A lot of people have said that 2018 will be a banner year for baseball, mainly because of the free agent class. With players like Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Harvey, Josh Donaldson, Jose Fernandez, among others, possibly testing the market for the first time, clearly there will be a lot of multimillionaires come that winter. And to be honest, while it is an expensive matter, it can be seen as a good thing for baseball. With the talent that has come up in recent years, there are going to be players that will rightly command the money they feel they deserve.
But… that’s only one part of the story.
The 2018 MLB draft has the chance to be one of the best in memory, at least in terms of collegiate talent. With the number of high profile prep kids that elected to go to college rather than sign pro contracts, what we could be looking at is a major influx of advanced prospects, ready to take the MLB by storm in 3 years time. What started off is a class built on reputation has gradually become a class that has shown early results. Here are some of the highlights of this potentially amazing 2018 class:
How often do you make a first impression like Cole Sands did when he, Cobi Johnson and Jim Voyles threw a combined no-hitter against Toledo? Even though Sands didn’t get the win for that, and even though the game was against a weaker team, it shows that Cole, the younger brother of Carson, a Cubs prospect, has potential to be a key starter for the Seminoles. Sands currently is tied for the team lead in appearances, and has the lowest ERA among the starters. Additionally, hitters have a .212 batting average against him. Sands’ biggest problem though is his control, as he’s given up the most walks on the team. His build is not an issue, as he’s 6’3″ and weighs 210 pounds, typical of a starter. Sands as of right now, would probably be a Tier 2 starter, going in the mid to late first round of the draft, if it were today. If he can work on his control and build on his performance against the Rockets, chances are his stock could rise quickly.
Chandler Day is part of what will definitely be a celebrated trio of Vanderbilt freshman. A potential starter, Day has shown the potential that had MLB Pipeline rank him as a top 100 prospect. He’s pitched in three games, two of which he’s started, and has a 1.64 ERA with 13 strikeouts and a .184 batting average against. Day’s build is slightly taller and thinner than former starter Walker Buehler, but it’s possible that he could bulk up or use his frame to give his pitches more of a downward motion. Day could be the next in a long line of pitchers that comes from Vanderbilt’s famous talent factory, possibly a mid first round talent.
Perhaps one of the biggest anomalies of the draft class, Luken Baker, the former Gatorade Player of the Year, is an exceptionally strong two-way player that will either be a dangerous presence on the mound, or at bat. Baker’s dual stat line is impressive, as a pitcher, he has a 1.03 ERA with 24 strikeouts and a .196 BAA. As a hitter, he has a .359 average, 3 home runs and 24 RBI. Baker, in my opinion, has to be the best bet to go first overall in the 2018 draft. An absolute tank of a man at 6’4″ and 265 pounds, he is an imposing presence. In high school, he was considered a better pitcher, but if he continues to build on his performance so far, Baker could be the first major two-way threat to be drafted since Brooks Kieschnick.
With the prolonged absence of starter Cal Quantrill, freshman phenom Tristan Beck has been thrown into the mix of Cardinal hurlers that have eased the blow. Sporting a 1.74 ERA, 16 strikeouts, and a .213 BAA in four appearances, Beck, while a contact pitcher, is showing a tremendous amount of poise so far. Another tall, thin righty standing at 6’4″ and 160 pounds, Beck’s low 90’s heat can go higher if he bulks up. His mechanics remain an issue, but there is plenty of time for him to fix them. For now, Beck could see himself towards the middle of the first round, with a potential to go top 10 if he makes the adjustments necessary.
Not since Buster Posey has there been a more intriguing prospect behind the plate in Tallahassee. Raleigh has gotten off to a fast start at FSU. hitting .333 with 2 homers and 20 RBI. Raleigh has the potential to be a solid hitting catcher, and if his defense can improve, he’ll definitely be the top catching prospect in 2018. His switch hitting ability and his build as a catcher make him the perfect future backstop for any team, and the fact that he’ll be catching one of the top pitching prospects will put him in the spotlight as well.
