Top MLB Draft Prospects: College Edition


Jun 25, 2014; Omaha, NE, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores infielder Dansby Swanson (7) celebrates an inning ending play in the eighth inning against the Virginia Cavaliers during game three of the College World Series Finals at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha. Vanderbilt defeated Virginia 3-2 to win the College World Series. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

With the MLB Draft quickly approaching, there is no better time than to look at the top prospects. We already looked at the top five high school pitchers and hitters, so now it is time to look at the college players. This draft offers some intriguing players, as well as some with some concerns.

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With college players, you worry less about projectibility and more about collegiate stats. The level of competition is pretty similar among DI prospects, although the numbers of guys in bigger conferences like the SEC deserve a little bit more respect. The pitcher class goes pretty deep this year, with up to 10 pitchers having the chance to go in the first round in the MLB Draft. A lot of them have reasons for concerns, like reliever-turned starter types, lack of size, and injury concerns.

There are a lot of solid bats in the college hitter class, with two shortstops having the chance to go extremely high in the MLB Draft. Hitters usually take a little longer to make the big leagues than pitchers do, due to the switch to wood bats and getting used to face quality pitching consistency. Most of the players on this list have the bat to make an immediate impact, but need to answer questions surrounding their overall game in the Minor Leagues.

Next: The Best Pitchers in College

Jun 14, 2014; Omaha, NE, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores pitcher Carson Fulmer (15) pitches against the Louisville Cardinals during game two of the 2014 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports


1. Carson Fulmer, RHP, Vanderbilt
Fulmer thrusted himself into the Top 5 picks in the MLB Draft conversation when he was able to dominate in 2015 as he successfully transition from the closer’s role to a starting pitcher in 2015. He was the ace of the Vanderbilt staff, going 12-2 and striking out 147 batters in 107 innings. The righthander measures in at under 6 feet tall, but he still has what it takes to become an effective starting pitcher at the next level. Fulmer relies on a mid 90’s fastball when he’s starting games, but has also been able to hit the upper 90’s as a closer. His hard curveball leads to the high strikeout numbers, and his changeup gives him a quality third pitch as well. His deceptive delivery works well for him, but also involves a lot of energy. He’s clearly going to get a chance to start in the Minors Leagues, but could be a guy who gets to the big leagues quickly as a relief pitcher. I would be shocked if the Commodore made it out of the top five, with the most likely landing spot being the Astros or Rockies.
MLB Comparison: Tim Lincecum, Giants 

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2. James Kaprielian, RHP, UCLA
Kaprielian may be the safest bet out of any of the pitchers in the draft this year. His ceiling not be as high as the other pitchers on this list, but teams should feel confident that he will be in their big league rotation sometime soon. His 6 foot 4, 200 pound frame offers good projectibility, and his pitch arsenal and command bode very well for his future success. His fastball sits in the 89-92 range, but has great movement and control on his curveball and slider as well. His best pitch is proabbly his changeup, which he uses effectively to induce ground balls and the occassional swing and miss. He struck out a batter an inning throughout his career at UCLA, but its his 2.06 career ERA and 1.08 WHIP that has gained him interest. Since he does have some room to grow, it will be interesting to see if Kaprielian can gain a couple miles per hour on his fastball and continue to strike out a batter an inning at the next level. I see the righthander having a shot at being a top of the rotation starter, witth his floor being that of a number 4 starter. He should go in the first round, with the most likely landing spot being around the late teens to early twenties.
MLB Comparison: Matt Cain, Giants

Next: The Rest of the Top 5 Pitchers

May 2, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Glen Perkins (15) pitches to the Chicago White Sox in the 9th inning at Target Field. The Twins win 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

3. Dillon Tate, RHP, UC Santa Barbara
Much like Fulmer, Tate enjoyed a breakout year in 2015 after he made the switch from reliever to starter. He led the Gauchos with 111 strikeouts in 103 innings, pitching to a tune of a 0.91 WHIP. The 6 foot 2, 185 pounder is probably the fastest rising college player over the last couple of months. He was remarkable at staying away from the long ball last year, only giving up 3 homers total. His fastball sits in the mid 90’s, with a swing and miss slider sitting in the mid to high 80’s. His changeup and curveball have the chance to be servicable offerings as well. Scouts differ on Tate’s delivery, which involves a considerable amount of effort but also provides deception. Tate and Fulmer’s draft stock is pretty similar, with both having a good shot at going in the top five. The Astros will probably go with one of the two.
MLB Comparison: Ervin Santana, Twins 

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4. Tyler Jay, LHP, Illinois
Jay is one of the more intriguing closer prrospects in the last few years, possessing a deep repertoire to go along with a mid to upper 90’s fastball. He was untouchable in 2015, with a 0.60 ERA and 0.62 to go along with 14 saves. Many believe that if he was given a chance to start in 2015 like Fulmer and Tate, he sould have been able to have similar success that they did. He definitely has the arsenal to make it as a starter, with a plus slider to go along with a decent curve and developing changeup. Whether he has the stamina necessary to survive as a starter is yet to be seen, especially considering his lack of size at 6 foot 1 and 175 pounds. Due to the demand for lefties at the Major League level, it wouldn’t be surprising if Jay could help out a Major League team’s bullpen by the end of this season. Whether teams believe he will be a starter or not will detemrine if he is a top 5 or top 10 pick. As a reliever prospect, he is still worthy of a first round pick.
MLB Comparison: Glen Perkins, Twins

Jun 16, 2014; Omaha, NE, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores pitcher Walker Buehler (13) throws against the UC Irvine Anteaters during game six of the 2014 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha. Vanderbilt won 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

