Early Look At Top 2018 Recruiting Classes
The early-signing period this month allowed high school seniors to sign their National Letter of Intent and make their college commitments official. It also started to bring 2018 recruiting classes into sharper focus.
Because most elite high school players sign professional contracts after the draft, it is difficult to evaluate the best recruiting classes until after MLB’s signing deadline. For that reason, Baseball America’s annual recruiting rankings are not compiled until the newcomers arrive on campus in the fall. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take an early look at which schools have signed premier classes.
Twelve teams signed at least three players ranked among the Top 100 high school draft prospects. Here we break down those dozen classes, which are listed in alphabetical order.
Recruiting coordinator: Sergio Brown. Number of Top 100 signees: 3.
The Wildcats have landed Top 25 classes in both of the last two years under the direction of Brown and head coach Jay Johnson, and in 2018 have a chance for their best recruiting class yet. Third baseman Nolan Gorman (No. 3 on the Top 100 high school draft prospects list) and lefthander Matthew Liberatore (No. 4), the class’ top two players, significantly raised their profiles with outstanding summers and strong performances to help USA Baseball win the 18U World Cup. Gorman won nearly every major home run derby on the summer circuit, including MLB’s high school derby on All-Star weekend in Miami. He is one of the best hitters in the class and has plus raw power that would play in any park – even Arizona’s cavernous Hi Corbett Field. Liberatore has long stood out for his pitchability and projection, but started to realize some of his potential in the last year. His fastball sits in the low 90s, touching 95 mph, and he consistently throws his full three-pitch arsenal for strikes. There is depth to the class beyond that standout pair. Catcher Austin Wells (No. 73) is a physical lefthanded hitter with solid defensive skills behind the plate and the kind of makeup evaluators look for in a catcher. Lefthander Randall Abshier, the son of Grossmont (Calif.) JC coach Randy Abshier, and righthander Ian Mejia give the class two more projectable arms. Both throw in the upper 80s now, but have the potential to increase their velocity as they get stronger. Ryan Archibald and Tony Bullard are both big and physical with the potential to be two-way players in college. Both probably profile best at the infield corners as position players, but offer some versatility and have powerful arms that will play well on the mound.
Recruiting coordinator: Bradley LeCroy. Number of Top 100 signees: 4.
The Tigers lost just one player to the draft from their 2017 class, which ended up raked No. 15, and a similar outcome in 2018 could see Clemson land its first top-10 class since 2006. The Tigers could be in position to do just that because while they have four Top 100 signees, none are ranked in the top 40. Outfielder Parker Meadows (No. 43) is Clemson’s top-ranked recruit and is similar to his older brother Austin Meadows, the Pirates’ No. 2 prospect. Parker Meadows isn’t as physical as his older brother was at the same age and his bat isn’t regarded to be as consistent, but he also has five-tool potential and is a plus runner. Charles Mack (No. 56) showed a compact lefthanded swing and some power on the showcase circuit, but questions remain about where he fits best defensively. He profiles as an offensive second baseman, and also caught this summer. Catcher Adam Hackenburg, the younger brother of New York Jets quarterback Christian Hackenburg, is strong and physical, helping him produce big raw power and plus arm strength. Righthander Carter Raffield (No. 46) is the Tigers’ top pitching recruit. He is listed at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, and has a power arm to match his big frame with a fastball that gets up to 94 mph. Lefthander Justin Wrobleski (No. 83) has an athletic build and throws his fastball in the low 90s and can consistently mix in a slider. Lefthander Nate Lamb is ultra-projectable and his fastball has already started to make a jump as matures into his 6-foot-5, 196-pound frame. His fastball has gotten up to 92 mph to go with the makings of a good breaking ball, and it’s easy to dream on him adding more velocity this spring.
Bowling Green State Reverses Course, Reinstates Baseball Program
Less than three weeks after Bowling Green State announced it had eliminated its baseball program, the university reversed course and on Tuesday announced the program was reinstated.
Recruiting coordinator: Craig Bell. Number of Top 100 signees: 7.
