Image credit: Mississippi State lefthander Ethan Small (Kelly Donoho, Mississippi State Athletics)
State List Talent Ranking: ??????
(Stars are listed on a 1 to 5 scale relative to what the state typically produces, with 1 being the weakest)
Small’s 2019 season was an excellent demonstration of how a pitcher can dramatically improve his draft stock by simply excelling week after week. When the season began, Small was seen as a potential fourth- to fifth-round pick as a durable and successful Southeastern Conference Friday starter with average stuff. The assessment of his pure stuff hasn’t changed all that much, but his control and command has ticked up and no one can deny the extremely impressive results. Small was second in Division I in strikeout rate (15 K/9) as of early May. A 26th-round pick of the D-Backs last year as a redshirt sophomore, Small has bounced back well from the Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss the entire 2017 season. This season, opposing hitters have struggled to see and connect with his 89-92 mph fastball. Velocity-wise, the pitch average at best. But his delivery hides the ball well, and because of its movement and deception, it earns above-average grades from some scouts. Small’s delivery is long in the back, but he repeats it consistently. Much like Mariners’ lefthander Yusei Kikuchi, Small will vary the amount of time he hangs on the rubber before exploding toward home plate, which also messes with hitters’ timing. At times, Small can dominate college hitters pitching primarily off his fastball simply because he has plus command and plus control. Small fills the zone consistently, and he mixes in an average sluvy curveball as well. Small’s changeup was a better pitch in 2018 than it has been in 2019, when it’s been a fringe-average offering in most outings. There is reason to believe it can improve, however, since he’s shown more conviction and feel for the pitch in the past. Small doesn’t have a true plus pitch and projects as a No. 5 starter, but his command, control and consistency will likely push him into the second or third round.
Wallner is going to be one of the toughest evaluations in this year’s draft class, simply because scouts are convinced they aren’t seeing him at his best. Wallner was one of the best freshmen in the country in 2017, hitting 17 home runs while also impressing on the mound as a talented two-way player. He was less effective as a pitcher during his sophomore season, and then prior to this spring Southern Mississippi announced Wallner would miss some time due to a forearm strain. He was limited to DH duty early on and returned to right field a few weeks into the season, but he never returned to the mound. Even when he returned to the outfield, some scouts said they didn’t see nearly the same plus arm strength he’d shown in the past, and early in the season he seemed to struggle to get full extension in his follow-through at the plate. Before this spring’s forearm injury, there were some teams who liked Wallner more on the mound—he’s been up to 95 mph with his fastball in the past. But Wallner has told evaluators that he prefers hitting, and he hasn’t seen significant time on the mound for a year now. As a hitter, Wallner fits the profile of a right fielder with his plus arm, average speed and plus power potential. His swing generates plenty of loft, but also draws concerns about whether he’ll be an average hitter. Wallner has shown steady improvement as the season has worn on, although questions revolving around his forearm injury cloud his draft status.
One of the top athletes in the 2019 draft class, Ealy is also an elite, five-star running back who is committed to Mississippi for both baseball and football. 247Sports rates him as one of the country’s top-30 football recruits, which should surprise no one who has seen him on either playing surface. When it comes to baseball, Ealy is overflowing with plus tools. He packs plenty of strength into his well-built, 5-foot-10, 192-pound frame, and he has plus raw power thanks to his strength and above-average bat speed. Unsurprisingly, Ealy is also one of the fastest players in the class. In addition to his speed and raw power, Ealy is a gifted defender thanks to his closing speed, athleticism and easy plus arm strength. He could play all three outfield positions and is one of the better, natural defenders in the class. For all of Ealy’s tools and athleticism, however, the industry has soured on him this spring as he’s struggled offensively against below-average Mississippi competition. While Ealy does have impressive hand-eye coordination and solid pure bat-to-ball skills, he has long needed refinement in his plate discipline, approach and mechanical setup at the plate—which is mostly to be expected from a two-sport athlete at his level. However, scouts thought he would hit much better this spring and have been disappointed with the lack of progress he has shown in the batter’s box. Given Ealy’s upside on the gridiron and underwhelming performance this spring, he figures to be a tough sign out of Mississippi. He no longer projects as a first-round talent—like he did last summer—but still has tremendous upside if he ever focuses exclusively on baseball.
Beard is the fastest player in this year’s draft class. He’s an easy 80-grade runner, but this spring he showed he is more than just a speedster. Playing in the same area against similar competition as the speedy Jerrion Ealy, Beard showed a better bat as well as some strength in his hands and his swing. Compared to last summer, Beard carried a little more weight and significantly more strength this spring. His newfound strength paid off in improved bat speed and gap power—he hit 11 home runs in addition to 25 steals in 26 attempts. He has a chance to develop into an average hitter thanks to his speed and solid swing. Beard does not project as a power hitter by any stretch, but he has shown he’s can run into 10-12 home runs in pro ball. Defensively, Beard outruns his mistakes for now, but he has potential to be an above-average center fielder with more experience to improve his routes and reads. Beard has some refining to do, but he has some of the best athleticism in the class.
