Florida, Vanderbilt Headline Top 2019 NCAA Baseball Recruiting Classes
Wednesday marks the start of the week-long period for high school seniors and junior college transfers to sign their National Letter of Intent and make their college commitments official. As college baseball programs firm up their 2019 recruiting classes, Baseball America presents its first-ever fall recruiting rankings.
Baseball is unique among college sports because the pro draft siphons off many of the elite talents in the prep class, meaning that recruiting classes can’t be considered final until they get to campus next summer. Since 2000, Baseball America has ranked recruiting classes then and will continue to do so. But it is useful as players make their commitments official to take a snapshot of how the top recruiting classes stack up during the fall signing period.
Much figures to change between now and the signing deadline for drafted players in early July. Players’ performance this spring will lead to them rising and falling in the rankings. Some will make significant jumps in velocity or power. Some will sneak through the draft or fall due to signability, while others will get picked higher than expected.
These recruiting rankings may end up looking much different than those that will be released at the start of the 2019-20 school year. But the best classes combine elite players with strong depth and will be able to withstand some losses to the draft.
Florida leads the rankings, just edging No. 2 Vanderbilt and No. 3 Louisiana State. All three classes have a case to be No. 1, but the Gators get top billing for their impressive all-around class. The headliner is outfielder Riley Green, who is the third-ranked prep player in the country and may be the best all-around hitter.
Florida also has high-end arms in righthander Matthew Allen and lefthander Hunter Barco and some players with rising stocks this fall such as righthander Tyler Nesbitt and infielder Josh Rivera. The class also includes well-regarded outfielder Jud Fabian and righthander Nolan Crisp, who are slated to graduate high school a semester early and join the Gators this spring.
LSU, which landed the top-ranked 2018 recruiting class, has another outstanding group, which includes righthander Daniel Espino, one of the best pitchers in the class, and third baseman Rece Hinds, who stands out for his power.
It is no surprise to see three Southeastern Conference powers atop the rankings. The SEC has produced the top-ranked class for eight straight years. Florida has landed a record six straight top-five classes and is well on its way to another, and Vanderbilt looks certain to extend its record of 14 straight ranked classes. Seven SEC schools—half the conference—are represented in the top 12.
Recruiting coordinator Craig Bell
Top recruit: Riley Greene, OF (No. 3)
Overview: Florida has brought top-five recruiting classes to Gainesville in each of the last six years and it this year has another stellar group. Outfielder Jud Fabian and righthander Nolan Crisp are credited here, though they are slated to enroll a semester early and play for the Gators this spring.
Hitters: Green may be the best all-around hitter in the prep class. He has a smooth lefthanded swing, solid power and a good understanding of the strike zone. Fabian is an impressive all-around player. He has a good righthanded swing and could slide right into center field once he gets to Gainesville. Third baseman Joshua Rivera starred in Jupiter, Fla., at Perfect Game’s World Wood Bat Association World Championship, earning MVP honors after leading the Florida Burn to the title. He has an exciting tool set and makes a lot of hard contact at the plate. Shortstop Isaac Nunez has a solid arm, steady hands and some juice in his bat.
Pitchers: Righthander Matthew Allan (12) has a big, physical frame and a plus fastball-curveball combination. He runs his fastball up to 96 mph and his curveball is a big, 12-to-6 breaker, and he also mixes in a developing changeup. Lefthander Hunter Barco (15) had an inconsistent summer and will be closely watched this spring. At his best, he has three pitches that have plus potential and throws from a very low arm slot. Crisp is aggressive on the mound and comes right after hitters with a low-90s fastball, which he controls well. He’s undersized for a righthander and likely ticketed for the back of the bullpen this spring, but he has the stuff to eventually get a chance to start. Righthander Tyler Owens is undersized at a listed 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, but he has a big arm. His fastball can get into the upper 90s, but he more typically throws in the low 90s without an overly effortful delivery. Righthander Tyler Nesbitt came on strong this fall and was named most valuable pitcher at Jupiter. He has a projectable frame and a chance to have three above-average offerings. Andrew Roberts is slated to be a two-way player as a righthander and corner infielder. He throws in the upper 80s with sinking action.
