Image credit: Nick Kurtz (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)
The 2023 season was an historic year for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons: their 52 wins were the most in program history, and they made their first trip to the College World Series since 1955. Although the season does not begin until February, the Deacs have another chance at history in 2024. No school has had more than three players selected in the first round of a single MLB draft, a feat most recently accomplished by the 2018 Florida trio of Jonathan India (fifth overall), Brady Singer (18th overall) and Jackson Kowar (33rd overall). Each player has reached the big leagues, with India and Singer beginning to carve out quality careers.
Wake Forest currently has five of its players ranked inside the top 45 of the 2024 top 100 draft rankings: Nick Kurtz (1), Chase Burns (9), Seaver King (17), Michael Massey (36) and Josh Hartle (42). While Kurtz, Massey and Hartle have been Demon Deacons for the entirety of their collegiate careers, Burns and King will don the black and gold for the first time in 2024. Burns, a righthanded fireballer, comes to Winston-Salem by way of Tennessee. King was the best non-Division I player in the country last spring and starred for Division II powerhouse Wingate (N.C.).
Kurtz has a chance to be the highest draft pick in program history and the first top-five overall pick since righthanded pitcher Kyle Sleeth was selected third overall in 2003. The hulking 6-foot-5 first baseman is one of the premier hitters in college baseball. Across two seasons (110 games), Kurtz has a career .345 average with 24 doubles and 39 home runs. What might be most impressive is his 111-to-88 walk-to-strikeout ratio thanks to Kurtz’s professional approach. He has plus power to all fields, is an outstanding pure hitter and is an excellent defender.
While Kurtz is perhaps the best hitter in the 2024 draft class, Burns might be the best pitcher. The 6-foot-4 righthander’s calling card is his fastball, a pitch that averaged 96.2 mph in 2023 and topped out at 102. He supplements his fastball with a hellacious slider that generated a whopping 61% miss rate last spring. After spending the better part of the 2023 season in the bullpen, Burns figures to be the centerpiece of a loaded Wake Forest rotation.
King is an outstanding athlete fresh off a monster 2023 season in which he hit .411 with 20 doubles and 11 home runs. He has an explosive operation at the plate and has turned in 70-grade run times. King earned a spot on Team USA’s Collegiate National Team and figures to slot in at second base or in the outfield this spring.
Hartle (11-2, 2.81 ERA) and Massey (3-1, 2.59 ERA) project to round out Tom Walter’s stellar 2024 rotation. Hartle has impeccable control and a true five-pitch mix with his curveball being his best offering, while Massey has thunderous stuff and a lethal fastball-slider combination. He spent all of 2023 appearing in relief, but this spring projects to make the jump into the rotation.
Five first-round draft picks would be unprecedented, but so is having this amount of high-end talent on a single roster. There will once again be considerable buzz surrounding Wake Forest heading into the 2024 season, but the Demon Deacons have proved they thrive under the spotlight.