This weekend, four of the nation’s best college baseball teams will meet up in Southern California for a series of games culminating in a pair of Sunday showdowns in Dodger Stadium. No fewer than 15 top draft prospects should see action between in this weekend's Dodgertown Classic. For those interested in checking out the talent at Dodger Stadium Sunday afternoon, or on campus Friday or Saturday, here’s a quick guide on the major names to follow:
Arguably both the most prospect laden and World Series ready team in the country, Vanderbilt will take on UCLA Friday night, USC on Saturday, and save the biggest showdown of the weekend, versus TCU, for Dodger Stadium on Sunday. In addition to the names below, Vanderbilt also has arms Tyler Ferguson and John Kilichowksi as highly rated prospects for the upcoming draft, but I haven’t seen enough of either to give my evaluation:
Walker Buehler (6’2, 175, RHP): One of two starting pitchers Vanderbilt could place in the first ten picks of the June draft, Buehler might be the "more traditional" picks of the two, but even his profile is something of an anomaly. Buehler has a slight frame reminiscent of Tim Hudson, with narrow shoulders and waist that don’t look capable of packing on much more weight. This causes concern for his durability, but Buehler crossed the 100 innings mark as a sophomore last season. He made his season debut this week after battling soreness in his elbow to start the year, but could start the Sunday game. Buehler has an electric mid 90’s fastball and a solid average curve he throws from an easy high 3/4’s delivery. He’s held his velocity surprisingly well for his slight frame, and is one of the few power arms in the college ranks that backs his stuff with pitchability. If the elbow soreness doesn’t become a larger issue, Buehler should go very early on draft day.
Carson Fulmer (6’0, 190, RHP): Like Sonny Gray, Fulmer is an undersized (6’0 might be generous) Vandy power arm with explosive stuff and the ability to front a rotation. While Gray slid on draft day after an uneven junior year, Fulmer could potentially do the same for a different reason. Fulmer has an aggressive herky-jerky delivery that is going to scare some teams from committing to him as a high first rounder, and some reports suggest he’s destined to relief work. If you look past the unusual delivery, you see a live arm that has been well managed throughout his college career. Fulmer’s two best pitches, a mid 90’s sinking fastball and tight breaking ball, should both carry future 60 grades, and he’s athletic enough to refine his command with more innings. He’s worthy on stuff to go in the first ten picks, but it would not surprise me to see him slide into the 11-20 range because enough teams will find it hard to pull the trigger on him.
Dansby Swanson (6’1, 190, SS): Though he lacks the upside of his teammates above, Swanson has a shot to go higher than both as a safe-ish college bat that can play shortstop. Swanson is a wiry athlete with smooth actions in the field and he carries the smoothness to the plate. Swanson has excellent bat speed and a swing that should produce gap power and possible 10-15 homer seasons as he matures in the professional game. Swanson has above average speed and good instincts to steal bases. He’s played second base until this season, and though he has the quickness and range to handle short, I sometimes wonder about players that didn’t play there full time as legitimate pro options at the position. Regardless, He’s a 60 contact bat with solid average tools across the board that could stick at shortstop, a profile almost any scouting director could get behind.
Rhett Wiseman (6’1, 205, OF): The college game is littered with tweener outfielders that lack the athleticism to stick in center, but also are short on pop for a corner. Occasionally these players overcome one part or the other to become useful big league players. Wiseman is one of the better fourth outfield types in this year’s draft, and he’s started the season red hot. He’s got solid enough athleticism to be a decent defender in a corner, and his frame could carry a little more muscle to help him improve beyond gap power. His swing has a bit of a buggy whip in it, and he could work more on his weight distribution.
Bryan Reynolds (6’2, 210, OF): a 2016 draft prospect, Reynolds has the chance to end up as the best position player prospect on this team. He has been moved to the outfield this year, but has potential as a third base prospect as well. Reynolds is a well built, fluid athlete with power potential in his swing. His swing can get long and close to barring out, which isn’t unusual for players of his size and profile. Reynolds bat should carry him as a prospect in any corner, be it outfield or third.