Recruiting coordinator: Mike Baxter
Top recruit: Spencer Jones, LHP/1B (No. 14)
Overview: Vanderbilt has another elite recruiting class loaded with high-end talent. There are plenty of premium arms and athletic position players who can play up the middle. The challenge, as always, will be holding on to some of their top players through the draft, as they did this year with righthander Kumar Rocker.
Hitters: The Commodores have some very athletic infielders in this class, including shortstops Carter Young (30) and Anthony Volpe (37). Both Young and Volpe stand out for their defensive polish. Young was the underclass standout of the 2017 USA Baseball 18U team, which won the gold medal at the World Cup. He is a plus runner and has a line-drive stroke. Volpe is a bit undersized but is a steady defender and has a compact swing and a good approach at the plate. Tyler McKenzie, the younger brother of Indians’ top prospect Triston McKenzie, figures to fit in somewhere up the middle and has the versatility to move around the infield or the outfield thanks to his speed and athleticism. The Commodores have a pair of intriguing catchers in the class in C.J. Rodriguez and Max Romero. Rodriguez is the more advanced defender, while Romero has big lefthanded power that he’s beginning to tap into. Nick Maldonado has two-way potential and might settle in at third base as a position player. He produces good bat speed at the plate and on the mound attacks hitters with a fastball-slider combination.
Pitchers: Vanderbilt’s class is headlined by its pitching. Jones and righthanders Kendall Williams (17) and Jack Leiter (18) all have high-end potential on the mound. Jones, listed at 6-foot-7, 212 pounds, is big and physical and has the stuff to match. He throws in the low 90s with a big curveball that has plus potential. He only seriously started pitching about a year ago and is a two-way threat thanks to his lefthanded power and feel for the barrel. Williams has a long, lean frame and a solid three-pitch mix. Leiter is the son of former All-Star Al Leiter and stands out for his polish. He’s a little undersized at 6-foot, 191 pounds, but he has a strong four-pitch mix and his hammer breaking ball is one of the best in the class. Righthander Wesley Scott throws from a low, three-quarter arm slot and attacks hitters with a fastball-slider combination. Righthander Michael Doolin has a physical, 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame, and advanced pitchability that could help him contribute quickly.
3. Louisiana State
Recruiting coordinator: Nolan Cain
Top recruit Daniel Espino, RHP (No. 5)
Overview: LSU landed the top-ranked 2018 recruiting class in part because they were able to hold the group together through the draft. This class has similar potential and with similar luck in June, the Tigers could next fall end up with another No. 1 ranking. As it stands now, the class has a good mix of star power and depth.
Hitters: Third baseman Rece Hinds (6) has huge tools and looks the part of a first-rounder at a listed 6-foot-4, 210 pounds. He may have the most power in the prep class and can drive the ball out to all fields, though that power comes with some concerns about his swing-and-miss potential. Outfielder Maurice Hampton (13) is also committed to play football at LSU and won’t sign until football’s early signing day in December. He’s still raw on the diamond, as many high-level two-sport players are, but his raw tools and athleticism are exciting. Infielders Cade Doughty (42) and Christian Cairo (43) don’t stand out for their tools but both have a good understanding of the game. Cairo is a strong defender at shortstop, while Doughty likely profiles best at second or third base. The class includes a trio of high-end catchers—Alex Milazzo, Raymond Torres and Hayden Travinski. Milazzo and Torres both stand out for their defense and plus arm strength, while Travinski has above-average power and a strong arm.
