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Why Vance Honeycutt Is One Of The 2024 Draft’s Most Exciting, But Risky, Players


Image credit: Vance Honeycutt (Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics)

Catch him on the right day, and North Carolina’s Vance Honeycutt will look like the best player in this year’s draft class.

In just his first two trips to the plate in last Saturday’s super regional-clinching win against West Virginia, Honeycutt showed off the power/speed combination that makes him one of the draft’s most fascinating players.

Leading off the top of the first inning, he jumped on the first pitch of the game—a 93 mph fastball out of the hand of Tyler Switalski—and flicked his 26th home run of the season out to left field. Two innings later with no one on and two outs, Honeycutt dropped a push bunt to the first base side against an 85 mph Switalski changeup and clocked a 3.5-second home-to-first time down the line to beat the throw to the bag. 

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound outfielder was responsible for both of UNC’s runs in the game that pushed the Tar Heels to their 12th College World Series appearance in program history. In the best season of his three-year career, Honeycutt has led the team with a 1.112 OPS, 85 runs, 26 home runs and 28 stolen bases. He became the program’s all-time home run leader this spring with 63 and counting—passing the 57 homers Devy Bell amassed from 1984-1987—and is also the only player in ACC history with at least 50 career home runs and 60 stolen bases.

In addition to his power/speed combination, Honeycutt is also a two-time ACC Defensive player of the year and arguably the best defensive center fielder in the country. 

“He should be the best player in this draft by a long shot,” said one scout when thinking about Honeycutt’s combination of physical tools, center field profile and standout athleticism.

Risk Vs. Reward

So why is a player with Honeycutt’s upside and college production only ranked No. 14 in the class? Why is he rarely mentioned with other college hitters like Charlie Condon, Travis Bazzana, JJ Wetherholt and Nick Kurtz?

The scout continued:  “He could be an all-star on a given day, but the hit tool….”

The hit tool.

The most important tool for a position player and the one most difficult for scouts to evaluate and project to the major league level. That’s the big question with Honeycutt, who hit under .300 in his first two seasons before eclipsing that mark with a .314 average through 59 games in 2024. 

After striking out at a 29.7% clip in his 25-homer, 29-stolen base freshman season, Honeycutt did show an ability to cut the whiffs as a sophomore in 2023. He lowered his strikeout rate to 20.4% and upped his walk rate from 13.5% to 19.6%, though his overall production fell and he homered just 12 times. 

He reverted to his strikeout friendly ways in 2024, with a 27.8% strikeout rate, career-low 12.2% walk rate and career-best .314/.409/.702 slash line. Perhaps the free-swinging version of Honeycutt is simply the best version of himself as a hitter. 

“I think the strikeout rate is going to concern teams,” said another scout.

His career 26.3% strikeout rate is a huge question for scouts. And for good reason. 

In the bonus pool era (2012-present), there have been 106 hitters drafted out of four-year universities inside the first 30 picks. Among those hitters, only 13 have owned a career strikeout rate in college greater than 20%.

Honeycutt’s 26.3% mark would top the field and set a new high for swing-and-miss proclivity:

Draft YearPlayerPositionSchoolK%
2024Vance Honeycutt*OFNorth Carolina26.28%
2018Kyler MurrayOFOklahoma26.21%
2019Hunter BishopOFArizona State25.28%
2023Brice MatthewsSSNebraska24.88%
2022Reggie Crawford1BUConn24.83%
2022Spencer JonesOFVanderbilt24.70%
2017Jeren KendallOFVanderbilt24.14%
2019Michael Toglia1BUCLA22.48%
2020Jordan WestburgSSMississippi State22.28%
2018Trevor LarnachOFOregon State21.54%
2018Joey BartCGeorgia Tech21.41%
2021Matt McLainSSUCLA20.59%
2019Logan DavidsonSSClemson20.50%
2023Brock Wilken3BWake Forest20.10%

A Change In Philosophy

Honeycutt isn’t the only standout athlete with swing-and-miss concerns in the 2024 class. Mississippi State’s Dakota Jordan owns a career 27.4% strikeout rate, and would join Honeycutt at the top of this leaderboard if he’s selected among the first 30 picks. Jordan currently ranks as the No. 33 prospect in the class and is a real candidate to go in the back of the first round. Both players fit into a boom/bust bucket of offensive profiles based on their batted ball quality.

While the strikeout rate for D-I hitters has increased over the last decade—from around 16% in 2014 to just under 20% in 2024—the strikeout rate for top-30 college hitters in the bonus pool era has been more consistent. The 2012 strikeout rate for that group was 14.39% and the 2023 class had an average strikeout rate of 14.99%. Up, yes, but not significantly so.

At the top end, however, the industry does seem to be becoming more lax with high strikeout totals. From 2012-2016, not a single college hitter taken among the top 30 picks had a strikeout rate higher than 20%. In that five-year period, strikeout rates of 17-19% from players like Hunter Renfroe, Corey Ray, Richie Shaffer and Zack Collins were as much as pro teams could tolerate.

All 13 of the 20%+ strikeout rate players in the table above went in the 2017-2023 drafts, and there could be as many as five more players joining that group in 2024: Honeycutt and Jordan, as well as Texas A&M outfielder Braden Montgomery (22.3%), Florida State third baseman Cam Smith (20.68%) and Vanderbilt second baseman Christian Moore (20.52%). 

Perhaps that’s not surprising. The strikeout rate in the majors has been climbing for years as hitters prioritize power over contact, and a trickle down effect seems inevitable—particularly given the historic offensive environment of college baseball at the moment

In some ways, Honeycutt’s profile creates a dilemma for teams just like Enrique Bradfield did a year ago. Whereas Honeycutt comes with big contact questions, Bradfield had huge power questions in a college baseball landscape where 15 homers is nothing. Ultimately, his outlier status as a runner and defender in center field made that a non-issue for the Orioles, who popped him with the 17th overall pick.

In late June 2023, Baseball America wrote this about Bradfield: 

“In this year’s draft, Bradfield is not viewed as a consensus top 10 pick, but there are enough teams who view him in that range to expect him to come off the board among the top 15 to 20 picks.”

Similarly, Honeycutt’s unique power/speed combination and center field defense should make him a solid first-round option even if he’s not a slam dunk to go in the first 10 picks. Among our 106-player sample of bonus pool top 30 hitters, Honeycutt’s 63 career homers ranks second behind Brock Wilken (71), and his 76 stolen bases rank fourth behind Bradfield (130), Trea Turner (113) and Corey Ray (82). 

Even if you folded in each of the current top-40 ranked college hitters from the 2024 class, Honeycutt would rank among the top five in both career homers and career stolen bases. No other player ranks even among the top 15 in both categories.

The allure of that power/speed combination from a no-doubt plus defender in center field is what teams will have to grapple with on draft day. Is Honeycutt’s upside worth the risk? 

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