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2017 MLB Draft Preview: 1st round college hitters

For previous entries of BBB's 2017 draft preview, see the 2017 Draft Storystream

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As has been the case in recent years, the college position player ranks are not considered a strength of the draft, so this entry will be shorter than usual. At the top are a few players who will certainly be gone before the Blue Jays pick - Brendan McKay, Pavin Smith and Adam Haseley - who therefore don't merit further consideration, though all have some nits to pick. Jeren Kendall likely belongs there, but I do want to discuss him.

After that is a tier of four players who should be familiar at this point, as all have been assigned to the Jays in various mock drafts, in many cases multiple times. Below is the table with background information, ranks, and 2017 stats:

2017 college hitters 1st


Jeren Kendall

I very much doubt he falls to the Jays, but it seems like he's losing a little buzz as the draft approaches and I wouldn't have expected fellow Vandy Boy Bryan Reynolds to drop to the 60s last year. When the dominoes start going, you never know thing end up.

Kendall has been a starter, and a star for Vanderbilt since his freshman season. There's a track record of strong performance against high level competition (including great production for the college national team last summer), as well as standout tools. He projects as a true CF, and while he's a little small, has decent pop. His father played minor league ball, so there's bloodlines as well. All in all, almost everything one could want in a draft prospect.

And yet....the strikeouts. He's struck out about 25% of the time in 2017, which is actually up from his sophomore season. The degree to which he swings and misses is a yellow flag for an elite draft prospect. The other thing is to some extent he's plateau'd the last couple years. His batting average jumped after his freshman season and hit more home runs this year (at the expense of doubles), but his overall production his roughly similar. In fairness, it was starting from a pretty high level, but one still expects top prospects to show demonstrable improvement.

Keston Hiura

One of the top pure hitters in the draft, on par with Pavin Smith, McKay and White, he's been connected to the Jays in multiple mock drafts, so I'll quote from my profile then:

Against quality west coast pitching, he hit .330 and .358 his first two years, taking it to another level this year with an absurd .442/.567/.693 batting line. There's also some emerging power, though mostly of the gap variety.

He hasn't played defensively in games for almost two years. He was an infielder in high school, moving to the outfield to fit into the lineup as a freshman. He hurt his arm on a throw midway through his sophomore year, so DHed the rest of the year. He rehabbed it back to full strength, but re-injured it last fall, and once again was a DH in 2017. He says he won't need surgery, but some think he will need Tommy John. But the thinking is he could handle second base professionally,

Evan White

One of the more abnormal college draft profiles. Again, connected to the Jays:

He's a very good athlete, so much so that he could easily handle the outfield in the pro ranks with CF not entirely out of the question (at least starting there in the minors). That's important, because while he's one of the better pure hitters in the college ranks, he hasn't shown much power and doesn't project to have much. That's a tough profile at first base, though he'd be outstanding defensively. A comp here might be Lyle Overbay if he worked out. But the record of college first basemen is pretty dismal in recent years, and I'd prefer the Jays look elsewhere.

Logan Warmoth

Warmoth has flown up draft boards this spring as the quintessential "safe" college position player. On the plus side, he's got a track record of production at the highest level of college baseball, and is solid defensively. But he doesn't have any standout tools have project as above average, and may not stick at shortstop. The risk here, and the obvious/lazy comp, is you get another Russ Adams.

It was suggested this undersold his bat, and that may well be the case. As I've said, he's produced for two years on one of the top tier baseball conferences. If he hits, he'll be regular somewhere on the diamond.

Jake Burger

Burger has done nothing but hit for three years, a starter from the beginning of his freshman season on the same team as Jon Harris. His lowest BA was .341 this year, his highest .349 in 2016, so he's hit consistently. His power has developed, with 21 and 22 home runs the last two years, though he didn't hit any with the USA college national team last summer. He's played third, and has been passable at the college level, but opinion is at least divided whether he can do so at the pro level and as he gets older. Otherwise, he goes to first where the offensive bar is a lot higher.

While he's certainly produced, there's some caveats. Missouri State plays in the Missouri Valley Conference (surprise!), which doesn't typically have the highest competition. In particular, MSU has barely faced any higher calibre opponents this year. Moreover, it is typically an offensive league, with inflated power production in particular.

Missouri State won their regional and will face TCU this weeked in Super Regionals. That gives Burger another week to prove himself against higher level pitching. Burger went 4 for 14 with a double, walk and 4 strikeouts in the regional against good pitching teams in Oklahoma State and Arkansas.


There's a pretty clear break in the talent level after these last four. College position players - especially up the middle positions - have a way of shooting up draft boards late, so that's not to say others couldn't sneak into the first round, but the players below would be reaches for me where the Jays pick, but almost certainly will be gone by the time the Jays pick at the back of the second round.

Brent Rooker, 1B, Mississippi State

The selling point is easy: hitting .395/.498/.827 with 56 extra base hits and winning the SEC triple crown is no easy feat. He reworked his swing prior to this season and it's paid off in spades, which provides an underlying fundamental explanation for his breakout.

Of course, he's a right handed first baseman, might be able to handle an outfield corner but regardless minimal defensive/positional value. More to the point, he turns 23 later this year, so in many ways he's literally a man amongst boys and a good prospect his age should be in AA. To put it fully in perspective, Rowdy Tellez is four months younger, and tore up AA last year.

Rooker doesn't have a ton of leverage due to his age despite retaining a year of eligibility, so a team that liked him could pick him to save some money for elsewhere.

  • Brian Miller, CF, North Carolina: a strong performer the last two years, including hitting .327 last summer in the Cape. Line drive hitter with plus speed in CF, sows the occasional pop but a top of the order type if all goes right.
  • Kevin Merrell, SS, Soth Florida: one of the fastest players in the draft which plays on both sides of the ball, he's shot up draft boards this year by hitting .384 and showing a little bit more extra base pop (though still doesn't project to hit for much power). Won't necessarily stick on the infield, but can easily handle CF.