With a collection of arms to rival Vanderbilt, the Dodgertown Stadium matchup on Sunday should be the headliner of the weekend. TCU starts the weekend with USC, followed by UCLA on Saturday. Though he’s struggled early, Tyler Alexander is another name to watch in addition to the players below:
Riley Ferrell (6’1, 200, RHP): In my opinion, of all the college prospects I’ve watched for the 2015 draft, Riley Ferrell has the best arm. He will not be drafted high enough to reflect that as a college relief prospect. TCU has flirted with moving Ferrell to their rotation, but have left him in the bullpen again this season. Ferrell has a stocky build and an efforted arm action that is generally associated with relief. Ferrell is an elite relief prospect, with a fastball that will sit 94-97, and a hard upper 80’s breaking pitch. Both pitches should receive future 70 grades. His delivery isn’t complicated and he repeats it well. He might be one of the closest pitchers to the majors come draft day, though some team may want to take a shot at stretching him out first.
Alex Young (6’2, 205, LHP): you can take your pick as to whether Illinois’ Tyler Jay or Young has the best breaking ball of left handed starters, but when on, Young’s ¾ curveball has 65 future potential. Young has been broken into starting through his summer teams, and has taken his rightful place in the weekend rotation this season. Young has improved the use of his lower half and slightly upped his arm slot as a starter, allowing him to pitch around 90 mph with a fastball that has armside run. He has a high floor being left handed with a murderous breaking pitch for left handed hitters, but needs to improve the command of his fastball and work in his change-up more often to combat right handers and remaining a starting prospect. He’s ranked on Baseball America and MLB Pipeline within the Dodgers’ first round draft picks so he’s one to follow.
Preston Morrison (6’2, 185, RHP): A college baseball darling, Morrison is a better present player than he is current prospect, but that doesn’t make him any less fun to watch. Morrison pitches in the 80’s with a low ¾ to sidearm delivery and can throw multiple pitches for strikes with plus to plus plus command. His fastball has hard sink, and his frisbee slider can be tight enough to catch the outside corner of the zone. He’s probably not a starting prospect, but Morrison could move quickly as a reliever and could become a poor man’s Huston Street. Ultimately, the velocity may not be firm enough to get beyond polished hitters.
Mitchell Traver (6’7, 255, RHP): Traver has yet to cash in on the immense promise he held entering college three years ago. He took a redshirt season his freshman year to recover from injury and hardly threw the following year. He’s supposedly healthy now and is said to possibly be taking the hill against Buehler on Friday. Traver was a hard throwing prospect out of high school with the size and competitive scouts drool over in the state of Texas. He’s draft eligible, and despite two lost years, could go high on draft day with a big season and the potential to grow into a front of the rotation starter or mid-rotation workhorse.
Always one of my favorite college teams to watch, as they generally have the right balance of Southern California fundamentals and flair with traditional power in the upper arms of the rotation. The 2015 version of UCLA is no exception and should be a tournament favorite. They don’t quite match the power arms of TCU to match them on draft potential, but their well rounded team might outlast the Frogs this season. UCLA opens with Vanderbilt Friday night, TCU Saturday, and USC at Dodger Stadium on Sunday. Ty Young (like Vandy’s Wiseman) is another white hot outfield tweener that’s worth keeping an eye on., as well as these names:
James Kaprielian (6’4, 200, RHP): From a physical standpoint, Kaprielian is "how you draw them up." Tall, loose, and athletic, Kaprielian is one of the safer college arms in the upcoming draft. Kaprielian gives hitters a different look with an overhead delivery that makes his curveball difficult for them to pick up. His fastball can reach 94 mph, but generally sits in the low 90’s with armside life. Kaprielian also throws a solid change with fade and can control all of his pitches. He’s got the upside of a number three starter with innings potential, but he can’t afford to lose any edge off his pitches. He’s rated by Baseball America right on the cusp of the Dodgers draft pick window, but safe college arms do well in picks 11-20, and I don’t sense a proclivity for this front office to prioritize "home grown" draft talent like other teams (Atlanta) might.