For five straight years, Florida has brought in a top-five recruiting class featuring at least five players from the BA500. The Gators are well on their way to extending that streak to six years with their 2018 class. Florida’s class is again loaded with athleticism and versatility and several two-way players, including Mason Denaburg (No. 9), the highest-ranked player in the group. Pro scouts like him most on the mound, where he can touch 97 mph, but he is also a prospect as a hitter thanks to his easy swing and athleticism that works both behind the plate and in the outfield. While he could be drafted in the top half of the first round, he was high school teammates with Florida freshman shortstop Brady McConnell, who had similar draft hype this time last year, but went on to become the highest ranked position player on the BA500 to make it to college. Catcher Anthony Seigler (No. 23) and outfielder Connor Scott (No. 26) are better prospects as position players, but both would also likely be two-way players for the Gators. Seigler may be the most inimitable player in the draft class. He is a solid catcher and is essentially an ambidextrous baseball player, as he is both a switch-hitter and a switch-thrower. If Seigler makes it to college, coach Kevin O’Sullivan will no doubt find innovative ways to take advantage of the seemingly infinite matchup possibilities he would create. Scott is a plus runner and has a fluid swing and a chance to develop above-average power. He doesn’t pitch often, but when he does, the lefthander throws his fastball in the low 90s and mixes in a good breaking ball. Third baseman Cory Acton (No. 72) and outfielder Kendrick Calilao (No. 88) both stand out for their advanced hittability. Acton has a compact lefthanded swing and has the potential to grow into at least average power. Calilao faces a tough profile as a pro as a righthanded-hitting corner outfielder, but has the tools to quickly make an impact if he gets to college. Addison Barger (No. 84) was a late developer and has a chance to stay at shortstop, but his offensive potential, especially as a pure hitter, would also profile well at second base. Righthanders David Luethje (No. 85) and Nick Pogue are big and projectable on the mound and already pitch with low-90s fastballs. Righthanders Kristofer Armstrong, Benjamin Specht and Lyon Richardson have good pitchability and could quickly compete for innings for the Gators.
Recruiting coordinator: Nolan Cain. Number of Top 100 signees: 7.
Pitching is the strength of the Tigers’ class and the depth of the group means that even if they lose a few pitchers to the draft, they will still be well set on the mound. Righthander Landon Marceaux (No. 25) is the top-ranked pitcher in the class and has a good fastball-curveball combination to go with impressive polish, but his size – listed at 5-foot-11, 177 pounds – may help push him to school. He stands out for his pitchability and would likely immediately factor into LSU’s rotation. Righthanders Jaden Hill (No. 30) and Levi Kelly (No. 86) have more prototypical builds and power stuff. Hill, a high school quarterback, has a good fastball and changeup, and his athleticism and the ease of his delivery makes it easy to project him to one day have well above-average fastball velocity. Kelly also generates easy velocity, running his fastball up to 94-95 mph. Righthander Chase Costello (No. 93) doesn’t have as much power stuff, but is projectable and has a good feel for his solid three-pitch mix. The class is not all pitching, however. Shortstop Brice Turang (No. 2), outfielder Elijah Cabel (No. 34) and catcher C.J. Willis (No. 64) give the class a trio of high-profile position players. Turang could be in the mix to be the top overall pick in the draft, but if he gets to school would give the Tigers an elite all-around shortstop. Cabell is a prototypical right fielder with impressive raw tools. Willis has a beautiful lefthanded swing and exciting athleticism that had his stock rising this fall. Infielder Ben Bianco, the son of Mississippi coach Mike Bianco, has some pop in his bat and plays with the savvy expected of a coach’s son. Outfielder Giovanni DiGiacomo and infielder Gavin Dugas are above-average runners and the kind of advanced approach at the plate that should help them quickly make an impact in college.
Recruiting coordinator: Eric Snider. Number of Top 100 signees: 5.
