In this week’s edition of ‘What to Watch For’, we will be focusing on a matchup of two of the draft’s top catchers, the best pitching versus position player matchup, and my most intriguing matchup of the weekend.
Matchup: #12 Clemson vs #7 Miami
We start with a matchup featuring two of the best catching prospects in this year’s draft and two teams who have really been on a roll lately.
We’ll start with Clemson and their key backstop, Chris Okey. Okey came into this season as one of the top-three catchers in this year’s draft. He has done nothing to hurt his draft stock as the season rolls along. The 5’11’’ catcher is hitting .304/.460/.540, with three home runs and 21 RBI in the early goings of this season. Drafted in the 31st round by the San Diego Padres in 2013, Okey is considered to be a very good defensive catcher with an evolving hitting skill-set. Okey has improved his draft stock enough since 2013 that he should go in the first three rounds.
Earlier in the year, I had mentioned Miami slugger Zack Collins as being the top catching prospect in this year’s draft. Now I am beginning to wonder if maybe he is one of the top hitters in this draft altogether. Collins, who had a very strong 2015 campaign, has been as hot as a blowtorch this season. He is hitting .421/.583/.754, with six home runs and 22 RBI, along with 24 walks to 12 strikeouts. Collins is not only making a case to be college baseball’s National Player of the Year, but he has also managed to raise his draft stock, and could go in the top half of the first round. Some compare him to Buster Posey.
Matchup: #16 Virginia vs #9 Louisville
Jones, who has been the Virginia ace for a couple years now, will get a good test this weekend with a very talented and speedy Louisville squad. Jones is having a fantastic year himself. In 34.2 innings pitched, he has a 4-0 record, with 33 strikeouts to only eight walks. One of the things that Jones has worked on during his stay at Virginia is his command. Having walked four batters per nine innings a season ago, Jones has managed to cut that number in half this year. Jones was already projected to go in the first round and has done nothing to shy scouts away. If anything, his stock should be improved.
On the Louisville side of things, Ray remains one of the most prolific prospects in this year’s draft. When I wrote about him earlier in the year, I proclaimed Ray as my favorite player in this draft. I still feel that way today. The 5’11’’ Chicago native is hitting. 325/.392/.639, with six home runs, 20 RBI and 22 stolen bases. It is my estimation that Ray belongs in the top-5 of this draft and, with a good showing this weekend against Jones, he could go a long way towards solidifying that draft status.
Matchup: #3 Oregon State vs #17 California
In my most intriguing matchup of the weekend, we head all the way out to the upper northwest of the United States to check in on Oregon State’s standout catcher Logan Ice and California’s ace right-hander Daulton Jefferies.
Ice’s draft stock may be rising faster than anyone else in the country. Coming into this year as one of the top-150 college prospects eligible for this year’s draft, Ice has been shooting up draft boards with dramatic improvement to his hit tool. Just a season ago, Ice hit .236/.302/.306 with 0 homers and just 12 RBI. What a difference a year makes. I’ve seen Ice now as high as the third-best catching prospect in the latest rankings.
This year, Ice is hitting .442/.522/.904, with four home runs and 20 RBI in just 17 games. To not have hit a home run in either of his two previous seasons at Oregon State and, to have already hit four this season shows you how far Ice has come in just a short period of time. Already known as a good defensive catcher, Ice’s improved bat has scouts turning their heads and giving Ice much more deserved attention.
For Cal, I want to focus in on Jefferies, who came into this season already as a top-20 college prospect. Jefferies, who stands 6’0’’ tall and has a very short and compact delivery, can come at you with a fastball that sits in the low 90’s and can top out around 95 mph. Many scouts see several similarities between Jefferies and Oakland A’s starter Sonny Gray. This year, Jefferies is 5-0, with a 1.09 ERA and 43 strikeouts to only six walks in 33 innings pitched. Jefferies has always had good command and mixing in his 11.73 K/9 makes the Golden Bears ace one of the top pitching prospects in the country. On talent alone, I can see him going in the first round easily, possibly as high as somewhere in the top 15.