Image credit: California's Tanner Dodson (Photo by Bill Mitchell)
College relievers tend to be a difficult position for scouts to evaluate. Scouts have limited opportunities to see them in action and scouting directors must determine how early to draft a reliever, typically one of the lowest-valued positions on draft boards due to the volatility of relievers and the limited upside of a pitcher who is restricted to the bullpen. While it is rare to see a college reliever drafted on Day 1, the best are always in demand.
This list is based on draft status and includes only players primarily pitching this season in relief, regardless of whether they profile better as starters or relievers in pro ball.
1. Tanner Dodson, California: One of the best two-way players in the country, Dodson has exclusively worked this season as Cal’s closer when he’s on the mound. He’s this season pitching with better control and has more than halved his walk rate to 1.93 per nine innings. Dodson throws his fastball in the mid-90s, touching 97 mph, and mixes in a hard slider. He also throws a curveball and changeup, giving him a chance to start if he continues as a pitcher in pro ball.
2. Durbin Feltman, Texas Christian: Feltman took over as TCU’s closer as a freshman and has excelled in the role. He ranked last season second in the country with 17 saves (a single-season program record) and is on pace to set the program record for career saves, currently held by Riley Ferrell. Feltman pounds the zone and attacks hitters with a mid-90s fastball and a power slider that has helped him average 12.69 strikeouts per nine innings for his career.
3. Michael Byrne, Florida: Byrne is not a prototypical college reliever, but he is the most accomplished on this list. He was an All-American as a sophomore after leading the country with 19 saves (a program record) and he is this season again anchoring the top-ranked Gators’ bullpen. The righthander doesn’t have premium stuff but locates his 90-91 mph fastball well and mixes in a changeup and slider. He was last season expected to be Florida’s midweek starter before getting pressed into service as closer and he could well return to starting in pro ball, though he is also the kind of pitcher who could move quickly as a reliever.
4. Sam Bordner, Louisville: The Cardinals have produced an impressive line of relievers in recent seasons, including Nick and Zack Burdi and Lincoln Henzman. Bordner took over from Henzman as closer this season and, while he doesn’t have the elite arm strength of his predecessors at Louisville, he has handled the role well. He uses his 6-foot-6, 240-pound frame to his advantage and creates a lot of groundball outs with a fastball that sits in the low-90s and touches 95 mph.
5. Parker Caracci, Mississippi: Caracci didn’t pitch his first two years at Ole Miss, but last summer broke out in the Cal Ripken League, where he ranked as the top prospect. He carried that performance into the spring and supplanted Preseason All-American Dallas Woolfolk as the Rebels’ closer. Caraccci throws his fastball in the low-to-mid-90s, touching 96 mph, and pitches with no fear. He is listed at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, and his size may hold him back on draft boards.
6. Ryley Gilliam, Clemson: Gilliam has a big arm and typically runs his fastball up to 95 mph. He mixes in a hard curveball that has helped him average 12.86 strikeouts per nine innings over the last two seasons.
7. Brett Conine, Cal State Fullerton: Conine has been a key part of the Titans’ bullpen since he arrived on campus. He pounds the strike zone with a fastball that typically reaches 94 mph and mixes in a changeup and curveball.