Coach Dan McDonnell built Louisville into a national powerhouse primarily with players from the Midwest and the Cardinals stuck to that philosophy to put together another high-level recruiting class. Outfielder Jarred Kelenic (No. 5), a Wisconsin native, is the headliner and he starred for Team USA this year as it won the gold medal at the 18U World Cup. His five-tool potential makes him a potential top-10 overall pick. Outfielder Nick Schnell (No. 58) also has enticing tools and is reminiscent of Christian Yelich, but is more likely to get to college than Kelenic because the Indianapolis native is further away from realizing his potential. Shortstop Tim Borden (No. 81) is big and athletic and has the tools to stay at shortstop. Andrew Benefield and Jared Poland give the class two more infielders with solid offensive tools. Benefield has some defensive versatility to go with his powerful bat. Poland profiles as an offensive second baseman, but also has a good enough fastball-breaking ball combination to be a two-way player for the Cardinals. Righthander Jack Perkins (No. 36) and lefthander Carter Lohman (No. 66) stand out on the mound. Perkins has an electric fastball-breaking ball combination and the build of a running back, which he played for Kokomo (Ind.) High’s state runner-up team. Lohman has good feel for spin and has continued to make gains with his fastball, touching 92 mph at Jupiter. Righthander Kerry Wright has good size at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, and offers plenty of upside with a low-90s fastball and solid breaking ball.
Recruiting coordinator: Gino DiMare. Number of Top 100 signees: 5.
After landing a top-10 class this year, the Hurricanes signed another strong recruiting class for 2018. First baseman Triston Casas (No. 11) headlines the group after an outstanding summer that included him winning MVP honors at the 18U World Cup. He profiles as a prototypical first baseman with plus raw power and some of the best all-around hitting ability in the country. Outfielder Brennan Davis (No. 62) raised his profile over the summer, showing off his raw athleticism and tools. Adrian Del Castillo (No. 75) has a smooth lefthanded swing and is a bat-first catcher at this stage of his development. He has good athleticism and has made strides defensively as he has gotten more experience behind the plate and should be able to develop into a capable defender in time. Infielders Cal Conley, Luis Tuero and Henry Anthony Vilar all have the tools to stay up the middle and, while they don’t have the ideal size for pro ball, they should be able to become solid players in college. On the mound, righthander Slade Cecconi (No. 16) and lefthander J.P. Gates (No. 45) stand out. Listed at 6-foot-4, 195 pounds, Cecconi has an excellent pitcher’s frame and an electric fastball-slider combination. He runs his fastball up to 96 mph, gets good extension and creates a tough angle for hitters with his three-quarters arm slot. Gates would be a two-way player at Miami as a first baseman and lefthander, but his professional future is on the mound. He stands out most for his pitchability and feel for his three-pitch mix – a fastball that sits around 90 mph and a slider and changeup that can be above-average offerings. Lefthander Bailey Mantilla will need to improve his secondary stuff, but he has a physical frame and could add velocity to a fastball that already sits around 90 mph.
Recruiting coordinator: Jake Gautreau. Number of Top 100 signees: 5.
After losing six of their commits to pro ball this year, the Bulldogs will hope for better luck in the draft in 2018. Mississippi State’s class has star power, especially on the mound in righthanders Carter Stewart (No. 13), Cole Winn (No. 17) and J.T. Ginn (No. 31). Listed at 6-foot-6, 200 pounds, Stewart has good size and a low-90s fastball, but his separator is his curveball, which may be the best in the class. Winn offers a solid three-pitch mix to go with a good pitcher’s frame and a repeatable delivery. Ginn has the most velocity of the trio and can run his fastball into the mid 90s to go with a sharp breaking ball. Righthander Sam Knowlton isn’t as advanced as the Bulldogs’ most famous commits, but he has exciting raw tools. He’s listed at 6-foot-7, 225 pounds and has touched 94 mph with his fastball. Shortstop Jeremiah Jackson (No. 28) leads the Bulldogs’ position player signees. He stands out for his athleticism and has some surprising pop in his bat. Outfielder Basiel Williams (No. 96) is a plus runner and offers plenty of projection. The switch-hitter is still raw, but has the raw tools to develop. Bryce Bush is big and toolsy with plus raw power. He profiles well as a corner infielder. Catcher Hayden Jones still has some rawness to his overall game, but has the tools to develop behind the plate.
Recruiting coordinator: Sean Allen. Number of Top 100 signees: 4.
