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Sean Hjelle Is The Top 2018 MLB Draft Prospect From Kentucky

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. Sean Hjelle, RHP, Kentucky (BA Rank: 30)
4YR • Jr. • 6-11 • 215 • R-R • Never Drafted

One of the tallest pitchers in any draft class, the 6-foot-11 Hjelle was the Wildcats closer as a freshman and became the team’s Friday starter as a sophomore. He earned SEC pitcher of the year honors in 2017 and has been equally effective as a junior. What Hjelle lacks is a true out pitch. Hitters rarely square him up and his fastball has good plane, but he generally sits 90-92 mph, touching 94-95 at his best. It’s an above-average pitch because he can locate it and it will sometimes flash arm-side run, but it doesn’t generate many swings and misses. At its best, Hjelle’s 81-83 mph curveball has plenty of power and 12-to-6 movement when he’s staying on top. His 84-85 mph changeup ranges from average to above-average from outing to outing. Some scouts see Hjelle’s long and still lanky frame and see further projection. Hjelle has added 20 pounds of good weight in his time at Kentucky and he has touched 97 mph in shorter fall ball outings when well rested. But more realistically, Hjelle projects as a reliable No. 4 starter thanks to his above-average control, three average or better pitches and a track record of durability.

. Tristan Pompey, OF, Kentucky (BA Rank: 51)
4YR • Jr. • 6-4 • 200 • B-R • Twins ’15 (31)

Pompey is the younger brother of Blue Jays outfielder Dalton Pompey. His older brother is a speedy center fielder, but the younger Pompey is a much bigger, slower corner outfielder whose value is tied much more to his bat than his glove. But like Dalton, Tristan Pompey understands the value of understanding the strike zone. He spits on pitches out of the zone, although he will swing and miss at strikes as he looks to do damage. Pompey shows plus or better raw power in batting practice, but in games he hits plenty of stinging line drives instead of majestic long flies. Pompey led all SEC hitters with a .410 average in conference games in 2017. His track record of hitting in the SEC helps scouts look past a poor performance in the Cape Cod League last summer, when he hit .230/.284/.345. Pompey turns in fringe-average run times out of the box, but he runs better once underway and he can pick his spots to steal. Defensively, he’s below-average in any outfield spot because of poor routes, reads and some over-aggressiveness that can turn a single into extra bases. His below-average arm is best left in left field. Pompey is a divisive prospect as some scouts see him as a second or third-round talent, while others see a track record of SEC performance and a strong, physical body that projects as a late first-round pick.

. Josh Stowers, OF, Louisville (BA Rank: 124)
4YR • Jr. • 6-0 • 208 • R-R • Never Drafted

Buried on a star-studded Louisville roster his first two years, Stowers flashed hints of greatness batting in the bottom of the Cardinals order his sophomore season, hitting .364 in the College World Series en route to a more prominent role this spring. Louisville’s best remaining position player, Stowers has batted in the top of the order and started in center field all season, slashing .311/.451/.483 with five home runs and 31 stolen bases in 37 attempts. The 6-foot, 205-pound righthanded hitter marries a plus hit tool with above-average speed and at least average power. Early in the season, Stowers struggled with a more pull-heavy, uppercut swing, but his numbers rebounded as he switched back to a more up-the-middle approach. While an everyday center fielder for Louisville, Stowers profiles as more of a left fielder in pro ball with a below-average arm. He doesn’t have one key carrying tool, but the sum of his parts gives him upside.

. Adam Wolf, LHP, Louisville (BA Rank: 151)
4YR • Jr. • 6-6 • 220 • L-L • Never Drafted

Wolf lacks a plus pitch, but that has not kept him from being a very effective Friday starter for the Cardinals this season (6-2, 2.42) after two excellent seasons in Louisville’s bullpen. The 6-foot-6 lefty sits at 88-91 mph, bumping up to 92-93 when he needs a little extra. His cutter is an average pitch, but its his best offering and he mixes in a fringy slider as well. Wolf doesn’t rely on as many changeups as many lower-velo lefties, but it’s still an effective fringe-average pitch and he’ll occasionally surprise a hitter with a slow, early-count curveball. Wolf is a back-of-the-rotation starter in pro ball. While he doesn’t have dominating stuff, he’s demonstrated that he’s crafty and knows how to set up hitters.

