Which NCAA baseball team produced the most pro talent?

June 10th, 2024

As we get deeper into the spring, two key baseball events are approaching, with the NCAA Tournament underway and the MLB Draft coming up in July. As such, another generation of ballplayers will be matriculating to the professional level, headlined by an absolutely stacked class of college hitters. This provides us a natural opportunity to ask: what’s the most stacked roster the sport has seen at the college level?

To clarify, this isn’t a discussion about which college team had the best season. That’s been done many times by various news outlets, with 1983 Texas and 1995 Cal State Fullerton being among the popular choices. After all, talent doesn't guarantee a deep tournament run -- see this year's Wake Forest team, which accounts for five of MLB’s top 107 Draft prospects as of June 5, including two of the top five (No. 4 Nick Kurtz and No. 5 Chase Burns), but went 0-2 at NCAA Regionals.

Consequently, we are choosing to break down which college team had the most talented roster. Admittedly, there’s no one scientific way to do this. How much credit does a player receive who reached MLB but didn’t have a particularly notable pro career? Do we penalize a player who had a strong MLB career but received very little playing time on the college team in question? How much weight do we give to being drafted highly, regardless of a player’s pro career outcome?

All of these are among the questions that make it impossible to claim that any individual team is objectively the most talented in NCAA baseball history. So, instead, here are 10 teams with a reasonable claim to that status, listed in reverse chronological order.

2023 LSU Tigers
Season record: 54-17 (19-10 in SEC)
Season result: Men's College World Series champions
Future MLB players: Paul Skenes

On one hand, how can a team possibly make this list when only one player has appeared in an MLB game so far? But on the other hand, how could you exclude the first team ever to produce the first two picks in a single Draft (Skenes and Dylan Crews)? Of course, it remains to be seen what this group will accomplish at the pro level, but for the way it made Draft history (along with Skenes’ extremely strong rookie season thus far), the Tigers earned a spot. Beyond Skenes and Crews, this roster also produced a supplemental first-rounder (Ty Floyd) and a second-rounder (Grant Taylor) among 13 total draftees in 2023. And, of course, that doesn’t account for possible other future high picks who weren’t eligible yet, like sluggers Tommy "Tanks" White and Jared Jones (not to be confused with Skenes' current Pirates rotation mate of the same name).

2015 Vanderbilt Commodores
Season record: 51-21 (20-10 in SEC)
Season result: Lost to Virginia in Men's CWS final
Future MLB players: Dansby Swanson, Walker Buehler, Carson Fulmer, Jordan Sheffield, Bryan Reynolds, Ben Bowden, Jason Delay, Collin Snider, Kyle Wright, Penn Murfee, Tyler Ferguson

Though the 2014 team brought home the first national championship in school history, the 2015 team had the most pro talent. Though they weren't all part of the same Draft, the 2015 Commodores included a No. 1 overall pick (Swanson, who was also the Most Outstanding Player at the 2014 Men's College World Series), three other first-rounders (Fulmer, Wright, Buehler), a supplemental first-rounder (Sheffield) and two second-rounders (Bowden, Reynolds), all of whom have reached the Majors. Swanson, Fulmer and Buehler were all 2015 first-round picks, tying the record for most first-round picks to come from one school in one Draft. And for good measure, Buehler, Swanson and Reynolds have all been MLB All-Stars, while Wright was a 21-game winner who finished 10th in Cy Young voting with the Braves in 2022.

2011 UCLA Bruins
Season record: 35-24 (18-9 in Pac-12)
Season result: Lost in NCAA Regionals
Future MLB players: Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer, Adam Plutko, Pat Valaika, Zack Weiss, Tyler Heineman, Trevor Brown

The 2013 UCLA team took home the first and only Men's College World Series title in school history, but the 2011 team took the cake in terms of future MLB talent. At that time, Cole (No. 1) and Bauer (No. 3) became the second pair of college teammates to be picked in the top three of the same MLB Draft, joining Arizona State’s Bob Horner and Hubie Brooks in 1978, though the 2023 LSU squad has since joined them. Both Cole and Bauer have lived up to their Draft status, each having won a Cy Young Award. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is one of only two times that a school produced multiple players to win an MVP or Cy Young in the same Draft. Kent State produced MVP Thurman Munson and Cy Young winner Steve Stone in the 1968 Draft (though Stone didn’t sign a pro contract that year).

2005 Long Beach State Dirtbags
Season record: 37-22 (14-7 in Big West)
Season result: Lost in NCAA Regionals
Future MLB players: Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria, Jared Hughes, Marco Estrada, Cesár Ramos

Though this team didn’t make the Men's College World Series, it still had plenty of pro talent. Tulowitzki and Longoria were two of MLB’s elite infielders during the 2010s, as both of them racked up at least three All-Star appearances and at least one Silver Slugger Award. Estrada, a starting pitcher, provided a third future MLB All-Star for this team, earning a selection in 2016 with the Blue Jays. Between Longoria (third overall in 2006), Tulowitzki (seventh overall in 2005) and Jered Weaver (12th in 2004), this mid-major school ended up having a top-12 overall pick in three consecutive MLB Drafts (though the three were never simultaneously teammates, as Longoria was at Rio Hondo Community College in 2004).

