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Is 2024 The Greatest Year Ever For North Carolina MLB Draft Talent?


Image credit: (Photo by Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images)

The state of North Carolina isn’t quite in the elite hotbed producing tier of the big three states—California, Florida and Texas—it is solidly in a second tier that also includes Georgia, Illinois and New York.

While the Tar Heel state has produced prominent high school players like Josh Hamilton, Cameron Maybin, Madison Bumgarner, Corey Seager and more recently MacKenzie Gore and Walker Jenkins, its draft strength relies mostly on the quality and quantity of its college baseball programs.

As MLB teams have increasingly shown a taste for college players compared to the early draft days when preps were all the rage, the state of North Carolina has only become a bigger player at the top of the draft. 

In the first 35 years of the draft, from 1965 to 1999 the state produced 19 first-round picks. Of those, 10 were high schoolers and nine came from the college demographic—a slight majority edge (52.6%) toward high-risk, high-reward preps.

Since the turn of the century and in the last 24 years, from 2000-2023, North Carolina has produced 46 first-round picks: one from junior college, 12 from high school and 33 from the college demographic—an extremely strong swing toward four-year players (71.7%). 

That trend should continue in the 2024 class, which as a whole is built around the strength of college hitters, and is particularly flush with talent from North Carolina colleges. Several scouts this spring have already mentioned how this could be an all-time year for the state in terms of top-of-the-draft talent.

Six teams on our current college top 25 are North Carolina programs and 11 players on our current draft rankings are North Carolina college products inside the top 100. Perhaps more impressively, seven of those players currently rank inside the top 30 and are prime candidates to be selected in the first round this July.

If that happens, the 2024 class would shatter North Carolina’s first-round record of five players, which was set in 2019 when Will Wilson, George Kirby, Greg Jones, Blake Walston and Michael Busch were all taken in the first round.

Below we’ll examine each of the 11 players currently ranked inside the top 100 from North Carolina. Full scouting reports for each player are also available on our draft rankings, linked above. Players are listed with their current draft rankings. 

2. Nick Kurtz, 1B, Wake Forest

Kurtz has yet to fully turn things on offensively this spring but entered the year regarded as one of the best all-around hitters in the class. Through 11 games he is hitting just .237/.453/.421 with a pair of home runs and a double. Kurtz is showing his usual excellent eye at the plate with twice as many walks (14) as strikeouts (7). His combination of batting eye, contact ability and power give him a chance to be the first player off the board even with a first base defensive role, though he’ll need to heat up and produce like his first two seasons to make that happen. There’s no reason to think he won’t do that.

6. Vance Honeycutt, OF, North Carolina

Honeycutt is perhaps the toolsiest hitter in the college draft class and is off to a strong start to open the 2024 season. His .304/.467/.696 line would represent career bests in each triple slash category. He has already homered six times in just 12 games and his eight stolen bases put him on a solid pace to replicate the 25-homer, 29-steal season he managed as a freshman in 2022. Currently, Honeycutt seems to be splitting the difference between his 2022 approach (lots of strikeouts, lots of power) and his 2023 approach (fewer strikeouts, fewer homers) which is perhaps a best-case scenario for him. 

7. Seaver King, OF, Wake Forest

King was one of the most impactful transfers in college baseball this offseason and Wake Forest has plugged him into the cleanup spot and center field this spring. He’s currently riding a 10-game on-base streak and is hitting .283/.346/.565 with four home runs and a pair of stolen bases. It’s unclear where most MLB scouts like him best at the next level, though he should have the athleticism to add value as a defender at an up-the-middle position in some capacity. 

14. Josh Hartle, LHP, Wake Forest

Wake’s Friday night starter, Hartle might have less impressive pure stuff than every pitcher on this list, but his advanced command and starter traits made him the top pitcher in the class to enter the season. He has not looked his best in his first three starts but has still pitched well, posting a 2.04 ERA in 17.2 innings with a 23.6% strikeout rate and 4.2% walk rate. His matchup against Duke and fellow 2024 lefthander Jonathan Santucci will be one of the better pitching matchups of the season and a significant test in front of a large scouting crowd.

15. Chase Burns, RHP, Wake Forest

In addition to King, Burns was another high-profile incoming Wake transfer over the offseason and entered the 2024 campaign looking to establish himself as a starter with some of the best pure stuff in the country. The first three weeks have been solid for Burns as he has pitched to a 2.60 ERA in 17.1 innings with a 43.3% strikeout rate and 11.9% walk rate. Showing improved command and an ability to tap into a deeper pitch mix as Wake begins ACC play this weekend will be key for him, though he’s already a top-10 pick for some scouts. 

22. Jacob Cozart, C, NC State

Cozart is in the mix to be the first catcher selected—along with a solid trio of backstops including Stanford’s Malcolm Moore, California’s Caleb Lomavita and Texas prepster Cade Arrambide—and has shown an impressive power/patience combo early this spring. He’s currently hitting .371/.540/.829 with five home runs and more walks (13) than strikeouts (10) though the pitching competition will ramp up significantly from here. 

28. Jonathan Santucci, LHP, Duke

Santucci has been one of the most impressive arms in the country through the first three weeks and his plus slider has befuddled each team he’s faced. He has yet to allow a run in his first 17 innings of work and has posted a 46.3% strikeout rate and 10.4% walk rate. There’s room to improve his fastball command moving forward. He has a huge opportunity this weekend. Wake features far and away the best offense he has faced so far. His matchup with Josh Hartle could allow him to continue pushing up the draft board.

34. Michael Massey, RHP, Wake Forest

Massey is still stretching out after transitioning from a bullpen to starting role this spring. He was on a 75-pitch limit that he barely exceeded in his most recent start and has yet to throw six complete innings, but he has been dominant against an early-season slate featuring Akron, Dayton and Elon. In 12.2 innings he has posted a 0.71 ERA and 22:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Many MLB teams will target his fastball considering it has elite cut-ride shape. If Massey continues to perform well as a starter, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him move into the first round with conviction instead of sitting in his current position on the fringe.

48. Trey Yesavage, RHP, ECU

Yesavage is one of 11 D-I pitchers who has already eclipsed the 30-strikeout threshold this spring and has been dominant in his first three starts, including a tough week two test against North Carolina that he aced with 11 strikeouts in six innings. Yesavage has been dominant and pitched deep into games early this season. He has a 1.00 ERA in 18 innings as well as a 44.1% strikeout rate and 7.4% walk rate with a legitimate four-pitch mix.

62. Fran Oschell III, RHP, Duke

Oschell III has been the most disappointing player on this list in the early parts of the 2024 season. He has continued to pitch out of the bullpen for Duke and has struggled with his command in his brief three outings out of the bullpen. He currently owns a 5.40 ERA in just 1.2 innings of work and in his most recent outing he faced just two batters before being pulled after hitting the first and walking the second.

90. Jacob Jenkins-Cowart, OF, ECU

Jenkins-Cowart has been a tremendous offensive force in ECU’s cleanup spot this season. After the first weekend of the year, he earned AAC player of the week, and he recorded multi-hit games in all three matchups against North Carolina in week two. He’s hitting .444/.500/.844 with four home runs and six doubles in his first 11 games and looks the part of a solid power-hitting right fielder. He’s got an up arrow early this spring. 

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