Allen and the rest of the Longhorns coaching staff hit the recruiting trail hard after they moved to Texas from Tulane in the summer of 2016. They put together a strong 2018 class that is deep on the mound, which may be critical if their staff gets hit hard in the draft this spring. Righthander Simeon Woods-Richardson (No. 38), who was originally committed to rival Texas A&M before changing his mind a year ago, stood out this fall. He pounds the zone with a sinker that reached 93 mph and would be a two-way player if he makes it to college. Righthander Ty Madden (No. 89) also had a good showing in Jupiter, where he showed a low-90s fastball and a swing-and-miss changeup. Mason Bryant, Coy Cobb and Jack Neely give the Longhorns a trio of big, projectable righthanders with power arms. Bryant hasn’t pitched much, focusing early in his athletic career on hitting and playing wide receiver, but has touched 96. Cobb has advanced pitchability and has already seen his fastball velocity begin to climb to the low 90s. Neely is the tallest at 6-foot-8 and has touched 95 mph. Texas also secured some high-end position players in the class. Outfielder Korey Holland (No. 47) stands out for his hittability and is a plus runner. Bryce Reagan (No. 54) doesn’t have an ideal profile at either shortstop or third base, but has an intriguing skillset. Infielder Alec Carr also has an interesting set of tools. He led Texas in home runs last spring, is an above-average runner and runs his fastball up to 93 mph in short stints, giving him the chance to be a two-way player. Outfielder Eric Kennedy, the younger brother of former Texas lefthander Nick Kennedy, is a well above-average runner and, while he has an unconventional swing, has fast hands and has had success against quality pitching.
Recruiting coordinator: Justin Seely. Number of Top 100 signees: 3.
After this year landing their first Top 25 recruiting class since 2012, the Aggies have the makings of another solid group of newcomers next year. Catcher Noah Naylor (No. 22), the younger brother of Padres prospect Josh Naylor, is the highest ranked member of the class. Noah Naylor doesn’t match his older brother’s raw power, but he is more athletic and has a good feel for hitting. While Naylor is the biggest name among the signees, the class’ strength is lefthanded pitching. The Aggies signed four lefties, including Jonathan Childress (No. 39 and no relation to coach Rob Childress) and Joseph Menefee (No. 60). Childress offers an idyllic package, combining a 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame with a low-90s fastball, feel for his slider and good feel for pitching. Menefee has a powerful fastball-slider combination that played well out of the bullpen for Team USA during the 18U World Cup. Righthander Mason Englert was sidelined most of the summer by injury, but could raise his profile with a healthy spring thanks to his strong frame (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) and solid stuff. Among the position players, third baseman Hunter Watson and shortstop Brett Brown stand out. Watson is very athletic and has big raw power from the left side, but struggled to get to it over the summer. Brown is an impressive athlete and can play anywhere up the middle and he has the potential to become a more prominent prospect after time to further develop in college. Infielder Ty Coleman, the younger brother of Aggies first baseman Hunter Coleman, is undersized for pro ball, but plays with plenty of moxie and has the tools to excel for Texas A&M.
Recruiting coordinator: Kirk Saarloos. Number of Top 100 signees: 3.
The Horned Frogs signed a compact prep class, but still landed some elite talent. Outfielder Alek Thomas (No. 29) was USA Baseball’s leading hitter at the 18U World Cup. The lefthanded hitter can play center field and hit at the top of the order and impacts the game in several ways. Shortstop Mateo Gil came on strong at the end of the summer, showing improved defensive skills. He has quick hands both in the field and at the plate, where he has a line-drive approach. Outfielder Porter Brown has an intriguing combination of power and speed and a high baseball IQ. The strength of TCU’s prep class is on the mound. Righthander Adam Koffenstein (No. 33) is listed at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds and has an exciting arsenal. His fastball sits in the low 90s and his feel for spin allows him to give his breaking ball different shapes. Righthander Matt Rudis (No. 97), whose father caught at TCU, has taken some big strides in the last year and now is running his fastball into the mid 90s and mixing in a solid breaking ball. Righthander Marcelo Perez is undersized at 5-foot-11, 160 pounds, but has a quick arm and repeats his delivery well. Righthander Dawson Barr showed promise early in his high school career, but has missed much of the last two years following Tommy John surgery. If he can recapture his previous form when he gets back into game action, he would add another power arm to the TCU staff. The Horned Frogs will also have a strong group of junior college hitters in the class, including Sacramento City (Calif.) JC outfielder Jake Guenther, who this summer was the eighth-ranked prospect in the Northwoods League.