A year after Tanner Houck took Columbia by storm, another Tiger recruit is starting to turn heads. Brian Sharp has been another outstanding two way freshman phenom; as a hitter, he’s hitting .317 with 12 RBI, and as the team’s closer, he’s pitched to a 1.32 ERA with 3 saves and a .132 BAA. Standing at 6’1″ and 214 pounds, Sharp looks more like an infielder than a pitcher, and could find himself staying at third base when he does go pro. Sharp has the potential to be a star player for the Tigers, and while he won’t be playing Cape baseball this summer, expect him to be a strong possibility to get an invitation to Team USA, especially if he continues playing the way he has.
India was one of the members of the Milwaukee Brewers’ “Hail Mary” draft picks last year, alongside Donny Everett, Nolan Kingham, Tristan Beck and Justin Hooper. It was a good thing he chose to honor his commitment, as he’s already made a strong first impression in Gainesville. Already the leading freshman hitter on the team, India has a chance to be even better as the season goes on. His defense does need work, and it would be a good idea to figure out where he would succeed better, as a shortstop or a third baseman. India could be a solid contact oriented run producer when he fully develops. He could significantly raise his stock in the Cape this summer, but as of now, he looks to be a late first round pick.
Part of a very talented freshman middle infield, Nick Madrigal has been consistently raking for the Oregon State Beavers. The second best hitter, Madrigal’s contact approach has been very good to him, as he’s hitting .384 with 18 RBI. Madrigal also has some speed, as he’s swiped three bases. Madrigal right now looks to be the top shortstop in the draft, and if he adds some power to his game, could go anywhere from top 15 to top 10. The only thing that is holding him back right now is his size; he’s 5’8″ and 160 pounds, which is small, even for a middle infielder.
While Vandy fans have been more intrigued by Jeren Kendall’s hot start and Jordan Sheffield’s increasing dominance, Alonzo Jones, the second of three highly touted Vanderbilt recruits has quietly had himself a solid season, hitting .333 and stealing 7 bases. The speedy outfielder had at one time been considered a possible first round pick, but an injury dropped him all the way to the end of the draft. Jones appears to be a player that knows how to make the most out of being on the base paths. He will definitely play a bigger role next season when Bryan Reynolds is gone, and could be yet another strong position player from the Vanderbilt Talent Factory.
No freshman outside of Luken Baker has enjoyed a better start than Seth Beer, and to think, he’s younger than his peers because of his decision to enroll at Clemson a year early. Beer, who could have easily been a top 3 pick had he stayed in high school, has been absolutely dominant, hitting .453 with 9 home runs and 23 RBI. Beer’s stats are otherworldly. While he may never break Pete Incaviglia’s single season home run record, it’s possible if the stats are adjusted to accommodate for BBCOR bats, that Beer’s freshman season could be comparable to Incaviglia’s. He’s almost certainly a lock to play for the Collegiate National team this summer, and could battle it out with Baker to be the number one overall pick in 2018. Regardless, whichever team is lucky enough to get him is going to get a special talent, perhaps one of the best college baseball players anyone has seen, and it’s only been 19 games.
For as controversial as Kyler Murray may be, especially considering the circumstances behind his departure at Texas A&M, Murray still is a talented athlete, and although he will be required to miss a year of baseball and a year of football, expect him to still be a highly regarded talent. The one red flag will be his maturity, but if Murray decides to go back to baseball and plays like he did in high school, you can expect the 2018 class to get even better.
Other Players to watch:
Donny Everett, Vanderbilt
Justin Hooper, UCLA,
Nolan Kingham, Texas,
Brady Singer, Florida
Tristin English, Georgia Tech
Domenic DeRenzo, Oklahoma
Johnny Aiello, Wake Forest
Cadyn Grenier, Oregon State
Daniel Reyes, Florida
Marquise Doherty, Missouri