Dunhurst is one of the better hitting prospects among the Mississippi high school class, and after slimming down this spring he has a better shot to remain at catcher. His lefthanded bat gives him a chance to be a solid pro even if he moves off the position, as he shows plus power and plus hitting potential. He uses the whole field, and his power allows him to drive the ball to the opposite-field gap. He didn’t get much of a chance to show that power this spring as many teams opted to simply intentionally walk him time after time. Defensively, his footwork and actions will require a lot of work in pro ball, but he does show a plus arm. However, that arm strength doesn’t always play in games because of his footwork, and he currently projects as a below-average defensive catcher. Dunhurst’s bat can sustain a move to first base one day, but if he can figure out a way to play just average defense behind the plate, his power potential could make him a valuable pro. Dunhurst is committed to Mississippi.
Dillard has well above-average raw power, putting on impressive batting practice displays, and he’s a switch-hitter who is especially impressive when hitting lefthanded. Dillard has a compact build and a swing that is short and direct to the ball. He was Ole Miss’ best hitter as a sophomore—leading the team with 13 home runs as well as posting a team-best .439 on-base percentage and .563 slugging percentage. He’s been similarly productive as a junior, although his power largely disappeared in Southeastern Conference games. Dillard projects as an average hitter with a solid batting eye and above-average power potential. He has also been surprisingly productive on the basepaths despite fringe-average speed. He’s swiped 32 bags in 37 attempts the past two years. The question with Dillard is where he will play defensively. He’s primarily been a left fielder for Ole Miss, but this year he did catch a few midweek games for the Rebels. In left field, he’s a fringe-average defender. Scouts see him as a fill-in catcher, at best, in pro ball, with currently well-below-average defense. However, they do note that he hasn’t had much of a chance to focus on catching in college, as he’s played on the same team with Cooper Johnson—one of the best defensive catchers in college baseball.
If Johnson can just hit .230 in pro ball, he’ll play for a very long time. And even if he hits .210 he still might be a future big leaguer, simply because scouts are that confident in Johnson’s excellent glove work behind the plate. Johnson is one of the best receivers in college baseball. He handles a pitching staff extremely well, and his plus-plus arm discourages base stealers—he threw out 45 percent of attempted basestealers this year. However, there’s much less confidence he’ll actually hit .230. Johnson can drive the ball with average power, but he struggles to make consistent contact. He’s never topped .300 in a season in college, and he hit .145 in two summers in the Cape Cod League. Johnson has hit better this year after tweaking his setup, and he now begins with a very high handset. His swing has some length to it, further adding to concerns about how much he’ll hit. Most evaluators see Johnson as a future backup catcher because of his light bat, but it’s easy to find scouts who are confident he’ll play in the majors because of his defense.
If Kessinger ends up being the best shortstop in his family, whichever team drafts him would be thrilled. After all, Grae’s grandfather, Don, played over 2,000 games for the Cubs, Cardinals and White Sox, earning six All-Star appearances and two Gold Gloves. Kessinger has been Ole Miss’ starting shortstop for three seasons. He’s sure-handed and has an above-average arm, although, like many college shortstops, his range is fringe-average, which raises concerns about whether he can play there long term. At the plate, Kessinger was significantly overmatched as a freshman, but he’s gotten stronger and has been especially effective in conference play this year, hitting .398 in SEC games, which ranks second in the league. He doesn’t really have a plus tool, and he projects to be a .250-.260 hitter in pro ball with modest power. However, Kessinger’s well-rounded skillset, solid numbers in a tough conference and his ability to play up the middle will likely push him into the late second or early third round on draft week.
McDonald has been a key part of George County High’s extremely successful program since his freshman year. But he was clearly the second-best pitcher in his class until recently, as Mississippi State signee Logan Tanner had always been more dominating. The South Alabama signee added nearly 20 pounds of weight over the six months between last summer and the start of baseball season this spring and found that his upper-80s fastball had turned into a 91-93 mph pitch that can touch 95 mph with good movement. He also has shown the ability to spin a curveball that could develop into a plus pitch. McDonald helped himself significantly by dominating in an outing against Jackson (Miss.) Prep. In front of dozens of scouts, he struck out Jerrion Ealy twice as part of a 12-strikeout performance. With two promising pitches, a fast arm and a 6-foot-2 frame, McDonald has quickly blossomed into a possible early Day 2 selection.
