Inbox: Top unranked college Draft prospects

January 27th, 2022

We hit the mailbag hard in this week’s Pipeline Podcast, an episode in which we looked back at David Ortiz as a prospect and young player (and had a great conversation with Dave Jauss, who helped bring Big Papi to Boston), then looked ahead at the Draft class of 2023 and prospects in the Minors we’ll be buzzing about in 2024. The first two questions below we answered on the podcast, with both asking about guys not currently in a Top 100 who might climb up the rankings.

Which college baseball players ranked outside the Top 100 Draft prospects have a chance to finish in the top 30 with a strong year? A la Trevor Larnach or Jonathan India 2018. I’m rooting for Colby Halter and Trey Faltine. -- @Chrchpewpewpew

It should be noted that in 2018, we only had a Draft Top 50 at this point of the year and both Larnach and India would have most likely been in the 51-100 range. But your point is well made, as both went from that range to first-round picks that June and now in the big leagues (with India winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2021).

Jim Callis and I split up the country in terms of Draft coverage, so we each picked a player in our areas who could fit this description. And while I think your choice of Colby Halter is a good one, I’m actually going to pick a Florida Gators teammate of his: Josh Rivera. Rivera has been a starter at Florida since he arrived from IMG Academy -- the Padres took him out of high school in Round 22 of the 2019 Draft -- and he hasn’t hit a ton yet, but he’s gotten in very good shape for this season, which gives him a better chance to stick at shortstop (Halter’s more of a super-utility or second base-type). There’s some pop from the right side and if he hits more consistently, he could be at least a second-round pick. Some scouts see him as a future offensive-minded shortstop, or maybe one who has enough thump to profile at third, and he gets high marks for his smarts and makeup.

Jim went with TJ McCants from Ole Miss, whose brother Jordan was a third-round pick of the Marlins out of high school last year. McCants is a Draft-eligible sophomore who hit .300/.370/.433 as a freshman a year ago and has some serious speed to bring to the pro game. Scouts who like him love the athleticism, think he can stick in center field and there’s some power for him to grow into. There were some concerns about his bat-to-ball skills, but if he comes out and continues to develop, taking a step forward from his outstanding freshman year, he’ll make a jump onto the rankings for sure.

Which prospect(s) outside the Top 100 do you see moving up the list the most throughout the season and going into next year? -- @Brecek24

Jim and I split this up, with him taking a pitcher while I took a hitter. Jim’s pick was Marlins big right-hander Eury Perez, who Marlins fans tell us all the time should be on the Top 100 now (don’t worry, he will be eventually). He’s gotten a lot bigger and better since he signed. He’s now 6-foot-8 with plenty of room to keep adding strength. He’s already seen his fastball go from the mid 80s when the Marlins first saw him to 93-96 mph, and touching 98 mph, now. With the shape and life of his fastball, it might be an 80-grade pitch at the end of the day. His changeup could be plus, his curve is solid and he can throw it for strikes. It wouldn’t surprise any of us if he ended up as the best pitching prospect in baseball at one point.

I went with the Reds' Elly De La Cruz, who kind of came out of nowhere last year. He signed for just $65,000 back in July 2018, had an OK, but not notable, debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2019, then went off during his United States debut in 2021. He quickly showed he was too good for the Arizona Complex League and he got bumped up to Low-A. He's a switch-hitter with bat speed who has added strength so he can impact the ball more. De La Cruz can run and has every chance to play shortstop full time.

I'm sure you've addressed it plenty, but I'm curious the last time that the catching position was this loaded. Overall, about 4 in the top 20 and 8 in the top 50. Seems unprecedented. -- @pmh324

Are you reading our Slack channel conversations? This has come up many times as we work on our rankings, and it is pretty unprecedented for us.

We’ve never had that many in the Top 20 here, and the closest would be when we had six in what was then a Top 50 overall list in 2011. That half-dozen was Jesus Montero, Wil Myers, Gary Sánchez, Wilin Rosario, Devin Mesoraco and J.P. Arencibia, for whatever that’s worth. In 2010, we did have three catchers in our Top 20, with Buster Posey, Carlos Santana and Montero, and five in the Top 50.

Catchers have been trending up on our Top 100 of late. We had 11 in our Top 100 in 2019, 10 in 2020 and there were nine on our 2021 preseason list. But it’s true that our rankings have never been this top-heavy with backstops and a little sneak peek into our 2022 list: That’s going to continue. We might even set a record for catchers in the Top 100 … but you’ll have to wait to find out for sure.