Inbox: Ranking top 5 college bats over past 3 years

June 14th, 2024

The College World Series, my favorite event, starts today. Quick predictions: Tennessee over North Carolina in the first bracket, Texas A&M over Florida in the second, Volunteers over the Aggies for the national title.

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Now let's answer some Draft questions ...

College bats are the clear strength of this Draft. They occupy the top four spots on our Draft Top 200 and as many as 20 could go in the first round.

I love this type of question, comparing players in recent Drafts to one another to put the current crop in perspective. I usually adhere to our rankings when I answer these, but I'm going to diverge in three instances, and let me explain why.

One, I believe Charlie Condon is the best prospect in the 2024 class, slightly ahead of Travis Bazzana, though we have them in reverse order as we try to reflect what we believe to be the industry consensus. Two, we ranked Dylan Crews ahead of Wyatt Langford in what was essentially a coin flip last year, but by the end of the summer, more teams preferred Langford. Three, I'm applying similar logic to flipping Matt Shaw over Brayden Taylor for the fifth spot among college position players a year ago.

With all that said, here are my rankings:

  1. Wyatt Langford, OF, Florida (2023, Rangers, No. 5 overall pick)
  2. Charlie Condon, OF/3B, Georgia (2024)
  3. Dylan Crews, OF, Louisiana State (2023, Nationals, No. 2)
  4. Travis Bazzana, 2B, Oregon State (2024)
  5. Jac Caglianone, 1B/LHP, Florida (2024)
  6. Nick Kurtz, 1B, Wake Forest (2024)
  7. J.J. Wetherholt, SS/2B, West Virginia (2024)
  8. Brooks Lee, SS, Cal Poly (2022, Twins, No. 8)
  9. Kyle Teel, C, Virginia (2023, Red Sox, No. 14)
  10. Kevin Parada, C, Georgia Tech (2022, Mets, No. 11)
  11. Jacob Berry, 3B/1B, Louisiana State (2022, Marlins, No. 6)
  12. Jacob Wilson, SS, Grand Canyon (2023, Athletics, No. 6)
  13. Jace Jung, 2B, Texas Tech (2022, Tigers, No. 12)
  14. Matt Shaw, SS, Maryland (2023, Cubs, No. 13)
  15. Gavin Cross, OF, Virginia Tech (2022, Royals, No. 9)

Five of the seven best college bats from the last three Drafts come from the 2024 crop. And not that @lot_49 asked, but I'd still take Paul Skenes over all of them.

It sounds like the best-case scenario for Texas A&M outfielder Braden Montgomery, regarding his ankle and recovery, but in the short term does the injury present any potential slide for him in the Draft? And is there any buzz on any upward movement for North Carolina outfielder Vance Honeycutt following his performance in the regionals and super regionals? Could a big Omaha push him into top-10 consideration? -- Joe L., Easton Md.

Montgomery broke his right ankle on an awkward slide in a super-regional game on Saturday, ending his season prematurely and resulting in surgery. He won't be able to help Texas A&M at the College World Series, but it shouldn't affect his Draft status unless teams believe the injury will affect him in the long term -- and there's no expectation that it will.

Jonathan Mayo had Montgomery going No. 4 overall to the Athletics in his new first-round projection, and I did the same in my mock draft from last week. Condon and Bazzana have separated themselves from the rest of the class, while Montgomery is part of a second tier that runs 6-8 players deep, depending on which club you ask. It's possible that he could come off the board as late as No. 9 to the Pirates, but that would just be because that's the way the Draft shook out than his injury.

Honeycutt is a polarizing player because he has the best all-around tools in the college crop but also comes with huge swing-and-miss concerns (28 percent strikeout rate and bottom-quartile rankings in every contact and discipline metric). He has four homers in six NCAA tournament games while going 7-for-26 (.269) with 10 strikeouts.

His performance at the College World Series probably won't change how teams perceive Honeycutt. Though it's possible that he could sneak into the top 10 picks, there are talented players with less risk. He'll probably land in the teens somewhere, though some clubs think he'll wind up more toward the end of the first round.

Shortstops Konnor Griffin and Bryce Rainer are the two best high school players available and will go in the top dozen selections. They've overshadowed a secondary group of prep shortstops who should fit in late first round or supplemental first round: Theo Gillen, Kellon Lindsey, Wyatt Sanford, Carter Johnson and Tyson Lewis.

In terms of likelihood that they'll remain at shortstop, I would line them up in this order: Sanford, Lindsey, Lewis, Johnson, Gillen. Gillen does have the highest offensive ceiling, but his below-average arm will push him off shortstop. Lindsey's near top-of-the-scale speed gives him the most upside of the remaining players.

On a tool-by-tool basis, these are the standouts among the second tier of high school shortstops:

Hit: Gillen
Power: Gillen
Speed: Lindsey
Arm: Sanford
Defense: Sanford

This question refers to our ranking of the top 10 college position players from earlier this week, which was based on the Draft Top 200. Benge would have been the next guy if we extended that list further.

Few college hitters can match Benge's combination of bat-to-ball skills and exit velocities. He's also an underrated athlete who might be able to play center field and definitely can push his fastball to 96 mph on the mound. He slashed .335/.444/.665 with 18 homers and 10 steals as a redshirt sophomore.

Benge is one of my favorite prospects outside of the top two tiers that I referenced earlier. He should get better once he focuses solely on hitting, and he should develop more once he learns to drive the ball in the air more regularly. If it were just my opinion, and not us trying to discern the industry consensus, I'd rank him seventh among college position players and right behind Montgomery.