. Drew Rom, LHP, Highlands HS, Fort Thomas, Ky. (BA Rank: 187)
HS •  6-2 • 177 • L-L • Michigan

A Michigan signee who is an outstanding student, Rom has added some good weight and has seen it pay off this spring. He works to both sides of the plate with an 89-91 mph fastball and his potentially above-average slider has sharpened up and gotten harder, jumping from 77-79 mph last summer to 80-82 this spring. If he continues to get stronger and fill out, the still-skinny, 6-foot-2, 180-pound lefty has plenty of potential. Rom is far from a polished product. His slider wavers in quality and his release point can wander. If he gets to Michigan, he could make a pretty immediate impact.

. Sam Bordner, RHP, Louisville (BA Rank: 216)
4YR • 6-6 • 240 • R-R • Never Drafted

Bordner capably served as Louisville’s closer, but in mid-April he was shut down with an elbow inflammation. Before his injury, Bordner’s track record of success bode well for him–he was a spectacular 2-0, 0.41 as a sophomore with 16 hits allowed in 43.2 innings. But even when healthy, his 90-92 mph heavy fastball (it’s touched 94-95) was more an above-average pitch than the plus fastball usually expected out of dominating reliever. Bordner’s breaking ball needs to get sharper as it earns 40-45 grades from scouts right now. Louisville hoped to see Bordner return for the NCAA tournament, but his injury status clouds his draft status.

. Zach Haake, RHP, Kentucky (BA Rank: 218)
4YR • Jr. • 6-4 • 185 • R-R • Never Drafted

After pitching sporadically at Arkansas State as a freshman, Haake transferred to John A. Logan (Ill.) JC for his sophomore season, showed power stuff and became one of the key signees in Kentucky’s 2017 recruiting class. Haake began his Wildcats career in the bullpen as a power setup man, but moved to the weekend rotation after Zack Thompson went down with an elbow injury. In short stints, he’s been electric, including two perfect innings when matched up against Florida’s Brady Singer. But Haake has not shown the ability to succeed a second time through the order, which explains why is overall stats are ugly. There are scouts who see him as a starter, as Haake will flash three above-average pitches. His 93-97 mph fastball earns 70 grades from some scouts, while his 82-85 mph slider is a plus pitch and he’ll flash an above-average 86-88 mph changeup at his best. Haake lands onto a stiff front side and he gets off-line, which impacts his control at times, but his arm action is clean. Haake’s stuff will likely push him into the third or fourth round, despite an ugly stat line. He’s most likely a power reliever in pro ball, but with three pitches, there’s still plenty of reasons to dream.

. Riley Thompson, RHP, Louisville (BA Rank: 219)
4YR • 6-3 • 206 • L-R • Yankees ’17 (25)

A 37th-round pick of the Reds out of high school and a 27th round pick of the Yankees last year as a redshirt freshman, Thompson’s stuff is every bit as good as anyone who will be taken in the first round. He has a mid-90s fastball that will tickle triple digits and a power curve that can be a devastating weapon when he’s locked in. Despite two pitches that can earn 70 grades from scouts and an average changeup, Thompson has had little on-field success. He missed the 2016 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. He posted a 4.02 ERA as a redshirt freshman, but had to be shut down at the end of the season with a sore arm. He began this season in Louisville’s rotation but slid to the bullpen and has struggled to be effective in either role. Thompson had a 7.26 ERA in mid-May and was allowing more than a hit per inning. Thompson’s problem has always been his well below average control. When he runs into trouble, innings quickly get away from him and he’s yet to show the ability to diagnose and fix delivery flaws in the middle of an inning.