Pitchers: Espino is the second-highest ranked pitcher in the high school class and has the best present stuff. His fastball has touched 100 mph and sits in the mid-90s to go with a plus curveball, a slider that has plus potential and a developing changeup. He’s an undersized at 6-foot, 196 pounds, but his power arsenal still plays. Righthander Jimmy Lewis (39), listed at 6-foot-6, 200 pounds, came on strong this summer. He throws his fastball in the low 90s with a pair of solid secondary offerings. Righthander Connor Phillips is a bulldog on the mound with a good fastball-breaking ball combination. Righthander Farmer Abendroth has a projectable, 6-foot-5 frame and is already running his fastball up to 93 mph to go with a good breaking ball.
Recruiting coordinator: Bryant Ward
Top recruit: Corbin Carroll, OF (No. 7)
Overview: The prep class out West looks to be down this year, but the Bruins still have a typically strong recruiting class. Carroll is the headliner, but there are plenty of high-upside players in the group.
Hitters: Carroll this summer emerged as one of the best pure hitters in the prep class and took home MVP honors from the Perfect Game All-American Classic at Petco Park. He’s a plus runner, has a quick balanced swing and looks ready to step in at the top of the lineup and in center field. Outfielder Emmanuel Dean (35) is toolsy and athletic. A former football player, he has a physical frame and big raw power that profiles well in right field. Darrius Perry this summer was one of the better defensive catchers on the showcase circuit and has potential offensively, but for now at least has a glove-over-bat profile. At a listed 6-foot-3, 198 pounds, Michael Curialle is big and athletic with a powerful arm. He’s currently a shortstop and might be able to stay at the position, but even if he has to move his tools and athleticism will play.
Pitchers: Righthander Evan Fitterer has a projectable frame and may be starting to come into his own. He throws his fastball 90-92 mph and mixes in a good changeup. Lefthander Joshua Hahn has two-way potential but is best on the mound. He pounds the fastball with a good three-pitch mix and sits around 90 mph with his fastball. Lefthander Jake Saum has good pitchability and a strong high school track record. Righthander Adrian Chaidez, currently at Cypress (Calif.) JC, last year converted from catching to pitching and can run his fastball up to 93 mph. Righthanders Jared Karros, the son of former big leaguer Eric Karros, and Charles Harrison give the class two more pitchers with solid upside.
5. Texas Christian
Recruiting coordinator: Kirk Saarloos
Top recruit: Quinn Priester, RHP (No. 25)
Overview: TCU took a bigger class this year, a necessity after being hit hard in the draft over the last few years and last year going heavy on junior college transfers. This year’s group has the potential to quickly make an impact, both with pitchers and position players.
Hitters: Catcher Kurtis Byrne offers physicality, both defensively and as a hitter. He receives well and has a strong, accurate arm. Outfielders Tim McHugh, Austin Plante and Sam Thompson all offer solid upside. McHugh is physical but still a little raw, especially offensively. Plante is a former football player who is big and athletic and figures to provide a middle-of-the-order presence. Thompson is the most likely center fielder of the group and has some pop in his bat. Shortstop Beau Wimpee stands out most for his instincts and understanding of the game, which help his tools play up.
Pitchers: The Horned Frogs have some high-end pitching in this class, starting with Priester and righthander Riley Cornelio (34). Both Priester and Cornelio throw their fastballs in the low 90s and have above-average breaking balls. Priester has a bit more pitchability, but both offer plenty of room for further development. Righthander Jacob Meador is undersized at 5-foot-11, 170 pounds and throws his fastball around 90 mph, but throws it with a very high spin rate that leads to lots of swings and misses. Lefthander Nolan Hudi has plenty of big-game experience and stands out for his pitchability and three-pitch arsenal. Righthander Johnny Ray, who is currently at Logan (Ill.) JC, has a solid three-pitch mix and can run his fastball up to 95 mph.
