For this week’s ‘What to Watch For’, we have three match-ups that features six of the nation’s top seven teams going against one another. I will be highlighting each of these team’s top prospects for this year’s 2016 MLB Draft. As you will notice, this week’s edition will have a more expanded version of the amount of prospects I would like to talk about.
Matchup: #1 Texas A&M vs #2 Florida
How can you write a ‘What to Watch For’ and not cover the #1 vs #2 teams in the country? The weekend series between Texas A&M and Florida will surely have the scouting world buzzing, as many will likely flock to Gainesville to check this one out.
We start with Texas A&M and their outfielder, Nick Banks, who is off to a slow start this spring by his standards. Not drafted coming out of high school in 2013, Banks is hitting .292/.363/.514, with two home runs and 15 RBI. Coming into this season as a top 15 college prospect, Banks may not be elevating his draft stock, but he does have one of the better hit tools amongst college hitters in this year’s draft. He still likely remains in the first round, but, as I mentioned, it’s a slightly down year for his standards. A good showing this weekend, against the elite pitching staff of Florida, could go a long way for him.
On the Florida side of things, as we mentioned a couple times this spring, the Florida Gators likely showcase the best 1-2 punch on the mound in all of college baseball. Possible top-three pick A.J Puk has been doing his thing this spring, but hasn’t got the results he’s been looking for as much as I’m sure he would like. The good thing for Puk is that his stuff is still top shelf and, ultimately, that’s what the scouts look at. In six starts, he has a 1-2 record and a 3.49 ERA, with 34 K’s to only 12 walks in 28.1 innings pitched.
The other Florida counterpart is right hander, Logan Shore. Shore, who by many accounts is having a better season than his left-handed teammate, is also having one of the best springs in all of college baseball. In six starts (one of which was a complete game shutout), Shore has a 5-0 record with a 2.89 ERA and 44 strikeouts to only 5 walks. Shore has really stood out to scouts this year and has driven his draft stock into the top half of the first round. This should be a good test for the two aces as they go up against a talented A&M squad.
Matchup: #5 South Carolina vs #3 Vanderbilt
The weekend matchup between South Carolina and Vandy will most likely be decided on the mound, with both of these ball clubs having stellar pitching staffs.
For South Carolina, I’m going to be focusing in on the 6’3’’, 230 pound right-handed pitcher, Wil Crowe. Crowe, who was a 2013 draft pick in the 31st round by the Cleveland Indians, has had a bit of an up and down season thus far. The quality of stuff isn't the problem for Crowe. It’s that he loses control of that stuff more often than he should. In nine starts this spring, Crowe has a 3-4 record and a 4.91 ERA, with 59 strikeouts to 29 walks in 51 innings pitched. The 29 walks is a bit of a concern, but, as evidenced by the 59 punch-outs, he has above-average stuff. He needs to reign that stuff in a bit.
On Vanderbilt, the top hitting prospect is switch-hitting outfielder, Bryan Reynolds. Reynolds, who came into the 2016 spring as already one of the top college bats in the nation, has had a very good year thus far. He’s hitting .330/.461/.637, with six home runs and 27 RBI. His plate discipline has been very good as well (21 walks to only 28 strikeouts). Reynolds draft status should hold up and he will likely be a top-15 pick.
As usual with Vanderbilt, their program is built on their pitching. Right-hander Jordan Sheffield and left-hander Ben Bowden lead the Vandy pitching prospects in the class of 2016. Sheffield, as I have mentioned on a couple different occasions so far, is one of my favorite players in this draft. In six starts, Sheffield has 3-1 record and a 2.21 ERA, with 51 strikeouts to 17 walks in only 36.2 innings pitched. The stat that jumps off the page to me is the 12.52 strikeouts per nine innings. Obviously, the Vandy coaching staff is going out of their way to limit Sheffield’s innings a bit. However, that hasn’t stopped him from showing scouts what he is capable of doing. A first-round selection is a lock for him.
The other half of the Vandy pitching tandem is the 6’4’’, 220 pound Bowden. Bowden is having a decent year so far, but needs to rebound some to continue his rise in the scout’s eyes. With a 2-0 record and a 4.33 ERA with 34 K’s to only eight walks in 27 innings pitched, Bowden is having a decent year, but needs to do a little more to make a jump in this year’s draft. He should be drafted anywhere from round 3-5.
Matchup: #7 North Carolina vs #4 Miami
This matchup is all about three guys who, I feel, have improved their stock immensely and should be recognized for it.
With North Carolina, we start with 6’0’’, 170 pound right-handed strikeout machine, Zac Gallen. Gallen is having one of the best seasons on the mound of anyone in college baseball. This draft is loaded with pitching talent, but it’s possible no one has done more for his draft stock (in a positive way) than what Gallen has done this season. In six starts, Gallen has a 3-1 record and a 1.49 ERA, with 49 strikeouts to only seven walks in 42.1 innings. Always touted as having good control, Gallen has taken that to the next level this spring. This year, he is striking out seven hitters per walk given up. That number is astounding. He has pushed his draft stock from anywhere from rounds 3-5 to first-round pick status.
Collins, who might be the hottest hitter in college baseball this season, continues to mash at the plate. He’s hitting .400/.576/.692, with six home runs and 25 RBI in 65 official at-bats. The crazy part to Collins is that he not only demolished pitching, but also has one of the better batter’s eyes in the nation. With 29 walks to only 13 strikeouts, Collins is drawing, on average, more than one walk per game that he plays. That is astounding. I think Collins could be the steal of the draft at this point. His overall body of work at the plate is the most impressive in the entire nation.
The other guy for “The U” who has a penchant for dramatics, as well as an 80 grade bat flip (see his walk off home run last weekend), is outfielder Abreu. Abreu is hitting .263/.344/.513 this spring, with five home runs and 19 RBI. Abreu is an interesting prospect; he likely won’t go very high, but has been impressing scouts lately with his raw power. I look for Abreu to go anywhere in the top 5 or 6 rounds.
You can follow me at @JoeBecerrra on Twitter.