Cody Poteet (6’1, 188- RHP): Poteet works to get the most out of his small frame, with a high shoulder tilt and full body delivery. His curveball can be an above average pitch at times, and the fastball has some sink to it, though it’s more solid average to occasionally fringe. Poteet has a longer arm action and might fit best as a two pitch reliever with the curveball as an out pitch at the next level.
David Berg (6’0, 194, RHP): Berg has had a fine college career as UCLA’s relief ace, but his pro prospects are limited as a right handed specialist. He throws sidearm to submarine, with sink on the fastball and frisbee action on the slider. His velocity is higher than the typical submarine arm, but this type of arm slot just isn’t seen much anymore at the big league level.
Hunter Virant (6’4, 185, LHP): Virant’s inclusion on this list is a reminder that foregoing the money to attend college doesn’t always work out, as far as the baseball career goes. Virant was a borderline supplemental first round grade prospect in HS that had a strong commitment to UCLA. He’s spent his college career thus far injured, and like Traver, is just now seeing mound time. Unlike Traver, the allure hasn’t returned yet. Virant’s arm action has gone from "complicated" to "WTF" and Fangraphs had his velocity in the upper eighties now. As a redshirt sophomore, he has a few years of draft eligibility to regain some luster, but he has a long ways to go to becoming a solid prospect again. That isn’t to say his college experience and decision hasn’t been worth while to him, stuff happens.
Kevin Kramer (6’0, 194- SS): Kramer didn’t pop up on Baseball America’s Top 20 Pac-12 prospect list this year, and that’s probably a function of missing the ‘14 season and the uncertainty of what type of player he will be. Thus far, he’s picked up where his sophomore year left off, and with a fluid swing front the left side with bat speed and loft, his prospect status should rise. If he’s a passable shortstop he’ll be snatched up quickly in rounds 3-7 as a redshirt junior. I like the bat and the athleticism, though I cannot speak on his defensive ability. In a conference where the top position prospect for ‘15 is a shortstop with low offensive upside (Arizona’s Kevin Newman- swing’s a little handsy, stiff, and mechanical for my liking) Kramer isn’t short of the mark.
A proud program off to a fast start (though slightly deceiving), USC will get a real challenge this weekend. USC doesn’t measure up to the others in top end 2015 prospects, but their top two should be top five round candidates. USC’s weekend opponents, in order, are TCU, Vanderbilt, then UCLA at Dodger Stadium:
Kyle Twomey (6’3, 175, LHP): USC’s top prospect and weekend arm has been more potential than polish, but had a solid summer on the Cape and has handled business thus far in the early going. Twomey’s mechanics are smooth and easy, and he delivers his sinking fastball in the low 90’s. His next best pitch is a change thrown with good arm speed and fade that he uses off the plate against right handers. Twomey’s slow curve is fringy and in need of tightening at the professional level. His frame still has some filling out to do and he has potential to better his present back-of-rotation upside. Twomey’s command is fringy to average and will need to improve to continue starting at the next level.
Kyle Davis (6’0, 200, RHP): USC’s closer is a compact pitcher with a quick arm action and clean delivery that could be tried in the rotation if a teamed chose to do so. Out of the pen, his fastball has sat in the low 90’s with late life, and Davis also has a late breaking curveball and change-up he can throw for strikes. The prospect outlook isn’t tremendous; he’s either middle relief or back of rotation, but Davis is competitive and can find the zone with three pitches. He’s solid value after the fifth round.
Jeremy Martinez (5’11, 200- C): Perhaps the most recognizable name of the 2016 draft prospects in this Series (Festival? Preview? Classic?), Martinez has received off an on hype from his time as a prep standout at Mater Dei. Perhaps because his plate set-up resembles that of Albert Pujols, Martinez was noticed at an early age but hasn’t quite put together the prospect package to match the hype. His swing is short and direct to the ball, but he doesn’t use enough of his lower half, and doesn’t have enough strength in his upper half to drive the ball consistently without it. He has room in his lower half for more bulk and time to mature physically. He made good contact as a freshman, albeit with limited pop. I can’t speak to his defensive work as a catcher but haven’t read anything to suggest he cannot catch at the next level.