. Devin Mann, 2B, Louisville (BA Rank: 222)
4YR • 6-3 • 210 • R-R • Never Drafted

A career .286/.404/.454 righthanded hitter with 14 home runs in 538 at-bats for Louisville, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Mann has shown flashes of greatness but has never quite put it all together. He’s a disciplined hitter who works deep counts, controls the strike zone well and spoils pitcher’s pitches until he gets something he likes. In 2018, he’s walked more (53) than struck out (43) and has at least solid-average hitting ability with a quick, level swing that currently produces more doubles than over-the-fence pop. He nearly raised his season average to .300 in one week with a sizzling-hot ACC Tournament in late May in which he homered twice, but in that same tournament he committed three costly errors at second base—two in the championship game against Florida State that led to big offensive innings. Mann is a fringy defensive second baseman at best, with an average arm and range but at times clunky hands and awkward reactions. At one point a plus runner, Mann has slowed to fringier speeds, limiting his defensive versatility. Mann will get drafted for his track record of hitting at Louisville and if teams believe there’s more power potential to unlock, but he’ll need to ride that bat in pro ball due to his lack of defensive tools. He could eventually move to left field at the next level.

. Justin Lewis, RHP, Kentucky (BA Rank: 236)
4YR • 6-7 • 195 • R-R • Rays ’17 (11)

Lewis was all set to sign with the Rays as an 11th-round pick last summer, but when the Rays didn’t sign supplemental first-round pick Drew Rasmussen, it meant that they didn’t have the money to sign Lewis. So Lewis returned for his redshirt junior year at Kentucky and once again proved to be a very reliable Sunday starter. Lewis’ plus split-changeup is a weapon with excellent deception and late tumble. His fastball is also above-average, as he’ll touch 93-94 mph at his best, and he has a fringe-average slider. Lewis is long, lean and athletic, but he could use some additional strength. His velocity tailed off badly in 2017 and he was trying to survive with a high-80s fastball by the end of the year.

. Chris Machamer, RHP, Kentucky (BA Rank: 254)
4YR • So. • 6-2 • 210 • R-R • Never Drafted

Machamer stepped in as the setup man to 2017 sixth-round pick Logan Salow as a true freshman. After Salow left, Machamer went from solid setup man to dominating closer. He showed an ability to work multiple innings although he’s rarely worked on back-to-back days because of that. Machamer’s velo ticked up from the low 90s to touch more 94s and 95s as the season wore on. He throws plenty of strikes with an average fastball, setting up an above-average slider that has good late break and an average changeup. As a draft-eligible sophomore, Machamer has leverage if he opts to return to Kentucky, but his stuff is good enough for a team to consider spending to land him.

. Luke Heyer, OF/3B, Kentucky (BA Rank: 302)
4YR • Sr. • 6-0 • 200 • R-R • Never Drafted

After an excellent stint at Central Florida JC, Heyer was a versatile reserve for Kentucky in 2017 as a junior. He stepped up into a much larger role this year as he became the Wildcats everyday third baseman and biggest power threat. Heyer hit a team-best 18 home runs and slugged a team-best .690 during the regular season. He generates power with leverage and strength, although scouts are more skeptical that he’ll be able to hit for average in pro ball, as his power comes with some swing-and-miss tendencies and a pitcher who can locate can stay a step ahead of Heyer. Defensively, he’s fringy at third base with a fringe-average arm. He’ll most likely slide back and forth between third base and left field (he’s a 40 runner) in pro ball. Heyer fits as a useful senior sign who could go in the sixth to 10th round.

. Liam Jenkins, RHP, Louisville (BA Rank: 311)
4YR • 6-8 • 240 • R-R • Giants ’17 (40)

If the draft had been held after fall ball, the big, 6-foot-8, 240-pound Jenkins may have been a top 10 round pick. A transfer from Wabash (Ill.) JC who was drafted by the Giants in the 40th round last year, Jenkins has a fastball that’s been clocked up to 96-97 mph with plenty of arm side run and he earned a spot in Louisville’s weekend rotation because he showed enough control to make it work. But once the season began, Jenkins control cratered and he went from weekend starter to emergency reliever. He worked way too many deep counts and racked up way too many walks. Jenkins was 1-1, 7.07 with 19 walks and 23 strikeouts in just 14 innings. He can still sit 94-96 mph in shorter stints, but well below-average control and lack of even an average secondary offering clouds his draft status, but his arm is good enough to still intrigue.

