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An early look at the 2018 draft: college players

2014 MLB Draft Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Today is the first official day of winter, the leanest time of the baseball calendar. But believe it or not, with the 2018 MLB Draft on June 4th, we’re now closer to the next draft than the last one. With that in mind, it’s an opportune time to take a quick look forward and survey the landscape, starting with the college side today and the high school side tomorrow.

The Blue Jays will pick 12th, their highest selection since 2014, as they will look to add another major piece to their future core. It’s shaping up as an interesting class, with good depth but without players at the top who have really separated themselves as “can’t miss” impact talent. That likely means the board will be really unsettled right up to draft night, but likewise means there shouldn’t be a big dropoff before the Jays pick.

Drilling down a bit, the group of high school hitters is decent, with some interesting options up top. High school pitching is a strength, the sheer volume of hard throwing, big upside pitchers, though the Jays have really shifted away from this demographic the past couple years. On the college side, the position player side is deeper than in recent years, although weaker at the very top. The pitching side would be best described as unsettled. It’s not bad per se, but as we’ll see below, for a variety of reasons the pitchers at the top lack the usual track record or are particularly divisive, so this spring will be very important to sorting things out.

Obviously a lot will change in the next five/six months (Logan Warmoth, for example, was not seen as a first rounder heading into his junior year), so what follows is just intended as a high level survey of the top 5-7 options in each demographic as things stand now. These are the players most likely to be in play at #12 overall, roughly ordered.

College Hitters

  • Nick Madrigal (IF, Oregon State): I doubt he’ll be in the board when the Jays pick, especially since college hitters tend to drift up as the draft approaches. He can flat out hit. Future defensive home is likely at 2B where he should be good. The knock is he’s only 5’7”, and a decade ago that might have resulted in him falling down, but we’re in an era where the reigning AL MVP is Jose Altuve.
  • Jeremy Eierman (IF, Missouri State): Breakout sophomore year with 23 home runs. May stick at SS, but strong arm would profile well at 3B. The big questions are how real is the power, and will he hit enough to get to it as his game has featured a lot of swing and miss.
  • Travis Swaggerty (OF, South Alabama): One of the top performers for the USA collegiate national team this summer, really boosting his profile since he doesn’t play in a major conference. Leadoff type profile with on base skills, though some swing and miss.
  • Griffin Conine (OF, Duke): Son of Jeff Conine, followed up a breakout sophomore year at Duke by hitting .329/.406/.537 and a league leading 9 HR with wood bats on the Cape. Wouldn’t surprise me if he ended up in the top-10 and the next guy after Madrigal. The only other first rounder out of Duke? You may have heard of Marcus Stroman.
  • Tristan Pompey (OF, Kentucky): Huge sophomore year (.361/.464/.541) in the SEC with tools had him jumping up towards the top of the class before struggles in the Cape Cod league pulled him back some. Decent power potential, but some swing and miss concerns, obvious connections to Jays.
  • Next tier who could play their way up: OF Steele Walker (Oklahoma), 3B Alec Bohm and OF Greyson Jenista of Wichita State, sluggers Luken Baker (TCU) and Seth Beer (Clemson), catcher Joey Bart (Georgia Tech).

College Pitchers

  • Brady Singer (RHP, Florida): Drafted by the Jays in the 2nd round of 2015, before something in his physical resulted in them nixing his deal. They almost certainly wish they hadn’t now, especially since it eventually went to J.B. Woodman instead. There’s a big split on Singer. His fastball will get into the mid-90s with a lot of movement due to his lower arm angle, and he pairs it with a plus slider. Some see a frontline starter, some see a reliever delivery and lack of a third pitch. He was very good in 2017, though some inconsistency - sometimes shutdown dominant, sometimes quite hitable.
  • Shane McClanahan (LHP, South Florida): Tommy John surgery wiped out his freshman year, and he didn’t pitch this summer so the performance track record is just a strong 2017. Potential three pitch mix with a big fastball, changeup as his go-to secondary and then a useable breaking ball.
  • Casey Mize (RHP, Auburn): Breakout sophomore year with 109/9 K/BB in 83 innings in the SEC, though missed some time to injury and needs to prove he can stay healthy. Followed that up with a couple good starts for Team USA, and has the three pitch mix to start with a fastball into the mid-90s and the ability to hold the velocity. 2018 could see him jump into the top 5, or fall towards the back of the first round.
  • Ryan Rolison (LHP, Ole Miss): He’ll be a draft-eligible sophomore, so again the track record is just 2017. He was good for the Rebels, but absolutely lights out over the summer in the Cape Cod league. He pairs a decent low-90s fastball with a plus breaking ball, with the ability to command the strike zone.
  • Jackson Kowar (RHP, Florida): Some believe he’s actually the better of the duo that will anchor Florida’s 2018 rotation, though he lacks the same performance track record as Singer. Classic starter build with a delivery that gets high marks, reaches into the mid-90s with the ability to throw two decent offspeed pitchers.
  • Logan Gilbert (RHP, Stetson): Had a breakout 2017 as he fulfilled his projection, first in the college season and then dominated on the Cape. Very physical at 6’6”, but able to repeat his delivery run and touch into the high-90s with his fastball and the potential for three pitches. Could easily jump into the top-10 or even top-5 if he follows up with another big season with further development.
  • Next tier: LHP Tim Cate (UConn), LHP Konnor Pilkington