5. Jon Harris, RHP, Missouri State
Jon Harris may be the next fastest rising pitcher in this draft class after Tate. He displays solid command of all his pitches, with excellant projectibility at 6 foot 4 and 190 pounds. His fastball sits in the low to mid 90’s, also throwing a quality curve, slider, and a much improved changeup. Harris has much potential as any pitcher in this draft class, with a chance to be a top of the order pitcher. f he can sit in the mid 90’s with his fastball as he matures, it will go a long way towards living out his potential. Due to his solid command, he was able to put together a 1.85 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, while only giving up 1 home run. He is already has swing and miss stuff (113 K’s in 97 IP) and could get even better over the next couple of years. Harris’ stock has varied a little bit over the last month, but he is a near lock to go somewhere in the first round, most likely in the teens.
MLB Comparison: James Shields, Padres

Honorable Mentions: Walker Buehler, Vanderbilt; Michael Matuella, Duke; Phil Bickford, CC South Nevada 

Next: Top Hitters in NCAAs

1. Dansby Swanson, SS, Vanderbilt

Swanson has really done a lot for himself in the last year, winning MVP of the College World Series, playing well for the US Collegiate National Team and leading the Commodores in 2015. He has the makings of a franchise player type of guy, one who does the little things right and is a leader on the field. He has the range and arm to remain at shortstop, and his bat should make him a top of the order hitter. While not known for his power, he was still able to hit 14 over the fence this season, and pounds the gaps frequently. He should also be a guy who steals a good deal of bases at the next level. Swanson’s high walk totals should lead to him being a 2-hole hitter in the future. After gaining a lot of momentum recently, the 6 foot, 190 pounder is the favourite to be the top pick by the Diamondbacks. It still wouldn’t be surprising if Brenden Rogers was taken before him, but Swanson is the safer bet.

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MLB Comparison: Brandon Crawford

2. Alex Bregman, SS, LSU

Bregman is my third ranked position player in this draft, behind Brendan Rodgers and Swanson. The two collegiate shortstops are pretty similar, both bringing a lot of intangibles to the table, as well as a chance to be top of the order bats at the next level. Bregman probably has a bit more speed, as he swiped 35 bases for the Tigers last season. He doesn’t have all the power in the world, but should be a guy who h its around 10 at the next level. There was some doubt whether Bregman was going to be able to stick at shortstop, but he left reason to feel confident about his ability to do that during the 2015 season. Even still, whenever there is doubts about a guy staying at a premium position, it rarely works out. Either way, the righthander’s hit tool is going to play anywhere. He has a chance to go in the top five, and shouldn’t get out of the top ten.

Next: Rounding out the Top 5

May 22, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks center fielder A.J. Pollock (11) celebrates with left fielder David Peralta (6) and Chip Hale after scoring in the first inning against the Chicago Cubs at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

3. Andrew Benintendi, CF, Arkansas

Benintendi was barely on the top 100 prospects radar at this point last season, but he has entered the top ten conversation after a sensational year with the Razorbacks. He led the SEC in batting average at .397, with a .498 OBP. The 5 foot 10, 170 pounder wasn’t known for his power, but he was able to club 18 homers as well. Adding to his all around game, his 22 steals also showed that he’s got some speed and instincts. The speed and range should also allow the lefthander to stick in center field at the next level. If he does have to switch positions, it will be to left field, due to his marginal arm strength. His hit tool is going to be fun to watch after he gets drafted, and could be the kind of guy that hits his way to a call-up sooner than later. The question with Benintendi is if he would sign if he gets drafted low enough, as he has some leverage as a draft eligible sophomore. I don’t see that being an issue, with the Red Sox at  pick #7 be the latest I see him going.

MLB Comparison: A.J. Pollock, Diamondbacks

4. Ian Happ, OF, Cincinnati 

Happ is one of the more polished bats in this class, and should be the type who can hit his way to the Majors rather quickly. He hit .369 this season, with a whopping 49 walks, leading to a .492 OBP. His 14 homers also showed that he’s got some pop, and should be a guy who develops into 15-20 homer pop at the next level. He’s got decent speed, and has experience playing at second base before. His best spot is probably at left field in the big leagues, where his bat will play just fine. Due to him profiling away from a premium position, it wouldn’t be surprising if he fell to the 20’s on draft day. Whoever drafts him could be getting a quick to the big leagues bat, where the switch-hitter could make an immediate impact.

MLB Comparison: Hunter Pence

Feb 25, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles outfielder DJ Stewart (8) high five after infielder John Sansone (12) after he scoredon infielder Casey Smit (43) (not pictured) 3-RBI double during the sixth inning against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

5. D.J. Stewart, OF, Florida State

Much like Happ, Stewart’s offensive game should help him get drafted early, despite profiling to left field. Stewart got off to a slow start this year, but turned it on and ended up hittin .352 for the season with 14 homers. He was probably the most patient hitter in the country in 2015, drawing 69 walks, which was 14 walks more than the next highest. This lead to an absurd OBP of .502, which was higher than anybody else on this list. However, he does strike out a good deal, but his contact ability is still solid. He is more athletic than his 6 foot, 230 pound body indicates, playing football in high school. He should become an adequate fielder in left field, but his arm limits him from playing in right. He could be a DH candidate if he gets picked by an AL team. Stewart will probably get drafted towards the end of the first round, with a chance of dropping to the compensatory round.

MLB Comparison: Brandon Moss, Indians

Honorable Mentions: Kevin Newman, SS, Arizona; Donnie Dewees, CF, North Florida, Blake Trahan, SS, Louisiana-Lafayette