SEE ALSO: College Preview Index
Every year Baseball America surveys scouting directors and national crosscheckers asking them to vote on our Preseason College All-America team. This year 17 of the 30 teams participated, giving a solid cross-section of how scouts view the college talent heading into the 2017 season. As we have for more than 30 years, we ask scouting directors’ opinions because we’re attempting to look forward with this team, not back at past accomplishments. Our end of season College All-America Team rewards results, but our preseason list is a look at the top talent in college baseball.
College baseball’s 64-team era, dating from 1999, has been defined by its lack of dynasties. Oregon State (2006-07) and South Carolina (2010-11) won back-to-back College World Series titles, but no one conference or section of the country has ruled in Omaha.
The last four seasons have produced four first-time national champions, from nouveau riche programs UCLA (2013) and Vanderbilt (’14) to Atlantic Coast Conference drought-ending Virginia (’15). No champion was more unlikely than Coastal Carolina (’16), whose title stands behind only Fresno State in 2008 as the most unlikely in college baseball’s modern era.
When it comes to winning, college baseball shares the wealth. But scouts with major league clubs looking for future big leaguers say they have narrowed their focus, concentrating their firepower on the Power Five conferences for the top rounds of the draft. Just eight of the 42 players on BA’s Preseason All-America Teams—voted on by major league scouting directors—attend non-Power Five conference schools.
“You take good players out of good schools,” was the way one scouting director put it. “Most of the top college players were high-profile guys out of high school. They’re there for a reason. It’s not that you don’t go fishing in smaller pools, but there are a lot of players who did get overlooked (out of high school) at these major university programs.”
The team includes six Florida Gators, led by unanimous first-team selection Alex Faedo, as well as Brendan McKay, Louisville’s two-way star who could soon rank among the most decorated college players of all time.
The 2016 college catching class produced three first-rounders, led by No. 10 overall pick Zack Collins, and seven backstops in the first 97 overall selections. The first four came from the ACC, but the catching talent is more spread out this season. Two wild cards are righthanded power hitters who may not have the defensive chops to stick at catcher. Oregon State’s K.J. Harrison, a catcher as a prep in Hawaii and preseason first-teamer at first base last year, is expected to get his first time behind the plate for the Beavers in three seasons. Meanwhile, Florida’s J.J. Schwarz has spent more time at DH thanks to third-team honoree Mike Rivera, a superior defender.
RILEY ADAMS, SAN DIEGO
Adams ranked No. 154 on the BA 500 in 2014 out of a San Diego high school, while second-teamer Evan Skoug ranked 96th as an Illinois prep. Adams edged Skoug in scouting director voting, and while they have very different bodies, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Adams and the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Skoug arrive at similar, bat-first profiles.
A righthanded hitter, Adams has good athleticism, a requirement considering his height (tall for a catcher) and he’s added muscle to his frame in college. His best tool is his easy plus arm strength, which earns some 70 grades. His longer levers at times make his arm play below its arm strength, and Adams’ receiving and presentation need work. But he controls the strike zone, has leverage in his swing and has above-average raw power.
Skoug, a lefthanded hitter, has a shorter stroke and could move up boards if he handles top-ranked TCU’s pitching staff well. Some scouts compare him to Virginia’s Matt Thaiss, a 2016 first-round pick of the Angels who immediately moved off catcher as a pro.
Three of the four players on the first two teams play in the ACC—first-team first baseman Pavin Smith of Virginia, plus second-teamers Seth Beer (Clemson) and Dylan Bundy (Florida State). Beer (from outfield to first base) and Bundy (from first base back to third, his freshman position) are moving positions.
PAVIN SMITH, 1B, VIRGINIA
Virginia has produced a steady stream of highly-drafted hitters in recent years, and Smith should lead this year’s group of Cavalier draftees, which also includes second baseman Ernie Clement and two-way talent Adam Haseley, both second-teamers. Smith has the best bat of the group, though he may not have a classic first baseman profile. Scouts perceive Smith’s hit tool to be better than his power, and his polished approach and ability to control the strike zone enhance his hitting ability.
Second-teamer Beer, the reigning Freshman of the Year, lacks the speed to stick in the outfield and is coming off a subpar summer with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. However, he carried Clemson last year to a No. 7 national seed and may be the top performer in this group, even though scouts continue to have some reservations about his modest athleticism. Baker has even less athleticism but has massive righthanded power and may be a bigger, stronger version of Angles first baseman C.J. Cron.
JAKE BURGER, 3B, MISSOURI STATE
Burger has not stopped hitting in two seasons, batting .346 cumulatively, and his 21 homers last season ranked second in the nation. While Burger hit no homers for the CNT last summer, scouts do have belief in his bat and ability as a run-producer. They’re more mixed on his defense at third base, where he’ll never be confused with Scott Rolen or Adrian Beltre. If he makes the routine play consistently, uses his above-average arm and shows enough athleticism and agility to handle the bunt play, Burger should hit his way into the first two rounds. Second-teamer Busby, who has more swing-and-miss to his game, has similar power and is a better athlete and should push Burger for postseason first-team honors. Third-teamer Jonathan India, a sophomore, is the best athlete of the group but lacks present power.
