Southeastern Conference teams have won the last three College World Series. Now they're poised to dominate the top of the Draft like no league ever has before.
The most players one conference has ever landed in the top five picks is three by the SEC in 2020 with Arkansas’ Heston Kjerstad, Texas A&M’s Asa Lacy and Austin Martin of Vanderbilt. Only twice has a league produced even back-to-back choices at the very top of the Draft: the Southwest Conference with Jeff King (Arkansas) and Greg Swindell (Texas) in 1986, and the SEC with Dansby Swanson (Vanderbilt) and Alex Bregman (LSU) in 2015.
MLB Pipeline's new 2023 Draft Top 100 starts with five SEC prospects, beginning with three consensus top-tier talents in Louisiana State outfielder Dylan Crews, Tennessee right-hander Chase Dollander and Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford. They're immediately followed by LSU righty Paul Skenes and Mississippi shortstop Jacob Gonzalez.
Here's the Top 10:
1. Dylan Crews, OF, LSU
2. Chase Dollander, RHP, Tennessee
3. Wyatt Langford, OF, Florida
4. Paul Skenes, RHP, LSU
5. Jacob Gonzalez, SS, Mississippi
6. Max Clark, OF, Franklin (Ind.) HS
7. Walker Jenkins, OF, South Brunswick (N.C.) HS
8. Enrique Bradfield, OF, Vanderbilt
9. Jacob Wilson, SS, Grand Canyon
10. Hurston Waldrep, RHP, Florida
Complete list »
Vanderbilt outfielder Enrique Bradfield and Florida right-hander Huston Waldrep also cracked the top 10, while South Carolina righty Will Sanders and Tennessee shortstop Maui Ahuna also project as first-round picks. Skenes (from Air Force), Waldrep (from Southern Mississippi) and Ahuna (from Kansas State) are part of a robust SEC transfer class.
"Not only does it just mean more in the SEC, this could be a historic crop for the conference, aided by several recent transfers and the advent of NIL [name, image, and likeness compensation]," said an American League scouting official, quipping about the league's slogan.
"Crews has a rare blend of talent, skills and track record and is probably the best college position player at this time in the Draft since [2019 No. 1 overall pick] Adley Rutschman. Dollander stacks up well with some of the top college right-handers in recent years. Langford could emerge in that discussion with continued performance and development of his defensive profile."
College position players could comprise half of the 28 first-round picks. Crews and Langford may hit the ball as hard and as consistently as anyone in the class and both have solid speed and a chance to play center field. Besides the four SEC stalwarts, contact-hitting Grand Canyon shortstop Jacob Wilson and steady Texas Christian third baseman Brayden Taylor are also possible top-10 selections.
Dollander's combination of four quality pitches (beginning with a 95-99 mph fastball), command, athleticism and performance may make him the best college pitching prospect since Stephen Strasburg (2009) or Gerrit Cole (2011). Skenes may rival him if he can carry the explosive stuff he showed during fall practice into the spring, and Waldrep also looked better than ever this fall. They aren't riddled by injuries like last year's group, but the 2023 crop of college arms isn't particularly deep in obvious first-rounders as of now.
As with their college counterparts, there's an outfield debate at the top of the high school hitters group. Max Clark (Franklin, Ind., HS) has perhaps the best all-around tools available, while Walker Jenkins (South Brunswick HS, Southport, N.C.) is a physical athlete with considerably more power. Third baseman Aidan Miller (Mitchell HS, Trinity, Fla.) and catcher Blake Mitchell (Sinton, Texas, H.S.) are two more prep bats who could factor into the upper half of the first round.
The crop of high school pitchers appears thinner than usual, with no obvious candidate to go in the top 10 picks. Right-handers Noble Meyer (Jesuit HS, Portland, Ore.) and Charlee Soto (Reborn Christian Academy, Kissimmee, Fla.) and left-hander Thomas White (Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass.) are potential first-rounders. So is righty Travis Sykora (Round Rock, Texas, HS), the hardest thrower in the class.
In an interesting twist, the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the 2020 Draft, but it also contributed to what's shaping up to be a better than average crop of talent for 2023.
While Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association scrambled to save the 2020 season, they also agreed to shorten the Draft from 40 rounds to five. That reduced the money available to teams in their bonus pools (which are based on selections in the top 10 rounds) as well as their flexibility to shift cash around within those pools. Players, especially on the high school side, also had less time to bolster their cases in game action.
As a result, several prepsters who might have signed in a normal Draft wound up attending college. Three years later, they're eligible again and part of a strong college class.
"The Covid pandemic forced a lot of teams away from second-tier high school prospects in 2020," a scouting director with a National League club said. "It's the strength of those players that may have created an extremely deep 2023 Draft. While teams were taking top-tier high school talent in 2020, the 2020 Draft simply didn't allow for deep spending pools and virtually eliminated any creativity that typically rewards second-tier players. Those players are now in college."
For example, Crews was one of the best position players in the 2020 prep class but pulled out of the Draft once he realized his bonus demands wouldn't be met. Dollander was starting to come into his own that spring, yet the abrupt end to high school baseball meant that he didn't have enough runway to take off. Bradfield was the top speedster available but the reduced bonus pools made it even more difficult to try to divert him from Vanderbilt.
"Based on everything we know today, this has a chance to be a really good Draft," the AL scouting official said. "The strength is the college crop, especially the college bats. If this group of college juniors didn’t have their high school seasons shut down by the pandemic and the five-round Draft, a lot would already be in pro ball."