Johnson was one of the most fascinating pop-up prospects of the spring. Because he didn’t pitch in any showcases, he wasn’t really known by many teams when the season began, but come March, rumblings of a 6-foot-3 righthander who could touch 97 mph in a tiny Smithville, Miss. (population of 947) started to filter through the scouting community. The recruiting war among Southeastern Conference teams heated up around the same time scouts started using Google Maps for routes to Smithville. Johnson ended up committing to Mississippi State and led Smithville to a 1A state title, earning a complete game win in the first game of the championship series and hitting a home run for the only run of the deciding second game. Johnson went 9-0, 0.68 on the mound this season, blowing away 1A hitters with a 90-97 mph fastball. He’s understandably raw, and his velocity has varied from start to start, sitting 93-96 mph in his strong starts and 90-93 mph in his less impressive outings. Perhaps most imposing about Johnson is the ease with which he reaches that premium velocity. He has the frame to continue to get stronger and add more consistent velocity, and he has shown an ability to throw strikes. He throws a low-80s slider that will need plenty of refinement, but he already flashes a feel for spin. Johnson’s short track record makes him risky, but he’s a low-mileage, projectable arm without any major red flags in his delivery.
An Ole Miss signee, Fowler went 6-2, 3.76 with 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings and 6.0 walks per nine as a freshman this season. As a young 6-foot-5 lefthander, Fowler is still quite inconsistent. But he has an 89-94 mph fastball with some run and sink that could continue to improve and he can spin a quality breaking ball. Fowler shows a willingness and ability to pitch to both sides of the plate already.
Caracci has come a long way. After redshirting as a freshman, he didn’t earn a spot on the Rebels’ 35-man roster in 2017. Caracci finally got his first chance as a redshirt sophomore and quickly became Mississippi’s closer, earning second-team All-America honors and an opportunity to play with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. He was a 37th-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2018. This spring, Caracci’s fastball generally continued to play better than its radar gun readings, but there were times when he was extremely hittable—most notably when he blew a six-run lead against Louisiana State. A couple of outings like that make Caracci’s statistics hard to stomach for a draftable reliever—he was 3-3, 5.60 with nine saves in late May with 4.9 walks per nine and 11.5 strikeouts per nine. Caracci has an up-tempo delivery and works quickly. His fastball has some late jump, helping him get swings and misses in the zone at 93-95 mph. It dipped to 90-92 mph early in the season. His low-80s slider has improved, but it’s still fringe-average.
A 35th-round pick of the Mariners after an excellent career at Georgia prep power Parkview High, Ethridge has matured into a big, physical workhorse who anchors Mississippi’s staff. He’s the kind of well-rounded pitcher with plenty of top-level college experience and success that ensures he won’t have to wait long on day two of the draft to hear his name called, but he also lacks the projection and plus pitch that would push him into earlier consideration. The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder fills the strike zone with a 90-93 mph average fastball. At times, lefties seem to get a good look and hit him hard, but he also flashes an above-average changeup that should help neutralize them. His slider is average as well. With three 50-55s on his report and average control, Ethridge has a pro future. Finding an extra gear on one of his pitches will determine if he has a major league career ahead of him.
Instead of signing with the Giants last year as a 17th-round pick, Olenek decided to cement his status in Ole Miss lore. Olenek is the kind of excellent college player whose assets don’t always translate well to pro ball. He is one of the best contact hitters in the college class, ranking among the toughest players in Division I to strike out in both his junior and senior seasons. His contact skills have helped him hit .350 each of the past two seasons, but his bottom-of-the-scale power leaves evaluators believing that he’ll have an average hit in pro ball. A high school shortstop who moved to the outfield during his freshman year with the Rebels, Olenek is an average defender who aggressively goes after every ball he can possibly get to, which has led to some bumps and bruises that have sidelined him sporadically. An average runner, Olenek does have a plus arm. That arm allowed him to step in as a high-leverage reliever late in his senior season with a low-90s fastball.
Tanner has an interesting decision to make going forward. The Mississippi State signee is a pretty polished catcher for his age with soft hands, an above-average arm and the mentality to handle the grind of catching. But he’s also a strong-armed pitcher with a 89-95 mph fastball that has plenty of arm-side run thanks in part to his three-quarter arm slot. While he has potential either way, it’s difficult for anyone to handle the grind of catching and pitching. In fact, USA Baseball’s Pitch Smart program recommends not doing both because of what it asks of a player’s arm. Tanner’s high elbow in his delivery concerns some scouts, but he does show an understanding of how to spin his fringe-average slider and he already has some confidence in a developing changeup. Scouts aren’t yet sold on Tanner’s bat.