1994 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Season record: 50-17 (16-8 in ACC)
Season result: Lost to Oklahoma in Men's CWS final
Future MLB players: Jason Varitek, Nomar Garciaparra, Jay Payton, Brad Rigby

This will inevitably be any Red Sox fan’s favorite team on the list, with Varitek and Garciaparra both becoming franchise cornerstones. Both players won a Silver Slugger Award and made at least three All-Star teams during their time with Boston, with Varitek being a core player for both the 2004 and 2007 World Series titles (and he still serves on Boston's coaching staff). Thanks to Varitek and Garciaparra, this is one of four teams to produce two first-round picks in that year’s Draft who went on to be multi-time MLB All-Stars, according to the Elias Sports Bureau (also 1985 Mississippi State, 2014 North Carolina State, 2015 Vanderbilt).

1987 Stanford Cardinal
Season record: 53-17 (21-9 in Pac-10)
Season result: Men's College World Series champions
Future MLB players: Jack McDowell, Ed Sprague, Ruben Amaro, Paul Carey, Ron Witmeyer, Brian Johnson, Al Osuna, Steve Chitren, Brian Keyser

The first of Stanford’s back-to-back Men's College World Series champion teams in the late 1980s, this group was led by McDowell, who ended up a three-time MLB All-Star and 1993 AL Cy Young winner with the White Sox. Sprague was the other future MLB All-Star to come from this roster, though Amaro was able to get a World Series ring in a different capacity in 2008 in the Phillies’ front office. On that theme, this Stanford roster was very interesting for its overall contributions to the sports world. Beyond the aforementioned nine MLB players, this team also produced NFL defensive back Toi Cook and two current NCAA Division I baseball head coaches (Stanford’s David Esquer, Gonzaga’s Mark Machtolf).

1985 Mississippi State Bulldogs
Season record: 50-15 (16-8 in SEC)
Season result: Third place in Men's College World Series
Future MLB players: Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro, Bobby Thigpen, Jeff Brantley

As it pertains to sheer depth, Mississippi State clearly doesn’t hold a candle to the schools listed above. But it’s quality over quantity that puts the Bulldogs on this list. The biggest names were Clark and Palmeiro, known as “Thunder and Lightning,” who each made at least four All-Star teams and won multiple Silver Slugger Awards. Palmeiro’s 569 home runs rank 13th in MLB history. But remarkably, all four MLB players to come from this team were All-Stars at least once, with Thigpen and Brantley doing so as relief pitchers. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the only instance of one school having four future MLB All-Stars picked in a single year’s Draft.

1983 Texas Longhorns
Season record: 66-14 (18-3 in Southwest Conference)
Season result: Men's College World Series champions
Future MLB players: Roger Clemens, Billy Bates, Mike Brumley, Jeff Hearron, Kirk Killingsworth, Calvin Schiraldi, Jose Tolentino, Mike Capel, Bruce Ruffin

While this team is certainly in the very short conversation for the best college season of all time, it also holds its own regarding future pro talent. Clemens is by far the biggest name, as his 4,672 strikeouts rank third in MLB history behind Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson, to go along with his all-time-record seven Cy Young Awards. Clemens was the only future MLB All-Star on the team, but the Longhorns impressively featured four future MLB pitchers, including Schiraldi, who pitched for eight seasons and was a key teammate of Clemens on the 1986 Red Sox team that won the AL pennant (4-2 W-L, 1.41 ERA, nine saves in 1986).

1976 Arizona State Sun Devils
Season record: 65-10 (17-1 in WAC)
Season result: Third place in Men's College World Series
Future MLB players: Floyd Bannister, Bob Horner, Ken Landreaux, Mike Colbern, Chris Bando, Ken Phelps, Ricky Peters, Darrell Jackson, Gary Allenson, Dave Hudgens, Chris Nyman, Bob Pate, Gary Rajsich

Cruelly, this team was eliminated by in-state rival Arizona, the team that went on to win the 1976 College World Series. And Sun Devils did end up bringing home the national championship a year later. But while the 1977 group secured a ring, the 1976 team was the deepest in terms of future pro talent. Thirteen players went on to appear in an MLB game, and according to MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis, 26 of the roster’s 27 players were drafted at some point. They were also the only team to produce two No. 1 overall picks (Bannister in 1976, Horner in 1978), the latter of whom made headlines for going straight from the Draft to MLB without any Minor League appearances. Bannister, Horner and Landreaux made one MLB All-Star appearance apiece.

1973 USC Trojans
Season record: 51-11 (14-4 in Pac-8)
Season result: Men's College World Series champions
Future MLB players: Fred Lynn, Roy Smalley, Steve Kemp, Rich Dauer, Ed Putman, Dennis Littlejohn, Randy Scarbery, Pete Redfern

The 1973 season came in the midst of a ridiculous run for USC baseball, which won six national titles in the seven-season span from 1968-74 under legendary coach Rod Dedeaux. It's tough to say which of those championship teams was the best at the college level, though the 1973 team certainly had the most iconic individual game. As for which produced the most pro talent, it’s hard to argue against the 1973 squad, which featured three future MLB All-Stars in Lynn, Smalley and Kemp. Lynn was the biggest name -- he ended up a nine-time All-Star while also standing as one of two MLB players to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season (along with Ichiro Suzuki in 2001).

Honorable mentions: 1975 Texas, 1977 Arizona State, 1978 USC, 1999 USC, 2014 NC State, 2017 Oregon State, 2019 Vanderbilt, 2021 Vanderbilt, 2022 Tennessee, 2023 Wake Forest