College bats are a place that teams go for some certainty in a process that is very high variance. This causes college position players to typically move up or down as the evaluation process advances. At the very top of the draft the attraction to college bats is their combination of high floors while maintaining an attractive ceiling.
In recent years we’ve seen many players drafted at the top out of college make a fast impact in the majors.
From the 2015 draft Dansby Swanson (#1), Alex Bregman (#2), Andrew Benintendi (#7), and Ian Happ (#9) have made some level of impact at the majors and we aren’t even two years removed from their draft day. The 2014 draft saw Kyle Schwarber (#4), Michael Conforto (#10), and Trea Turner (#13) making their impact felt.
Andrew Benintendi shows how much helium can catapult a player up in rankings heading into the draft. In the Baseball America Top 100 Draft Prospects list produced on May 7, 2015 saw Benintendi as the #42 ranked prospect. By the time of the draft he was ranked ninth in the Baseball America Top 500 and was selected seventh by the Boston Red Sox.
The Rays were successful the last time they went with a college bat with a top pick in the draft when they selected Evan Longoria number three overall in the 2006 draft. After only one full season in the minors he was called up in April 2008 and made an immediate impact.
The last two years the Rays have gone with high school bats with their first pick with Garrett Whitley and Joshua Lowe. However after those picks they were aggressive in taking college bats with their secondary picks. In 2016 they used their second round and competitive balance round B picks on Ryan Boldt and Jake Fraley. In 2015 they selected Brandon Lowe (3rd round), Joe McCarthy (5th round), and Jake Cronenworth (7th round). In 2013 and 2014 they used their first round pick on college bats Richie Shaffer and Casey Gillaspie.
This year’s offensive class isn’t considered to be as good as year’s past, but there can be gems to be found that could make an offensive impact in relatively short order. If the draft follows the script of most mock drafts to this the Rays should have their choice of college bats with the exception of Brendan McKay if a team drafts him as a first baseman.
If the Rays want to select any of the following they will most likely have to select them with their fourth pick. If the Rays view any of these players as the best bat in the draft they shouldn’t hesitate in making that selection.
The strength of the college bat class is at first base which doesn’t have the best track record of success.
Most scouts see Brendan McKay’s future home on the mound. However, he might be the best college bat in the draft and a team could decide that they rather see what his bat can do if he focused on hitting full time.
The 1B out of the University of Louisville hit an impressive .356/.476/.683 for the season with 17 homers in 202 at bats. He accumulated 45 walks while only striking out 35 times. This year McKay saw some doubles turn into HRs as the power spiked. He also picked up almost twice as many walks while only striking out two more times.
Going the bat route would likely slow down his ascent to the majors, but focusing on being a position player could provide better results from the bat, defense, and on the bases. The knock is he’s limited to first base.
MLB.com ranks McKay the second best prospect while Baseball America ranks him third and Fangraphs places him fifth.
Adam Haseley is another two way player for the University of Virginia. The consensus among the scouting community is his future is as a position player. Haseley was born in Windermere, FL and attended The First Academy in Orlando.
Haseley saw a power breakout this season as he hit .393/.492/.662 with 14 homers and stole ten bases. This year he lowered his strikeouts from 29 to 20 while increasing his walk total from 28 to 43. The home run power also came doubles and triples going over the fence.
Haseley shows a good hit tool with average power. His strength is hitting line drives, but has improved his ability to get the ball in the air. Scouts think he could be an average defender in center field, but his eventual home could be as a corner outfielder.
As with McKay, there is some projected growth with the bat remaining as he focuses on hitting full time. There isn’t the safety net of being a pitcher that there is with McKay since his fastball only sits in the mid to upper 80s.
Baseball America is the most bullish on Haseley ranking him eighth. He comes in tenth at MLB.com and fifteenth at Fangraphs. Haseley has seen his draft stock rise the most of any college position player this year. His college stats and helium entering the draft remind me a lot of Andrew Benintendi.
Jeren Kendall is a center fielder out of the Vanderbilt University, and was on the short list for favorites to go number one overall entering the season before pitching took over the narrative.
Kendall has hit .312/.379/.569 in 253 at bats. He has struck out 71 times while only walking 24 times. He has hit 15 homers this year while stealing 19 bases on 23 attempts. He has as much upside as any player in the draft.
