MLB's No. 5 Draft prospect Caglianone discusses life as collegiate Ohtani

April 9th, 2024

Players like Shohei Ohtani don’t come around very often. But there is a two-way player tearing it up for the Florida Gators looking to make it to MLB with a similar mindset.

Jac Caglianone – MLB Pipeline’s No. 5 Draft prospect – discussed that on the latest Pipeline Podcast.

Through 31 games this season, the Tampa native has been a leader for the Gators in every facet of the game. At the dish, he sports a .391/.480/.781 slash line with 16 homers – tied for the fourth-most in NCAA Division I baseball. And on the mound, he has a perfect 3-0 record with 44 strikeouts and a 3.67 ERA over 34 1/3 innings.

Although his stature as a two-way player has skyrocketed in college, playing both sides of the ball wasn't always in the cards for him. Originally recruited as a pitcher, Caglianone was thrust into a different role his freshman year after Tommy John surgery delayed his mound debut.

“As high school went on and the pitching upside kind of, I guess, proceeded the hitting side of things, that was kind of the way that it was looking,” Caglianone told Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo on the latest podcast. “Then obviously, going down with injury and kind of rebuilding back was when [Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan] kind of was like, ‘You know what?’ Maybe there's something here, let's give it a shot.”

The decision meant Caglianone spent his freshman season as a designated hitter, and he did not disappoint. The lefty slugger posted a .288/.339/.548 slash line with seven homers in 28 games, proving his value went well beyond his electric arm.

And then he led the nation in big flies in 2023, swatting 33 jacks to go along with a 1.122 OPS.

On the bump, Caglianone has continuously shown why he was originally recruited as a hurler. Upon returning from surgery his sophomore season, he fanned 87 batters and posted a 4.34 ERA. Once looked upon as more of a hitter by Major League scouts, his success on the mound has given many pause. And he didn't have to look too far to get inspiration as a two-way player.

“Shohei’s definitely the guy that I've looked to ever since he's busted on the scene, just kind of his work ethic and how he goes about things, it's been really helpful for me navigating through the college season," Caglianone said.

“I'd love to [be a two-way player] at the professional level. But if a team ... is very adamant about me just doing one or the other, then I gotta make it work somehow.”

Of course, such comparisons are inherently unfair. Although he is dominating the college game as a two-way star, he’s still a 21-year-old being compared to one of the brightest stars MLB has seen in years. Such dialogue comes with expectations, but Caglianone doesn’t let that affect him.

“It's really cool to be I guess the college version of that,” he said. “It's something that I take a lot of pride in, and hopefully, I can influence the younger generation of players that it's not impossible.”

The numbers bear that out. Over a 15-game stretch, Caglianone has slugged 12 homers, including two two-homer nights. Simultaneously on the bump, he had a 2.18 ERA through six starts before a sub-par outing against Mizzou on April 7 raised his ERA.

The 6-foot-5, 245-pounder is seemingly still improving on both sides of the ball. He has cut his strikeout rate from 20.57 percent in 2023 to 10.94 percent in 2024 while holding opposing hitters to a .183 average this season. The job comes with double the work and preparation, and Caglianone credits the Florida coaching staff for making it possible.

“[We] really focused on kind of sticking with one certain part of the zone,” he said. “If a pitcher is not in that window, you're not going to swing at it. ... And that's kind of eliminated the bottom half and all those kinds of sweepers that I've chased the past year.”

Although it won't be clear for some time whether Caglianone will be drafted as a hitter, a pitcher or both, one thing is clear, the potential is there.