This past weekend, I made a trip down to Ohio State to watch them take on Iowa. I struggled to decide when I would make a trip down to Columbus this year. Most of the Big Ten programs with bigger-name, draft-eligible players would not be taking the trip to Columbus this year (Illinois, Michigan, Indiana), or would be coming when I was unable to make it. When I looked over the schedule, there was one opponent who stood out in terms of interesting scouting opportunities, and that was Iowa.
The first player who caught my eye was C.J. Eldred, and for those wondering, yes, he is the son of Cal. He is not as big as his father, but has the same build. On top of the bloodlines, Eldred had an interesting journey to get him to where he was at the Friday night starter for Iowa.
C.J. started out at Indiana and redshirted his freshman year. After his freshman year, he decided to transfer to his father’s alma mater, Iowa. This meant he had to sit out a year. Fast-forward and it is 2016 and Eldred, a player who hasn’t had much of a chance to play since high school, is quickly becoming the top starter on the Iowa staff as a draft-eligible sophomore.
This year, his numbers have declined as the year as gone on, which could be due to natural fatigue after pitching regularly against top-level competition for the first time in three years. He is still pitching well, but not as well as he was at the start of the year. His strikeout rate has gone down and is below the range I typically look for in a right-hander. His walk rate has gone up, but is still in an acceptable range.
On Friday, Eldred had one of his worst nights of the year. He struggled all night with his command. He was missing spots high, low, inside, out. He went just four innings, giving up five runs on nine hits, three walks, and two hit batters. He struck out just one batter on the day. When batters made contact, it was often hard and loud. It was not the game I was hoping to see when I planned the trip a month ago, after I first saw the early numbers Eldred has put up.
It is going to be a hard road for Eldred, who will be viewed as undersized and doesn’t have scintillating stuff or numbers to get teams to look beyond his height (6’1”). He has two more years of eligibility. That, coupled with the fact that his father was a pro, means he doesn’t necessarily need to sign. The declining numbers and remaining eligibility could hurt his draft stock. Unless the money and situation are a positive, I expect to see Eldred back at Iowa for his junior year, where he has a chance to elevate his value, though his size and age will limit his value, even a year later with better performance.
The other player I wanted to check out for Iowa was outfielder Joel Booker. He hit third on the night for Iowa and is in the midst of a breakout second season at Iowa. Since he spent two years at a JUCO, Booker is a senior to watch this year, thanks to his speed and power.
Booker is a very toolsy outfielder. He can run and has shown some power in his thin frame. I think once he adds more muscle mass, he should have at least average power. The question is whether growth will affect his speed, which is clearly his best tool right now. He has plus speed, is a fluid athlete, and has an arm to handle right field. His tools alone should see him as one of the top 20 or so seniors in the country. The problem is the tools, while obvious, also come with some big minuses, as well.
On Friday, he showed off his number one issue. Booker will, and did, swing at anything near the strike-zone. He is a very aggressive hitter, to the point where it is a net negative. He has a three-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio on the year, and this issue is such a serious and obvious flaw that it really limits his upside to no more than fourth outfielder going forward. Yet, his tools will still likely see him drafted.
For Ohio State, I was there to see the four bats I had seen before, along with Friday night starter Tanner Tully.
Now, before I dive into these players, I wanted to write a few sentences on Ohio State’s junior catcher, Jalen Washington. He had a great Friday night, hitting the ball hard in every at-bat. Washington is a good athlete behind the plate, who leads the Big Ten in runners thrown out. His bat has been below-average in college, but he would work in the minors as a defense-first catcher. So don’t sleep on Washington due to his arm and athletic ability.
Ronnie Dawson has been a player I have written about all year. I have heard he is on some top-100 lists, which is funny to me, after there was zero talk earlier in the year, when I started writing on Dawson and calling him a likely second rounder.
He hit a homerun on Friday night to right center, in spite of strong wind. Dawson is a future right fielder with a strong arm, which is a plus tool. He does a bit of everything and, across the board, has shown improvement in every statistical area. I expect to see Dawson go no later than the third round on draft day. There’s not a lot more for me to say on Dawson, other than he could be Ohio State’s highest pick since right-handed pitcher, Alex Wimmers, who went in the first round back in 2010.
Troy Montgomery is the other Ohio State player who should be a relatively high pick. He has the ability to play all three outfield spots, with above-average to plus defense. He was rated the top outfield defender in the Big Ten by Baseball America. Montgomery has plus speed, as well, which is part of what makes him a great defender in center. He has always walked more than he has struck out, but this year has hit eight home runs, which was two more than he hit the previous two years combined.
When I was at a previous game, I saw the stop watches out for Montgomery, so look past his small size (5’9”) and lower batting average (.259). I can say one scout I was chatting with was there solely for Montgomery and left before Dawson, who batted next. Here is a player who is going in the top ten rounds in June.
Jacob Bosiokovic is another player I have talked about at length. For a guy who is 6’6”, he runs deceptively well, and showed this on Friday, legging out a triple and bunting for a hit. You might remember all the homeruns early in the year; well, his rate has slowed since then. As a matter of fact, I am pretty sure he has been at 10 homeruns for over a month now.
The other problem is position. He started at third last year and then moved to outfield at the start of the year. On Friday he played first base. I have numbers, which are never great for defensive play, and two experiences seeing him in person. So, I have to rely on the eye test. Yet, it really seems like his best position is designated hitter. As well as he runs, there is an awkwardness to him in the infield, along with a high error count. His problem as a hitter is that his K: BB ratio is over 4.
Nick Sergakis doesn’t have the size or loud tools of Bosiokovic, but all he does is perform. An above-average defender at third, with experience all over the infield, the senior has seen a power explosion this year. He has more home runs than his last three years combined and, up until a month ago, was also hitting .400. His average is down to .357, so it’s not like he has fallen apart.
On top of the power explosion, his K:BB ratio went from 2.44 to .62, so, basically, he completely flipped his numbers while his power has gone up. I have heard little to no talk around Sergakis but, with the performance this year, I think he should be a preferred senior target. His bat has shown major growth in all areas, which goes with his already solid infield defense.
Tully was the Friday night starter for Ohio State all year, and he has a lot of traits that would appeal to a teams on draft day. The first, and most obvious, being that he is left-handed, and teams can never have enough left-handed pitching. Next, he has shown above-average command and control all year. His walk rate and home run rates are both low. When players do make contact, the ball is not going far.
There are some negatives as well, of course. Tully is all of six feet tall and his strikeout rate is low. He is not going to overpower anyone, yet there is a chance for a lefty reliever and maybe a little more. I would not be surprised to see Tully’s name get called in the top-10 rounds this year, thanks to his performance and which arm he throws with. He might be your stereotypical command/control lefty, but that stereotype has existed for so long because of how effective that type of pitcher can be.null