Top 25 Seniors To Watch On MLB Undrafted Free Agent Market
College seniors are a key part of a typical draft. Late in the first 10 rounds of the draft, teams turn to college seniors as they look to save money in their bonus pool to apply to overslot signings. Because college seniors have reached the end of their amateur careers, they have little leverage in negotiations. Teams that sign the best seniors can get talented players, while still saving money to use on the rest of their draft class.
This year is anything but a normal draft. With MLB shortening the event from 40 rounds to five, it’s unclear how much demand for college seniors will still exist. Furthermore, because the college season was canceled in March, every level of college baseball agreed to grant players an extra year of eligibility. So, in theory, no player enters this year’s draft without the option of returning to school for another season, giving seniors some leverage.
But it’s not necessarily that simple. In a partial scholarship sport, there are significant financial implications that come with using that extra year of eligibility. Agents and players also know that teams incorporate a player’s age into their decision-making process, favoring younger players.
After the draft ends, teams will be able to sign nondrafted free agents for a maximum $20,000 signing bonus, beginning Sunday at 9 a.m. ET. College seniors typically make up the bulk of nondrafted free agent signings and probably will again this year.
No matter how the market unfolds, there will be a demand for the best college seniors over the next week. Here are the 25 best seniors to watch in the draft and on the free agent market.
1. Cam Shepherd, SS, Georgia (No. 298): Shepherd is a four-year starter for the Bulldogs at shortstop and is a reliable defender. But he doesn’t have big tools, which limits his upside.
2. Luke Smith, RHP, Louisville (No. 345): Smith pitched behind lefthander Reid Detmers and righthander Bobby Miller, potential first-round picks, in the Louisville rotation. He doesn’t have their pure stuff, but does have a track record of success and a lot of moxie on the mound.
3. John McMillon, RHP, Texas Tech (No. 357): McMillon came to Texas Tech as a two-way player with power both in his bat and arm. He’s settled into a role in the bullpen and his fastball reaches 100 mph, though he’s still learning how to harness it.
4. Blake Brown, RHP, UNC Asheville (No. 375): Brown also has big raw stuff and is still learning to harness it. His fastball got into the upper 90s late this spring in bullpen sessions, but his below-average control likely will limit him to the bullpen.
5. Austin Smith, RHP, Southwestern (Texas) (No. 406): Smith finished sixth in Division III in strikeouts (110) as a junior in 2019, but was sidelined by blisters in 2020 before the season ended. HIs fastball sits in the low 90s.
6. Bradlee Beesley, OF, Cal Poly (No. 429): A four-year starter at Cal Poly, Beesley has a strong track record of success both in college and in the Cape Cod League. His hitting ability and plus speed stand out.
7. McLain O’Connor, SS, UC Santa Barbara (No. 432): A good athlete and a reliable defender at shortstop, O’Connor does a lot of things well on the diamond.
8. Trevin Esquerra, 1B/OF, Loyola Marymount (No. 433): Esquerra has mashed in the LMU lineup over the last two seasons. The rare switch-hitter and switch-thrower, he fits best at first base.
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9. Nolan McCarthy, RHP, Occidental (Calif.) (No. 437): McCarthy has been a solid performer for Division III Occidental and may have some upside left in his 6-foot-5 frame.
10. Scott McKeon, SS/2B, Coastal Carolina (No. 438): McKeon’s long track record of hitting and the ability to play up the middle attracted attention from scouts.
11. Harrison Ray, 2B, Vanderbilt (No. 441): Ray can play all over the infield and was a starter at second base on Vanderbilt’s national championship team, but he’s never really broken through offensively.
12. Hunter Stanley, RHP, Southern Mississippi (No. 498): Stanley has pitched well out of the bullpen thanks to his fastball-slider combination, which could translate well to pro ball.
13. Chase Antle, RHP, Coastal Carolina: Antle came to Coastal this year as a graduate transfer from Bowling Green State. As the Chanticleers closer, his fastball touched 99 mph, which has made his name carry some buzz going into the draft.
14. Jacob Hurtubise, OF, Army: Hurtubise has long stood out for his speed (his 45 steals in 2019 ranked third in the nation) and he’s a disciplined hitter. He put on more weight in the offseason in an effort to drive the ball more, but a pulled hamstring before Opening Day limited him to just five games. But with a couple loud tools, he makes for an intriguing signing.
15. Austin Langworthy, OF, Florida: Langworthy was a four-year starter in the Florida outfield and has a sweet lefthanded swing. He’s a little undersized and questions about how much power he’ll hit for have dogged him in the past. But he has a good feel for hitting and some potential on the mound as a lefthander, if a team wanted to develop him as a two-way player.
16. Brian Van Belle, RHP, Miami: Van Belle’s rotation-mates Chris McMahon and Slade Cecconi are projected to be drafted in the top two rounds. Van Belle can’t match their pure stuff and upside, but he was the ace of the Hurricanes’ staff and can get his fastball into the low 90s.
17. Matt Mervis, 1B/RHP, Duke: After starting his Duke career mostly as a pitcher, Mervis has taken on a greater role as a position player the last two seasons and offers true two-way ability. He’s a powerful lefthanded hitter and can run his fastball up to 93 mph.
18. Matt Scheffler, C, Auburn: Scheffler was off to a strong start to the season offensively and led the Tigers with a .412 batting average. He’s a good defender with a strong arm behind the plate. Teams are always looking for more catching and Scheffler would fit the mold.
19. Jonathan Hughes, RHP, Georgia Tech: Hughes was a second-round pick out of high school in 2015, but injuries hampered him early in his college career. He still has solid stuff and appeared ready to take a step forward in 2020 as a redshirt senior before the season was cut short.
20. A.J. Block, LHP, Washington State: Block was off to a strong start to the 2020 season and had posted a 34-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27.2 innings. He attacks hitters with a four-pitch mix and has a good feel on the mound.
21. Max Troiani, OF, Bentley (Mass.): Troiani last summer was one of the biggest surprises in the Cape Cod League and he ranked third in the league in batting (.345). While he showed little power, his contact ability and speed make him an intriguing sign.
22. Justin Lavey, SS, Louisville: Lavey was a three-year starter at Louisville and has shown defensive versatility, playing all over the infield for the Cardinals. He’s a solid all-around player and hit for a bit more power this year than he had in previous seasons.
23. Lael Lockhart, LHP/OF, Houston: Lockhart played a key role over the last four years at Houston, beginning as more of an outfielder and evolving into the team’s ace. He’s a good athlete and can help a team in a variety of ways. He’s already committed to Arkansas as a graduate transfer, which could make him a tougher sign for pro teams.
24. TJ Collett, 1B, Kentucky: Collett offers a powerful lefthanded bat and last summer was the Cape Cod League’s co-home run leader (nine). He has really quick hands at the plate and can drive the ball out to all fields, though his power does come with a fair amount of swing and miss.
25. Nick Trogrlic-Iverson, RHP, Gonzaga: Trogrlic-Iverson has been an important piece of the Gonzaga pitching staff for the last two years after transferring from junior college. He’s not overly physical at a listed 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, but he has a good feel for his four-pitch mix and throws his fastball in the low 90s.