The 2015 draft saw five college shortstops drafted among the top 30 picks, the most in draft history. Like the 2016 class, the 2017 college class offers little potential impact up the middle, but there are several solid options for teams to consider come draft time.
NICK MADRIGAL, 2B, OREGON STATE
Listed at 5-foot-7, 161 pounds, Madrigal draws significant interest from the scouting community, even after missing the fall with a shoulder injury. He’s an athletic, skilled middle infielder coming off a .333/.380/.456 freshman season who makes tons of contact and can play the little man’s game. Blessed with excellent hands, Madrigal evokes comparisons to undersized big leaguers such as Dustin Pedroia and Alex Bregman, though he hasn’t shown the pop of those players.
KEVIN SMITH, SS, MARYLAND
Smith has similarities to former Mississippi shortstop Zack Cozart, who’s spent most of the last five seasons as the Reds’ starting shortstop. Like Cozart, Smith impresses more with his glove than his bat, showing smooth infield actions and soft hands to go with agile footwork. Smith’s tools grade out average to above-average defensively, and his strong summer in the Cape Cod League pushed him into All-America status. After hitting just .266 with 15 homers in his first two seasons combined, Smith batted .301/.348/.427 for Yarmouth-Dennis, then was named MVP of the Cape playoffs.
Clement, the Cape’s MVP, and savvy Florida shortstop Dalton Guthrie (son of ex-big league pitcher Mark) earned second-team honors, while third-team shortstop Taylor Walls was the first-team All-American last season and figures to be attractive for analytics-heavy clubs thanks to 111 walks in his first two seasons.
For the second straight year, outfield is the strength of the college hitting crop, featuring the top position-player prospect in the class (Jeren Kendall) as well as two non-Power Five talents.
MICHAEL GIGLIOTTI, LIPSCOMB
Gigliotti was a regular at south Florida prep powerhouse Archbishop McCarthy, and he wasn’t an unknown to scouts as he hit .321 with 32 stolen bases in his first two seasons at Lipscomb. Still, he broke out nationally last summer on the Cape, hitting .326 (counting playoffs) in 190 at-bats. The lefthanded hitter is a potential table setter with contact ability, some patience and double-plus speed that should play even more on the bases with more experience. His handsy swing and instincts also serve him well.
KESTON HIURA, UC IRVINE
Hiura challenges Burger as having as much righthanded power as any player in the college class thanks to surprising strength and plus bat speed for a player his size. However, his was limited to DH duty last summer and in fall practice, and had platelet-rich plasma treatment in early January to help a ligament tear in his elbow heal. Still not cleared to throw, Hiura will start the season as a DH.
“Where do you play him?” one scouting director said. “If he could play second base or center field, it would skyrocket his value.”
JEREN KENDALL, VANDERBILT
A high price tag out of a Wisconsin high school kept Kendall from signing in 2014, and scouts have been waiting patiently ever since. Kendall has better tools than last year’s top outfielder, Louisville’s Corey Ray, a similar player as a lefthanded bat with speed. But Kendall is a 70 runner to Ray’s 60, and scouts consider him a potential plus defender in center field—which he’ll play for the first time this season for Vanderbilt—after seeing him there with the CNT.
Kendall also has excellent bat speed and a chance to hit for plus power if his approach and feel for hitting continue to improve. He’s struck out 122 times in 435 college at-bats, but scouts still consider him a potentially above-average hitter.
“He has natural, smooth athleticism,” one national crosschecker said, while another added. “The only question is the bat, especially the left-on-left question. The industry will zero in on the bat.”
Brendan McKay won Freshman of the Year honors in 2015 and was a first-team All-American in each of his first two seasons. He’s aiming to be a three-time first-team All-American, a feat previously accomplished by Texas lefty Greg Swindell (1984-86) and Oklahoma State third baseman Robin Ventura (1986-88). Alex Bregman (2013, ’15) and Kris Bryant (2012-13) are recent two-time first-teamers in addition to McKay.
BRENDAN McKAY, LHP/1B, LOUISVILLE
The industry seems split on whether McKay, a dominant college pitcher and effective cleanup hitter the last two seasons for Louisville, profiles better on the mound or at first base. His pure hitting ability rates at the front of the hitting class, as he drives balls to the gaps, is quiet and confident in the batter’s box and makes the most of his solid-average bat speed.
On the mound, McKay pitches inside to righthanded hitters extremely well for an amateur pitcher and throws a high number of quality strikes with his fastball. His 90-92 mph velocity remains average and hasn’t climbed significantly in college while his changeup and breaking ball remain playable, though shy of consistently plus. He still is the best lefthander in a class shy on them.