6. Mississippi State
Recruiting coordinator: Jake Gautreau
Top recruit Landon Sims, RHP (No. 28)
Overview: The Bulldogs’ 2018 class was bolstered when first-rounder J.T. Ginn decided to head to Starkville instead of signing with the Dodgers, who drafted him 30th overall. Even if Mississippi State doesn’t land another first-round talent, the depth of this class gives it similar upside to the 2018 group.
Hitters: Catcher Ethan Hearn (44) is one of the best catchers in the high school class. He has plus arm strength and plus power, but needs some refinement, especially with his receiving. Outfielder Andre Tarver is a two-sport star who stands out for his athleticism and received Division I football offers. He chose to play baseball, however, and he has a good lefthanded swing and a chance to play center field. Shortstop Kamren James, the younger brother of Mississippi State righthander Keegan James, is a solid defender with some power in his bat who may end up at third base if he gets as big as his brother. Catcher Austin Kelly has a powerful lefthanded bat and the versatility to also play outfield or first base. Outfielder Jake Randa, the son of former major leaguer Joe Randa, is one of the top junior college hitters in the country and is coming off a summer when he hit .318 with nine home runs in the Northwest League. Logan Tanner has two-way potential in college, though he will be trying to pull the difficult double of catcher/pitcher. On the mound, he can run his fastball up to 94 mph and mixes in a slider and changeup. He’s also an excellent defensive catcher, which may be where his professional future lies.
Pitchers: Sims has a powerful arm and has run his fastball up to 97 mph in short stints. His secondary pitches still need further development, but his explosive fastball alone is enough to make him stand out. Righthander Will Bednar, the younger brother of Padres prospect David Bednar, also has a big fastball. He throws in the mid-90s and works in a curveball, slider and changeup. Lefthander Davis Rokose has advanced pitchability and enough stuff to quickly contribute. Righthander K.C. Hunt, the younger brother of former first-rounder Shooter Hunt, has a projectable frame and a loose delivery. He has excellent athleticism (he got some Division I basketball interest) and can be a two-way player thanks to his easy lefthanded swing.
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Recruiting Coordinator: Bradley LeCroy
Top recruit: Nasim Nunez, SS (No. 22)
Overview: Clemson has not brought back-to-back top-10 classes to campus since 2001-02. But after bringing in the No. 9 class in 2018, the Tigers are well positioned to do just that.
Hitters: Nunez is one of the best defensive shortstops in the class. He has a plus arm, good athleticism and infield instincts. He’s undersized at 5-foot-9, 160 pounds, and there are questions about how much impact he’ll provide offensively, but his glove stands out. Catcher Jonathan French (40) is another high-end defender up the middle. He has good catch-and-throw skills and some power in his bat. Pierce Gallo gives the Tigers another solid option in the middle of the infield. He has a projectable 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame and has good athleticism.
Pitchers: The class’ strength is on the mound. Righthander Mack Anglin (36) has a solid three-pitch mix that he throws from a low, three-quarter arm slot. He’s run his fastball up to 95 mph, but his delivery needs some refinement. Righthander Gavin Collyer has a smaller frame but has a strong, quick arm. He throws his fastball in the low 90s and mixes in a good slider, a package that is reminiscent of Marlins prospect Nick Neidert, who also is a Georgia prep product. Lefthander Paul Labriola and righthander Nick Clayton both have projectable frames and this fall have shown increased their fastball velocity. If that carries over to the spring, their draft stock could also be on the rise. Lefthander J.D. Brock has two-way potential. He throws in the upper 80s and is a strong competitor. Lefthander Geoffrey Gilbert has a solid fastball-breaking ball combination.
8. North Carolina
Recruiting Coordinator: Scott Forbes
Top recruit: Brennan Malone, RHP (No. 4)
Overview: In 2016, North Carolina brought the No. 2 recruiting class to Chapel Hill. Those players are now juniors, and the Tar Heels are preparing to lose several of them as high draft picks. Their 2019 class was built with that in mind and is a deep group.