Due to his 70-80 speed Kendall is expected to be a plus defender in center field and even possesses a strong arm. That’s a great base to being a useful MLB player. However many scouts think the swing and miss in his bat could be a fatal flaw.
A team will believe he will hit enough or he’ll drop to a point where they are forced to take the gamble.
MLB.com is most bullish on Kendall ranking him sixth while Baseball America (#18) and Fangraphs (#15) have him in the mid teens.
Evan White is the first baseman for the University of Kentucky. He isn’t your typical first baseman in that many scouts believe he could be an outfielder where he played last summer for USA Baseball’s College National Team. Some scouts think he could even play center.
Evan White hit .366/.439/.629 with eight homers and four stolen bases in 2017. He struck out 30 times and was issued 18 walks. He doesn’t hit for the power you would expect out of a first baseman, but he has an above average to plus hit tool. The team that drafts him will likely try him as an outfielder to take advantage of his above average speed and arm.
White is one of the rare right handed hitting left handed throwing players.
Baseball America is the most bullish on White ranking him 12th. MLB.com ranks him 18th and Fangraphs is the bearish ranking him 29th.
Keston Hiura hasn’t played the field this year at the University of California-Irvine. It’s quite probable that he will need to have Tommy John Surgery after the draft. This leaves scouts wondering where he will play. Some think he could be at 2B or LF. Before the injury last year he played both left field and center field.
Hiura has been the best college hitter this year. He hit .442/.567/.693 with eight homers and stole nine bases although he was caught six times. In 261 plate appearances he has struck out 38 times, but walked 50 times. Scouts sees him growing into plus power although some see only above average.
It’s quite possible Hiura is the best hitter in this draft. Somebody will take the risk and see where they can play him and might have to wait until the middle of next year to start his professional career if he goes under the knife.
Baseball America ranks him 14th, Fangraphs ranks him 17th, and MLB.com ranks him 22nd. I believe the Rays would be thrilled if he fell to them with their 31st pick. Hiura is still intriguing at four and could create possibilities to get anybody that falls to 31 or 40.
Pavin Smith is the first baseman for the University of Virginia. Smith is a well below average runner that will have to hit since he’s limited to first base. If he weren’t limited to first base he would have much more interest towards the top of the draft. He is the best contact hitter in the draft. Not necessarily something you want out your first baseman.
Smith hit .341/.428/.561 with 12 homers this year. He walked 38 times, but struck out an absurd 11 times in 269 plate appearances. For those who hate strikeouts you’ll love Smith. He has shown some pop this spring which definitely helps his draft stock.
MLB.com has Smith ranked eighth while Fangraphs and Baseball America have him out of their top tens ranking 18th and 15th respectively.
Logan Warmoth is the shortstop at the University of North Carolina. Warmoth is a central Florida native coming from Lake Brantley High School (Altamonte Springs, FL). The same high school as former Ray Nick Franklin and current Ray Rickie Weeks, Jr. Warmoth is the only college bat that is likely to stick in the middle infield with many scouts believing he’ll stay at short. Defensively his best toll is his arm and shows solid range.
This season Warmoth has hit .336/.410/.562 with nine homers and 18 stolen bases. In 268 plate appearances he struck out 41 times while earning 26 walks. He is a high floor, low ceiling college bat.
Warmoth is a middle to late first round talent coming in at 19th at Baseball America, 20th at Fangraphs, and 27th at MLB.com.
Jake Burger is the third baseman at Missouri State University. Scouts see Burger as a bad-bodied third baseman, but can’t ignore the results with the bat. Burger’s power leads the class. Most scouts think he’ll have to move off third base as a professional, but could improve with work.
Burger has hit .333/.451/.671 with 22 homers. It is the second season in a row he’s hit at least 20 home runs. He struck out 33 times while walking 42 times in 288 plate appearances.
Team’s evaluation of Burger will vary wildly depending upon whether they think his swing will work in the majors, but the power is real.
MLB.com ranks Burger at 16. Baseball America ranks him 20th. Fangraphs comes in at 22nd.
If the Rays go with a college bat at 4 who should they take?
This poll is closed