By Jody Demling - Cardinal Authority

2017 MLB Draft: Full Count Trends 2-17

The College Baseball season has just begun. Jeff Ellis breaks down who is on the rise and who is falling in his latest Full Count Trends of the year.

Editor’s Note: Every week through the draft we will have a Full Count Trends piece running here on SCOUT. Every weekend I will look at three players who had a strong weekend and two who had a down week or had their draft stock impacted by something negative (health or otherwise). I am looking at a full count from the hitter's perceptive, so players on the rise will be in the three-balls category and those who have had negative performances or health news will be in the two-strikes category. Think of this feature as a running stock watch on draft prospects. A player in the two-strikes category may recover in plenty of time before the draft commences. You will also likely see names jump into the three-balls category that may not have a high profile yet but will be worth watching in the lead-up to the draft.

The college baseball season has begun and so it's time for a new edition of Full Count Trends. I am going to try and not let this article get away from me this year. I knew it would end up with 10 or more players brought up. So instead, at the end I will highlight a few players who did not make the cut this week.

3 Balls

Jake Burger 3B, Missouri State

Jake Burger is one of the top five college bats in this year's class. I have been a fan of his since last year. He combines average third base defense with power potential. I currently have him as the second best college bat for the 2017 draft.

This weekend Missouri State played against three teams--McNeese State, Rhode Island, and Stony Brook. Burger went 4 for 10 with a home run and three walks. It was like Burger was able to pick up where he left off last season. It was his power explosion, 21 home runs after four the year before, which caught my attention a year ago. 

In this class, there is very little confidence in any college bat after Jeren Kendall. There is not one college hitter I view as a likely top ten pick outside of Kendall, as of now. Burger, with another big year, has a chance to move into the top ten discussion. It will be hard for him to top what he did last year, but another year of top level performance will mean his name should be mentioned a lot more. 

Zach Willeman RHP, Kent State

Last year, I went to see a matchup between Keegan Akin and Eric Lauer. Sadly, I missed most of this matchup, because weather had moved up start times and my day job got in the way. It was during this game, though, that a solidly built reliever caught my attention. Willeman was sitting 94 that day, hitting 95, and had the look of a starter. His off speed stuff was 88 or 89 that day, giving him solid separation. I knew from that game on that Willeman was a name for me to follow for the 2017 draft.

Willeman is the Saturday starter for the Flashes this year. Not only was Saturday his first start this year, it was also his first start during his college career. Willeman and the Flashes faced off against Belmont to open the season. It was an excellent first start, as Willeman went five and a third innings and did not give up a run on three hits and two walks. He struck out 10 of the 21 batters he faced.

Willeman was a sleeper of mine until I saw him on the Baseball America top 100 college players list. The big bodied reliever turned starter comes from a small school, but one known as a pitching factory. There are few schools in the Northern part of the country who have been so consistently strong when it comes to producing pitchers. Willeman is a player to watch. He has a chance to move up boards if he continues to pitch well. I would not be surprised if he ends up a first rounder when it's all said and done.  

Brandon McKay LHP, Louisville 

McKay has been one of the best players in college since he first arrived at Louisville as a freshman. He has excelled as the Cardinals ace and also as a middle of the lineup hitter. When he is not pitching, McKay plays first base. 

On Friday, McKay started against Alabama State. He pitched six innings, and if it was later in the year, likely would have pitched more. He didn’t walk a hitter and allowed just four hits while striking out nine. He also went 2 for 3, with a home run and a hit by pitch. 

McKay has been such a consistently strong player that these types of performances are expected anymore. The only way McKay could shock at this point would be consistent struggles with performance. McKay is going to end up being a top ten pick. He stuff might not be as strong as other college pitchers in this class, but he is about as safe as they come. He is a likely mid rotation starter and should be one of the quickest starters to the majors.  

2 Strikes

Missouri Pitchers Bryce Montes De Oca RHP and Tanner Houck RHP

I know I am cheating here, but both pitchers have been on my radar for years and both had bad debuts against a weak team. Missouri was facing Eastern Michigan, a team which finished last in the MAC West a year ago. They did not have a single player drafted and looked like a relative pushover for Missouri. Missouri did win three out of four games, but their two most talked about arms struggled. 

