Early in the evaluation process the 2017 MLB draft was expected to be heavy in college pitching prospects. Much of that has played out despite disappointing seasons by many of the top SEC pitching prospects like Alex Faedo, Tanner Houck, and Alex Lange.
Kyle Wright has distinguished himself as the best college pitcher available in the draft. Brendan McKay isn’t on the same level of pitching prospect, but he throws left handed and could be the best college bat in the draft even if he is limited to 1B/DH.
If the Rays go with a college pitcher with their fourth pick it is likely one of Kyle Wright, Brendan McKay, J.B. Bukauskas, Alex Faedo, or David Peterson who all rank in the Baseball America top 15 draft prospects list.
Kyle Wright is a RHP out of the Vanderbilt University. Wright possesses the prototypical size you would expect out of an elite pitching prospect at 6’4” 220 pounds. He can reach the upper 90s, but his control plays better when he sits in the 92-95 range with the fastball. He adds a plus power curveball that sits in the low 80s and a mid 80s slider that could be plus. He rarely throws a change up that flashes plus.
In 14 starts Wright has compiled 89.2 innings with a 2.91 ERA. He struck out 104 (10.4 K/9) and walked 28 (2.8 BB/9).
In early mock drafts Wright has been available for the Rays with their fourth pick. However, he has been moving up the draft boards and is currently ranked the number two overall draft prospect in the Baseball America top 500 list, and number one at Fangraphs.
Brendan McKay is a LHP/1B out of the University of Louisville. As a prospect most prefer him as a pitcher, but he also could be the best college bat in the draft though he is limited to 1B. McKay is listed at 6’2” 220 pounds.
As a pitcher McKay’s gets by more with command than overpowering stuff. His fastball sits 89-93. His secondary pitch of choice is an above average curveball. He rarely uses a changeup that will have to improve to reach his ceiling as a starter.
In 14 starts McKay has thrown 91.0 innings with a 2.37 ERA. He has struck out 124 (12.3 K/9) and walked 31 (3.1 BB/9). He has only allowed 58 hits.
McKay broke out in the power department this season. He’s hit .363/.478/.705 with 17 homers. He has walked more, 42, than he has struck out, 33.
The hope, as with most two way players this high in the draft, is they will improve once they are focused on one side of the ball. Most mock drafts have had McKay going before the Rays pick at four, but is sliding a bit due to concerns about lower velocity. McKay is ranked third by Baseball America and fifth at Fangraphs.
J.B. Bukauskas is a RHP out of the University of North Carolina. Bukauskas is very young for a college junior as he’s still four months away from turning 21. He skipped his senior year of high school to enroll early at UNC. Bukauskas is listed at 6’0” 201 pounds.
Bukauskas’s fastball can reach 97, but lives in 92-94 after a velocity bump early in the game. Baseball America puts a 70 grade on his slider and recognizes it as the best breaking pitch in the draft. The pitch comes in at 86-88 with sharp, late break. In the past his changeup has been above average, but he rarely uses it.
Bukauskas has thrown 89 innings in 14 starts with a 2.02 ERA and a 9-0 record. He has struck out 111 (11.2 K/9) and walked 33 (3.3 BB/9).
There are concerns that Bukauskas will end up a reliever. The stigma of short pitchers will also force him down most lists, but he should still be a top ten pick. He is ranked sixth by both Baseball America and Fangraphs.
Alex Faedo is a RHP for the University of Florida. Coming into the season many thought he was the best pitching prospect of a loaded college pitching class. He is listed at 6’5” 225 pounds. He is a local product out of Alonso High School (Tampa, FL). Last fall he had minor surgery on both knees.
Faedo got off to a rough start and saw his velocity dip from 92-94 to 88-92. His 82-83 slider is second only to Bukauskas’s in the draft class. He can manipulate his fastball with sink or cut and has a history of filling up the strike zone.
In 15 starts Faedo has thrown 96.1 innings with a 2.80 ERA. He’s struck out 113 (10.6 K/9) and 32 walks (3.0 BB/9). He started off slowly as he recovered from knee surgery, but has been picking it up as the season progressed.
Faedo ranks tenth by Baseball America and fourteenth at Fangraphs.
David Peterson is a big lefty out of the University of Oregon. Peterson comes in at 6’6” 240 pounds.
Peterson has had an uptick in velocity that sees him sit 90-94, but plays up due to his length. Some scouts view his slider as a plus offering. He adds an above average changeup and average curveball. He doesn’t use his changeup much, but it flashes plus and could become his best secondary pitch.
In 15 starts Peterson has thrown 100.1 innings with a 2.51 ERA. He struck out 140 (12.6 K/9) and walked 15 (1.3 BB/9).
Peterson is the biggest riser among college pitchers with big improvements in his junior year. His increased velocity has led to a large uptick in strikeouts and he’s lowered his walk rate by more than half.
The big left hander comes in at number fourteen by Baseball America, but comes in eighth at Fangraphs.