Hitters: Infielder Patrick Alvarez is undersized at a listed 5-foot-7, 150 pounds, but he’s performed well in some big situations. He has good on-base skills and can play shortstop, though he profiles best at second base. Outfielder Tyler Kehoe has a good feel for hitting. He’s a bit of a tweener in the outfield as he’s not a burner, but his instincts help make up for his speed and he could play center field for the Tar Heels. Tyler Causey plays shortstop now, but at 6-foot-6, he’s likely going to end up at third base. When he grows into his frame, he figures to be a middle-of-the-order hitter. Eric Grintz plays well behind the plate, and his athleticism gives him the versatility to also play the outfield.
Pitchers: Malone is the top-ranked prep pitcher in the class. He combines premium stuff, projection and plenty of starter traits. His fastball reaches 97 mph, his slider is his best secondary offering, and his curveball and changeup are also promising. Righthander Joseph Charles (33) also has a big arm and has touched 97 mph. His slider has plus potential, but it and his control have been inconsistent at times. Righthander Isaiah Bennett is out this year following Tommy John surgery but was throwing in the low 90s before his injury. Lefthander D.J. Herz, a high school quarterback, is very competitive and athletic. His fastball gets up to 92 mph, though he doesn’t typically pitch there. The class also includes some interesting junior college transfers. Kyle Mott, a righthander from Pitt (N.C.) JC, is big and athletic with some feel for spinning the ball. Righthander Gage Gillian closes for Walters State (Tenn.) JC and has a hammer breaking ball.
Recruiting Coordinator: Karl Nonemaker
Top recruit: Hayden Mullins, LHP (No. 16)
Overview: Auburn has become a regular in the recruiting rankings under head coach Butch Thompson. The Tigers have brought three straight top-25 classes to The Plains and the 2019 group figures to extend that streak next fall.
Hitters: Shortstop Gunnar Henderson (23) is the top prep player in Alabama and fits in the mold of a big, physical shortstop. He offers lefthanded power, a plus arm and enough athleticism to give him a chance to develop at shortstop. Nathan LaRue offers plenty of versatility and figures to be a two-way player for the Tigers. He can catch or play the outfield, and he’s a solid defender behind the plate. He also throws his fastball around 90 mph when he gets on the mound. Mason Greer and Travis Odom give the class two more middle infielders. Greer in high school has played second base in deference to Bobby Witt Jr. but could move around the infield. Odom is more of a shortstop and has some power potential.
Pitchers: Auburn has had success getting a frontline pitcher to campus to headline its recruiting class over the last few years. This year’s top arm is Mullins, who has solid stuff and a good feel for spin. He and righthander Mason Barnett are not particularly physical but offer impressive pitchability and could quickly contribute. Righthander Ramsey David has a more projectable frame and a good fastball-slider combination. Righthanders Trace Bright and Sebastian Thomas have big, projectable frames and give the class two more high-upside arms.
Recruiting Coordinator: Jerry Zulli
Top recruit: C.J. Abrams, SS (No. 2)
Overview: Alabama hasn’t had a recruiting class this good since 2012, but the Crimson Tide’s recruiting has kicked up a notch or two since head coach Brad Bohannon was hired in June 2017. The class starts with Abrams and Myles Austin (32), a pair of high-end shortstops with significant upside, but it also has strong depth behind them.
Hitters: Abrams has jumped to the head of the class thanks to his excellent bat-to-ball skills, simple lefthanded swing and his well above-average speed. He also has all the tools necessary to stay at shortstop. Austin, the younger brother of former Astros second-rounder Jay Austin, is less polished than Abrams but has big tools. He has a wiry, athletic build and the potential for plus raw power. Third baseman Zane Denton is a switch hitter with a long track record for hitting. He isn’t as athletic as his older brother, Cardinals prospect Bryce Denton, but he adds a solid bat to the class. Catcher Owen Diodati has a strong frame and plenty of lefthanded power. Shortstops Logan Keller and William Hamiter aren’t as high profile as Abrams and Austin but offer solid strength and athleticism.