Bryce Montes De Oca has been a player on my watch list since high school. I brought him up when Taylor and I were putting together a top 50 draft eligible players for the fall. Montes De Oca has struggled to stay healthy and, until this year, had pitched in just eight and a third total innings during his college career. On Saturday, he pitched one inning, facing eight batters. He actually pitched an entire inning pretty easily, recording one strikeout and a walk. When he was brought back out for a second inning, he gave up a wild pitch then three straight walks before being pulled. The final line was one inning, four walks, a wild pitch, two earned runs, and one strike out.

Bryce Montes De Oca is a 6’7” inch 265 pound right hander who has hit triple digits. These numbers will put him on any team's radar. The problems with command, control, and health have made it so he is one of the great wildcards in this draft. The one inning he pitched on Saturday now represents 11% of his total college innings. He is another player to watch who has a lot to prove this year. 

Tanner Houck is a potential top ten pick, who picked up the one loss that Missouri had against Eastern Michigan. He went five and two thirds innings, giving up four earned runs on eight hits and two walks. He did manage to strike out nine of the 26 batters he faced.

The University of Missouri has produced just three first round picks. The highest was Aaron Crowe, who went ninth in 2008. Tanner Houck has a chance to go even higher. There are some concerns that he might end up a reliever because of his delivery. The more I watch him, the more I put him in the second tier of college arms after Faedo, Wright, McKay, Beck, and Bukauskas. 

Corbin Martin RHP, Texas A&M

Martin has been talked about as a potential first rounder in this class from pretty much his first year at Texas A&M. He has also been talked about as a potential starter, but his control has been a massive issue. Martin has pitched better in summer leagues, which has led to a pattern. Martin excites scouts in the summer and gets talked up. Martin pitches for A&M in the spring and disappoints.

This weekend, Martin and Texas A&M faced off against Bowling Green. Bowling Green had the worst record in the MAC East last year. So we get both bottom dwellers from the MAC appearing in this section. 

Martin pitched two innings, giving up two earned runs on two hits and two walks. He struck out four of the 10 batters he faced. 

The issue for Martin is that his value is going to be hurt by the fact he is not starting. I have seen some places where Martin was considered one of the top 20 players in this class. As long as Martin is a reliever who is still walking more than a batter an inning, he looks more like Zach Jackson, another SEC reliever who had the stuff to start, but lacked the control to do it. 

Other Notable Performances

JB Bukauskas faced a strong Kentucky lineup and went six innings, giving up zero earned runs on three hits, a walk, and a hit batter. He struck out 10 of the 23 batters he faced. He looks like a high pick this summer.

Wil Crowe missed all of 2016 after recovering from Tommy John Surgery. He faced UNC Greensboro in his first game back and went five innings, giving up no earned runs on three hits and a walk. He struck out seven batters. Crow will be one of the older players in this draft with first round potential. He turns 23 this year, but if he can show strong control in his first year back, I could see Crowe going on the first night of the draft.

Alex Faedo has been the top player on my board since the end of last year. His performance at Florida has been consistent and strong. He has outperformed several high draft picks in his time there. He had surgery in the spring on his knees and struggled in his start against William and Mary. He went four innings, giving up four earned runs on three walks and four hits. He struck out seven batters. If Faedo continues to struggle, there will be lots of questions about him post-surgery on both knees. 

Jeren Kendall faced San Diego this weekend and went 5 for 15, with two triples and two walks. Kendall is far and away the top college bat in this class.

Seth Romero faced Wake Forest and struck out half of the batters he faced. He went six innings, allowing one earned run on five hits and a wild pitch. His 12 strikeouts were a high for any player on this list. Romero is in the second tier of college pitchers, though left handers always have a chance to rise.

Speaking of left handed pitchers, Zac Lowther had a strong outing for Xavier when they faced off against Troy. He went five innings and allowed two runs on one hit, two walks, and two hit by pitches. He struck out eight of the 19 batters he faced. Xavier has had one player taken in the top five rounds of the draft. Seth Willoughby went in the fourth round in 2012. Lowther should break that record this summer.  

I have to end by talking about Jared Poche’ a senior pitcher for LSU. The lefty was taken in the 14th round a year ago, but decided to return to LSU this spring. He recorded the first no hitter of the season for a division one program. I have to point out it was just a seven inning start by Poche’ over Army. I also have to point out that if not for an error by Greg Deichmann, it would have been a perfect game for Poche’. He did not allow a hit or a walk and struck out four. Poche’ should go in the top ten rounds as a senior sign candidate. 

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