Recruiting coordinator: Mike Baxter. Number of Top 100 signees: 9.
The Commodores landed this year their second No. 1 recruiting class in the last three years and their record fifth since Baseball America’s rankings began in 2000. Vanderbilt has a chance for another top-ranked class in 2018, but the trick now will be holding its outstanding group together. The Commodores’ nine Top 100 signees are the most in the country, but with six of those players ranked in the top 20, their class is also at risk of being ransacked in the draft. Righthander Ethan Hankins (No. 1) emerged this summer as the top pitcher in a deep prep class and posted a 27-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 12 innings at the 18U World Cup. Listed at 6-foot-6, 211 pounds, he has a frame scouts can dream on and premier stuff highlighted by a fastball that sits in the mid 90s and a sharp but inconsistent breaking ball. Hankins was joined on Team USA by righthander Kumar Rocker (No. 7) and lefthander Ryan Weathers (No. 8). Both have athletic bloodlines – Rocker’s father, Tracy, was a defensive lineman in the NFL and Weathers’ father, David, pitched in 964 games in the big leagues over 19 seasons – and have big stuff. Rocker generates easy velocity and has reached 98 mph with his fastball and Weathers has advanced feel for his low-90s fastball and a good changeup. Righthanders Austin Becker (No. 18) and Ethan Smith (No. 79) give the class two more projectable high-end arms. Becker has an electric three-pitch mix and Smith impressed with a perfect game on the big stage at Jupiter. Will Banfield (No. 10) has emerged as the best catching prospect in the country – high school or college. He has excellent all-around defensive skills and has power potential at the plate. Shortstop Xavier Edwards (No. 15) gives the class another premium player up the middle. He is a plus runner and has quick, smooth hands that will give him a chance to stay at shortstop. Outfielder Ryder Green (No. 42) produces lots of hard, line drive contact and projects to develop big power in time. Nick Northcut (No. 35) has two-way potential in college as a third baseman and righthander, but is more likely to end up as a position player in the long run. He is still a bit raw, but has plenty of raw power at the plate and can run his fastball into the low 90s.
Recruiting coordinator: Kevin McMullan. Number of Top 100 signees: 4.
The Cavaliers have again put together another solid class stocked with high-end athletic position players and power arms. Righthander Mike Vasil (No. 12) is the best regarded of the class’ pitchers owing to his present power stuff and further projectability. He runs his fastball up to 94-95 mph now and has the makings of solid secondary stuff to go with it. Lefthander Brandon Neeck (No. 74) came on strong over the summer and offers a good fastball-breaking ball combination. He throws his fastball in the upper 80s, but has run it up to 93 mph with movement. Righthander Cristian Sanchez (No. 95) isn’t as advanced, but is athletic and has shown impressive stuff in short stints. As he fills out his 6-foot-3, 170-pound frame, he figures to become more consistent. Billy Price also has significant projection as a 6-foot-6, 205-pound lefthander with an upper-80s fastball and a good feel for pitching. Outfielder Mike Siani (No. 20) stands out most among the class’ position players. He starred for USA Baseball’s gold-medal winning team at the 18U World Cup, where he showed off his potential as a top-of-the-order hitter. As an above-average runner with a good feel for the barrel, he fits a profile similar to many Virginia standouts during coach Brian O’Connor’s tenure. Shortstop Nic Kent is athletic and figures to stay in the middle of the infield in college, where he can become a strong defender. Infielder Zack Gelof and outfielder Jimmy Sullivan both have projectable frames and have high offensive ceilings. Milton (Ga.) High teammates Drew Hamrock and Ben Harris will continue on to college together. Hamrock is a solid defender behind the plate with the athleticism to play anywhere on the middle of the diamond. Harris is a two-way player as a lefthander and outfielder, who still has some crudeness to his game, but has the raw tools to polish.