Mangum turned down the Yankees as a 30th-round pick in 2017 and said no to the Mets last year as a 32nd-round pick. Instead of going pro, he decided to immortalize himself as one of the best players in the storied history of Mississippi State baseball. The son of Chicago Bears defensive back John Magum, Jake is the Southeastern Conference’s all-time hits leader. As a senior, he first wrested the Bulldogs’ hit record from Jeffrey Rea and then topped Louisiana State’s Eddy Furniss for the conference record. Mangum is much the same player who won the conference batting title with a .408 mark as a freshman. He’s never hit over .400 again, but he sprays the ball all around the field with excellent bat control. He’s a plus runner who can turn in a plus-plus time at his best. And he’s a solid defensive center fielder with an above-average arm. What keeps pro scouts from getting too excited is his complete lack of power—some scouts say it’s a 20, others say he may eventually have 30 power on the 20-to-80 scout scale. Some evaluators see him as a potential fourth or fifth outfielder because of his speed, defense and bat-to-ball skills, while others see his career following in the footsteps of Rea and Furniss—college greats whose pro careers quickly flamed out.
Plumlee is one of the better athletes in the high school class. He runs well enough to stay in center field, and he’s physical enough that there is hope he will one day develop above-average power. Right now, he has the swing-and-miss of a power hitter, but he doesn’t have a lot of the thump. It’s understandable because he’s less experienced than his peers. He’s much more advanced as a quarterback than he is as an outfielder, and he’s signed with Mississippi as a speedy quarterback who can also pick apart defenses with his arm—that arm surprisingly doesn’t translate all that well to baseball, however. Current draft bonus rules make it quite hard for teams to try to buy out two-sport stars like Plumlee.
Parker strikes out more than one would like, but he does significant damage when he connects The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Parker hit a school-record 24 home runs as a freshman and led the NJCAA with 81 RBIs and earned NJCAA Division II player of the year honors. As a sophomore his numbers dropped to a still-impressive .359/.512/.739 with 14 home runs. Parker, a Dallas Baptist signee, fits best defensively as a corner outfielder.
After spending two years at Pearl River (Miss.) JC, where he was named the team’s most valuable pitcher after a strong 2018 season, White transferred to Mississippi State, where he’s been a valuable addition to the Bulldogs’ bullpen. Through 22.2 innings in relief, White has posted a 3.57 ERA with 41 strikeouts and just six walks. He throws a fastball that averages around 94 mph and he pushes that up into the upper 90s as well. He doesn’t have much track record, but his performance in the SEC and big fastball could be enough to give him a shot at the next level.
20. Farmer Abendroth, RHP, Warren Central HS, Vicksburg, Miss.
Source: HS • Ht: 6-5 • Wt: 175 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Louisiana State
21. Tanner Allen, 1B, Mississippi State
Source: 4YR • Ht: 5-11 • Wt: 184 • B-T: L-R • Commitment/Drafted: Cubs ’17 (36)
22. Tanner Leggett, SS, Northwest Mississippi JC
Source: JC • Ht: 6-0 • Wt: 170 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Mississippi State
23. Elijah MacNamee, OF, Mississippi State
Source: 4YR • Ht: 6-3 • Wt: 198 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Never Drafted
23. Kamren James, SS, DeSoto Central HS, Southaven, Miss.
Source: HS • Ht: 6-2 • Wt: 180 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Mississippi State
24. Austin Kelly, C/OF, Washington HS, Greenville, Miss.
Source: HS • Ht: 5-11 • Wt: 210 • B-T: L-R • Commitment/Drafted: Mississippi State
25. Hayden Leatherwood, OF, Northwest Mississippi JC
Source: JC • Ht: 6-1 • Wt: 200 • B-T: L-R • Commitment/Drafted: Mississippi
26. Leo Harris, SS, St. Martin HS, Ocean Springs, Miss.
Source: HS • Ht: 6-3 • Wt: 165 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: –
27. Keegan James, RHP, Mississippi State
Source: 4YR • Ht: 6-2 • Wt: 214 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Never Drafted
28. Chance Denson, RHP, East Mississippi JC
Source: JC • Ht: 6-3 • Wt: 225 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Never Drafted
29. Matt Guidry, INF, Southern Mississippi
Source: 4YR • Ht: 5-11 • Wt: 205 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Never Drafted
30. Dexter Jordan, 2B, Pearl River (Miss.) JC
Source: JC • Ht: 6-0 • Wt: 190 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Never Drafted
31. Trysten Barlow, LHP, Mississippi State
Source: 4YR • Ht: 6-1 • Wt: 215 • B-T: L-L • Commitment/Drafted: Never Drafted
32. Ken Scott, OF, East Central Missisippi JC
Source: JC • Ht: 6-2 • Wt: 185 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Never Drafted