Pitchers: The class isn’t as flashy on the mound, but it provides the Crimson Tide with some pitchers who should be able to quickly contribute. Righthander Britt Sparks, currently at Shelton State (Ala.) JC, has some projection in his 6-foot-4 frame and a fastball that sits around 90 mph. Lefthanders Blake Bennett, Garrett Hester and Conner Prielipp all throw plenty of strikes. Prielipp has the most upside thanks to his curveball and projectable frame. Bennett and Hester have good three-pitch mixes and should be able to quickly find roles on the staff.
Recruiting Coordinator: Clay Van Hook
Top recruit: Bobby Witt Jr., SS (No. 1)
Overview: Oklahoma’s class starts with Witt Jr., the top-ranked player in the high school class and a potential No. 1 pick in the draft. But beyond the headliner, there’s more to the Sooners’ class, particularly among the position players, who offer plenty of athleticism.
Hitters: Witt, whose father pitched in the big leagues, is unquestionably the best high school player in the class, and the Orioles are expected to this spring be deciding between him and Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman with the first overall pick. Witt is a five-tool player who can stay at shortstop and earns praise for his makeup. Shortstop Armani Sanchez has quick-twitch athleticism and is a strong defender. He’s growing into more strength at the plate, which will lead to more power. Outfielder Kendall Pettis is toolsy and athletic with plus speed. Shortstop Connor Belchler is a well above-average runner with strong defensive skills. He’s undersized but started switch hitting about a year ago, adding to his intrigue. Shortstop Trent Brown, currently at Angelina (Texas) JC, is another high-end defender with good athleticism.
Pitchers: Righthanders Christian Ruebeck, Davis Heller and Kadon Morton all have projection and figure to make a jump sooner or later. Ruebeck is a little undersized right now but has touched 94 mph with his fastball. Heller has good pitchability and throws in the upper 80s but has plenty of room to fill out his 6-foot-7 frame. Morton has two-way ability, though his future is likely on the mound. His fastball reaches 92 mph, and he’s come on as a hitter, giving him added versatility for the Sooners.
12. Texas A&M
Recruiting Coordinator: Justin Seeley
Top recruit: Matthew Thompson, RHP (No. 9)
Overview: Texas A&M went heavy on pitching in this class and got high school teammates Thompson and J.J. Goss, two of the top arms in the state, to headline the group. Their position players stand out most for their athleticism and versatility.
Hitters: Outfielder Logan Britt, a high school quarterback and prep teammate of Bobby Witt Jr., is a prototypical corner outfielder. He hits for solid power, runs well and has a strong arm. Outfielder Dasan Brown, a Canadian native, is a high-end athlete and a plus runner. His raw tools are loud, and he’s starting to come into his own as a baseball player. Outfielder Trevor Werner is an above-average runner with a strong arm and some righthanded power. Will Johnston is a strong athlete with two-way potential. He has a projectable frame and his fastball reaches 90 mph.
Pitchers: Thompson and Goss are teammates at Cypress Ranch High in suburban Houston. They have similar frames, athleticism and high-end ceiling. Thompson has the edge on velocity and deception, while Goss has better command. Thompson throws in the low 90s with a hard slider, while Goss has a tick less velocity to go with a tight slider and a solid changeup. Righthander Blake Mayfield stands out for his pitchabilty and the life he gets on his fastball, which sits around 90 mph. Righthander Josh Wolf is a bit more explosive and comes right after hitters. Righthander Evan Vanek has an up-tempo delivery and gets a lot of movement on his fastball, which reaches 94 mph. Righthander Cam Wynne, currently at Johnson County (Kan.) JC, only started pitching a couple years ago and is still raw. But he has a big frame and a big arm and could give the class another premium arm.