. Niko Hulsizer, OF, Morehead State (BA Rank: 346)
4YR • Jr. • 6-2 • 225 • R-R • Never Drafted

Hamate injuries normally sap hitters’ power for months after they return to action. Hulsizer, the 2017 Division I home run champ with 27 home runs, has enough power that he could drive the ball out even with less than his full hand strength. Scouts throw 70 grades on his exceptional raw power and the 6-foot-2, 225 pound junior has shown a consistent ability to get that power to play in games. He was hitting .302/.440/.595 with nine home runs in 32 games heading into the Ohio Valley Conference tournament. Hulsizer is an above-average runner who can play fringe-average defense in a corner outfield spot with an average arm. Hulsizer’s below-average hit tool is what will likely push him into day three of the draft. He has reduced his strikeout rate to 20 percent this season (down from 25 percent as a sophomore), but scouts continue to be concerned about his ability to make semi-consistent contact.

. Kole Cottam, C/1B, Kentucky (BA Rank: 361)
4YR • Jr. • 6-3 • 225 • R-R • Never Drafted

Cottam arrived at Kentucky as a glove-first catcher. His bat has exceeded expectations, but his defense has regressed. He’s split time with Troy Squires behind the plate while playing first base with Squires and Cottam each playing first base half the time. Cottam is a below-average defender with a below-average arm (he threw out 25 percent of base stealers), but his plus power is legitimate. He hit .346/.435/.650 this season for the Wildcats and scouts have come around to his chances to both be an average hitter with potentially above-average power.

. Bryan Hoeing, RHP, Louisville (BA Rank: 391)
4YR • 6-6 • 228 • R-R • Diamondbacks ’15 (32)

Scouts love Hoeing’s delivery, they love his ability to locate an average changeup and they are impressed with his ability to locate his somewhat slurvy 78-80 mph breaking ball. But Hoeing has remained in a modest relief/weekday starter role because he’s struggled to miss bats. He was 7-2, 3.15 with 55 hits, 20 walks and 45 strikeouts in 60 innings as of late-May. Hoeing was a 34th-round pick of the Diamondbacks out of high school even though he pitched his senior season just four months after he had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and then found out he needed Tommy John surgery right before the draft. After sitting out out his freshman year to recover, he’s generally 90-92 mph working out of the bullpen—he touched 94 in high school. Hoeing locates three pitches with advanced control for his age, but as a draft-eligible redshirt sophomore it may make sense for him to try to take another step forward next year at Louisville.

. Troy Squires, C, Kentucky (BA Rank: 426)
4YR • Sr. • 5-11 • 200 • L-R • Never Drafted

Squires has grinded his way to being a modest pro prospect. He was Kentucky’s bullpen catcher as a redshirting freshman, barely played in 2016, but the past two seasons he’s been an everyday regular for the Wildcats. Squires’ fourth-season stats (.267/.388/.401) don’t match his junior year (.305/.427/.391), but he’s a potential senior sign as a fringy catcher defensively who can make modest contact.

. Brad Schaenzer, LHP, Kentucky (BA Rank: )
4YR • Sr.  

. Alec Maley, RHP, Kentucky (BA Rank: )
4YR • Sr. 

. T.J. Collett, 1B, Kentucky (BA Rank: )
4YR • DE-So.  

. Luke Becker, INF, Kentucky (BA Rank: )
4YR • Sr. 

. Rook Ellington, OF, McCracken County HS, Paducah, Ky. (BA Rank: )

. Garrett Schmeltz, LHP, Pleasure Ridge Park HS, Louisville (BA Rank: )

. Brendan Koester, RHP, Eastern HS, Louisville (BA Rank: )

. Trae Harmon, 1B/RHP, Somerset (Ky.) HS (BA Rank: )

. Alex Rodriguez, 2B/SS, Kentucky (BA Rank: )
4YR • Jr.  

. Reid Leonard, SS, Morehead State (BA Rank: )

. Chance Carner, RHP, Murray State (BA Rank: )
4YR • R-Jr. 

. Jaron Robinson, SS, Murray State (BA Rank: )
4YR • Jr. 

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