions about which players are and aren’t likely to sign. The draft rules make it imperative that teams select players in the top 10 rounds that they know they can sign because otherwise they lose the pick value from their bonus pools. While that isn’t true in rounds 11-20, players that are drafted typically sign. In each of the last two years, the first of the era of the 20-round draft, about 85% of players drafted in rounds 11-20 signed.
Specific to college players, there have been 30 unsigned players from four-year schools over the last two years (14 in 2021, 16 in 2022). In each year, there were two players drafted in the top 100 picks who did not sign (Kumar Rocker, Jud Fabian, Nolan McLean and Brandon Sproat) and 20 of the unsigned players were drafted in the final five rounds of the draft. If a college player is going to return to school, he most likely was picked from rounds 16-20.
Exceptions and surprises are still possible, but as it stands, here are some of college baseball’s winners and losers from the draft.
The Tigers can keep the celebrations from this year’s national championship rolling after the way the draft shook out. LSU on Sunday became the first program in MLB draft history to have teammates selected first and second when Paul Skenes and Dylan Crews went to the Pirates and Nationals, respectively. In all, 13 Tigers were drafted, the most in the country and the most in a 20-round draft. Jay Johnson’s recruiting pitch nearly writes itself: come to LSU, compete for a national title, get drafted.
Adding to that success was LSU nearly holding its recruiting class completely intact. It lost prep catcher Blake Mitchell as a top-10 pick but is unlikely to lose any other commits. Most significantly, lefthander Cameron Johnson (No. 43 on the BA 500) was not drafted until the 20th round and is not expected to sign. Lefthander Jake Brown (118) and outfielder Ashton Larson (272) were also drafted in the final five rounds but are expected to go to school. LSU will also get lefthander Kade Anderson, who withdrew from the draft and ranked No. 280 before opting out (players who cannot be drafted are removed from the BA 500).
LSU’s 2023 recruiting class won’t be as highly touted as its top-ranked 2022 group, but a strong influx of talent is still headed to Baton Rouge. The Tigers really couldn’t have asked for anything more out of this week.
The good news for Stanford started last week when righthander Aidan Keenan withdrew from the draft (he ranked No. 127 at the time). It kept going through the draft, as none of the Cardinal’s commits were selected. That includes righthander Joey Volchko (37), who was the highest ranked player to go undrafted.
If that wasn’t enough, shortstop Owen Cobb went undrafted, and third baseman Drew Bowser wasn’t picked until the 20th round. Both seem likely to return to The Farm, which would give Stanford some needed veterans in the lineup.
While recruiting classes drive most of the winners and losers on this list, the Longhorns’ entry is mostly based on returning players, specifically righthanders Lebarron Johnson Jr. and Tanner Witt. Johnson Jr. went undrafted, and Witt was not picked until the 18th round. They are now expected to return to the 40 Acres and have the potential to give Texas the best 1-2 punch in the country.
Texas’ recruiting class also got a significant boost when outfielder Will Gasparino (92) went unselected. While the Longhorns lost powerful righthander Travis Sykora in the third round, getting Gasparino to campus is a big win and is a boost in a position of need.
The Bruins’ recruiting class ranked No. 3 on signing day, trailing Arkansas and Vanderbilt. Now, they have a case to be No. 1. Shortstop Roch Cholowsky (42) and outfielder Grant Gray (70) went undrafted and shortstop Roman Martin withdrew from the draft (he was No. 73 at the time). That gives UCLA a trio of top-100 talents. No other team is expected to have more than one in its 2023 class.
The Bruins did take some hits of their own. They had four players drafted, three in the top five rounds and then Phoenix Call in the 15th round by the Red Sox. If Call signs, that would be a tough late loss, but there’s still impressive depth to the class behind the headlining trio for the Bruins.
The Razorbacks, who had the top-ranked recruiting class on signing day, had the most commits drafted of any school. They saw seven members of that class have their name called, including six in the top 10 rounds. Those six players are unlikely to make it to Fayetteville and they all ranked among the top 120 players on the BA 500.
That kind of talent getting siphoned away is not great news. It’s not all bad for Arkansas, however. First, lefthander Adam Hachman formally opted out of the draft, ensuring he will make it to campus. He ranked No. 95 before we removed him from the BA 500. Righthander Gabe Gaeckle, who was the last of the Arkansas commits selected, is unlikely to sign as a 20th-round pick. That would give the Razorbacks another high-end player from the class.
But the best news for Arkansas is that its signing class was extraordinarily deep to begin with and could still be the best class in the country when the dust settles. I don’t think it’s a clear-cut choice—UCLA’s top-end talent now looks to be better than Arkansas’—but the Razorbacks are in the mix and are still looking, at worst, at a top-five class. They’re still doing just fine.
Things went sideways late for the Seminoles. After two days of the draft, just two of its commits had been selected, including prep shortstop Arjun Nimmala, who went in the first round, as expected. His loss is not what landed Florida State here.
What hurts most for the Seminoles is that a trio of their junior college commits were drafted Tuesday, all in the top 15 rounds. The tone was set when the Nationals selected righthander Gavin Adams (311) with the first pick of the day and outfielder Nelson Taylor and Cale Lansville followed him off the board.
Florida State probably will end up with four BA 500 players on campus, led by prep shortstop Cal Fisher (154). That’s the makings of an exciting recruiting class. But Florida State was one of the youngest teams in the country last year and it could have used its best junior college players to bring some instant impact and veteran presence.
The Ducks had a strong recruiting class on signing day, but they saw six of their recruits get drafted, a number only surpassed by Arkansas (7). Losing righthander Noble Meyer in the first round was expected, as was shortstop Eric Bitonti in the third round. But righthander Ryan Birchard going in the fifth round and then three prep players going in rounds 11-13 hurt.
Oregon’s class is now headlined by righthander Cole Stokes (112). He’s an exciting prospect and could quickly take on impact innings for the Ducks, but the depth of the class around him has taken a hit.
To make matters worse for Oregon, a few of its Pac-12 rivals fared much better. Stanford and UCLA land on the winners list and Oregon State will get prep infielder Trent Caraway (74) to campus. This is the second straight year the Beavers will get a top-100 hitter to school, after Gavin Turley arrived in the 2022 class.