“There aren’t many hitters as consistent as him,” one crosschecker said. “He’s got feel for the barel and rhythm. I’m not worried about the power; I want four quality at-bats every game, and he does that.”
The last two crops of college starting pitchers have been lackluster. The top pick in 2015, Dillon Tate, was traded a year after being picked fourth overall. In 2016, top prospect A.J. Puk fell to the No. 6 overall selection and had a modest pro debut, and the second starter picked, Stanford’s Cal Quantrill, sat out the spring while he recovered from Tommy John surgery. However, the 2017 class looks much deeper and stronger at the top than its two predecessors, with potential top-10 overall picks stretching into the preseason second-team. Tristan Beck (Stanford) may have missed the first-team due to not pitching at all last summer and his shorter prep track record. LSU’s Alex Lange may have the best pitch in this group in his wipeout curveball. Second-teamer Seth Romero (Houston) and third-teamer Brendon Little (State JC of Florida) are the only lefthanders to earn enough votes to make the All-America team as full-time pitchers.
J.B. BUKAUSKAS, RHP, NORTH CAROLINA
Bukauskas is one of the younger pitchers in the class, having just turned 20 in October. He made significant strides with his slider in 2016, and at times Bukauskas pitches with a plus fastball at 92-94 mph, touching 97, to go with a plus slider and above-average changeup. He knows how to finish off hitters as well, ranking third in the country last year with 12.75 strikeouts per nine innings.
His present stuff is as good as any pitcher in the class, and Bukauskas may move quickly in a relief role. The effort in his delivery worries some scouts; others aren’t keen on his arm action, and both contribute to his fringy command. However, his pitchability improved in 2016, improving his chances to start as a pro.
ALEX FAEDO, RHP, FLORIDA
Faedo missed time in the fall due to minor knee surgery but is expected to be fully healthy when the Gators’ season starts. He’d moved ahead of Puk in the team’s rotation last season and has two easy plus pitches at his best in his mid-90s fastball and powerful mid-80s slider. He’s a strike-thrower with just 37 walks in 166 career innings, while striking out 192 (10.4 K/9). Faedo’s body still has some developing to do, and scouts are convinced that despite his performance, the best is yet to come.
“He’s got some delivery issues,” one scouting director said, “but you can’t deny that he has performed at an elite level, and that he’s shown command of two plus pitches against good competition.”
TANNER HOUCK, RHP, MISSOURI
Lean and athletic at 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, Houck has the fastest arm in the class’ potential starters, and his pure arm speed helps him overcome some timing issues in his delivery. He pounds the zone with a lively fastball with plus life as well as plus velocity from an unconventional, low-three-quarters slot. He needs to more consistently stay on top of his slider, a pitch with sharp bite at times but that was inconsistent last summer with Team USA. He’s already shown impressive durability for Missouri, working more than 100 innings in each of his first two seasons. He’s working with a new coaching staff this season with the Tigers, with Steve Bieser replacing retired coach Tim Jamieson.
KYLE WRIGHT, RHP, VANDERBILT
A reliever as a freshman, Wright moved into Vanderbilt’s rotation as a sophomore and now is the undisputed leader of the staff. Vandy’s pitching tradition includes 10 picks in the first two rounds since first-rounder Jeremy Sowers (2004). Wright has the potential to be the first college pitcher drafted thanks to his profile size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds), clean arm and fastball command, the best among the four first-team All-Americans.
Wright’s body attracts the most attention, as he still has projection, and he repeats his arm action and delivery well, so scouts are confident he’ll hit more 95 mph readings down the line. He sits 90-92 more often presently, with cutting action at its best, and his curveball has been above-average as well. His changeup rates as his third pitch and will be a focus.
While several impact major league relievers such as Andrew Miller (North Carolina), A.J. Ramos (Texas Tech), Sam Dyson (South Carolina) and others were starters throughout most of their college career, several college relievers have had successful careers of late, from Jonathan Papelbon and Mark Melancon to Drew Storen and David Robertson. It’s possible to be a college reliever and still be a prospect.
COLTON HOCK, RHP, STANFORD
Hock, an eastern Pennsylvania prep product, has made just two starts in two seasons at Stanford and is initially slated to close this year. He has the physicality at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds to fit the Melancon/Papelbon closer mold. He showed last summer in the Cape Cod League that he could maintain low-90s fastball velocity as a starter, even touching 95.
Hock’s hard curveball could give him a second plus pitch if he’s closing, though his promising changeup could give him a starter’s three-pitch mix. Improved fastball command is a must in either role. Scouts looking for more of a blowtorch at the back of the bullpen will see higher velocity readings from Texas A&M closer Kyle Martin (second team) or Division II Tampa’s Garrett Cave, a transfer from Florida International, as both reach the mid- to high-90s more often than Hock.