2014 MLB draft: 10 college players on the rise

The second weekend of college baseball is in the books, and it is time again to look back at who was impressive enough at the plate or on the mound to help improve their 2014 MLB draft stock. Here are 10 guys who stood out for me along with their ranking in my initial top-100 2014 MLB draft prospect ranking in parenthesis:

Chris Ellis hasn't allowed a run in his first two starts for Ole Miss.
Chris Ellis hasn’t allowed a run in his first two starts for Ole Miss.

Chris Ellis, RHP, Ole Miss (65)

A breakout candidate by several draft experts, the 6’-5”, 210 pound right-hander didn’t come in with much of a track record. As a sophomore, he posted a 5.57 ERA, 2.00 WHIP and 16 K/11 BB over 21 innings. The stuff, however, has always been there, even if the results haven’t. He features a low/mid-90s fastball that he commands better in the low 90s. His change-up is much improved and he adds a solid curveball to round out a classic three-pitch mix. His size, stuff and command have him in talks for the first round and, this year, the results have been there. He tossed a five-hit shutout against Georgia State on Friday striking out four to no walks. He has now started the season with 15 shutout innings as he has become more of a pitcher than thrower.

Aaron Nola, RHP, LSU (11)

I am still not sure which stands out more: the fact Nola didn’t allow a hit over seven innings Friday or that he issued a walk. Against Virginia Tech, he had 8 K/1 BB over those seven no-hit innings and now has 14 K/1 BB over 13 shutout innings for the year. He now has 225 K/26 BB over 228.2 career innings with a 2.28 ERA. The 6’-1” right-hander features a low-90s fastball with heavy sink and a deceptive change-up that freezes hitters. One of the best pitchers in the 2014 MLB draft, he has a date with Tyler Beede and Vanderbilt on March 14.

Brandon Downes, OF, Virginia (NR)

Scouts may have been there primarily to see Virginia’s Derek Fisher and East Carolina’s ace Jeff Hoffman — both projected as high first-round picks in the 2014 MLB draft — but Downes left the biggest impression after taking Hoffman deep twice in the game. The 6’-3”, 200 pound right-hander is a great athlete who could stick at center field at the next level. Through his first seven games, he is hitting .310/.393/.759 with two doubles and three home runs. Over 61 games as a sophomore, he hit .316/.393/.569 with 20 doubles and 10 home runs. He is projected as a 3-5 round guy now, but could go higher if he continues to rake.

Matt Chapman, 3B, Cal State Fullerton (34)

The 6’-2”, 200 pound right-hander has found his groove at the plate recently. Over his last three games, he has gone 7-for-16 with two doubles, a home run and five RBI for the Titans. A gifted defender with a plus arm and the range to stick at the hot corner, scouts wanted to see more from his bat this year, including power. It’s only seven games, but a .344/.417/.531 slash line is a great sign.

Tyler Beede, RHP, Vanderbilt (2)

Beede’s stock continued to rise as he put together another stellar performance. Like his first start, he got tagged early, then settled down and was untouchable the rest of the way. After giving up a first inning solo shot on Friday against UIC, he retired 15 straight batters, finishing with 11 K/1 BB over six innings with just one hit allowed. He is now 2-0 with 18 K/2 BB over 11 innings, allowing just two hits. He has shown three plus pitches with great mound presence and is looking like he will be off the board within the first three picks.

Brandon Finnegan, LHP, TCU (18)

Another repeat performer, Finnegan was once again untouchable. This time, however, his command was also pinpoint. Over seven shutout innings against BYU, he allowed six hits and struck out nine to no walks. The 5’-11” southpaw has now tossed 14 scoreless innings to start the year with 22 K/3 BB. The power-armed southpaw who can hit the upper 90s also adds a plus slider and is showing he has the ability to remain a starter at the next level.

Andrew Daniel, INF, San Diego (NR)

Few have been better offensively than the 6’-1”, 200 pound right-hander. Over his first seven games, he has gone 15-for-28 (.536) with a double, two home runs and 10 RBI. He has drawn four walks to just one strikeout and has swiped a whopping eight bases — equaling his total as a sophomore over 60 games. I asked Aaron Fitt at Baseball America what was up with him this year and he said that he always liked him as a hitter but the stolen bases were surprising. I chalked it up to baseball just being weird sometimes, and he may only steal two more the rest of the way. Whatever the case, his aggressiveness and approach at the plate have been noticed in the early going.

A.J. Reed, LHP/1B, Kentucky (NR)

I asked Kendall Rogers — national college baseball writer for Perfect Game — on Twitter if Reed was a pitcher or hitter at the next level. He said he placed a higher premium on left-handed pitching and I agreed. Let’s just hope he gets drafted by a National League team so we get to watch him smack a baseball around. Over his first seven games, the 6’-4”, 240 pound left-hander has a silly six home runs, 17 RBI and a .433/.500/1.133 slash line. On the mound, he is 2-0 and has allowed two runs on nine hits over 12 innings. His fastball can touch the mid 90s and he adds a good slider, but his change-up needs refining. Reed is the type of player a team can draft, send him out there as a hitter, and if all else fails, could become a power arm out of the bullpen.

James Farris, RHP, Arizona (NR)

The 6’-2”, 215 pound right-hander isn’t a power guy. His fastball sits in the 88-91 mph range and he isn’t going to blow anyone away with it. What he does, however, is mix his pitches well and keeps hitters off balance. With his five-hit shutout against Alcorn State on Friday, in which he had 10 K/1 BB, he now has allowed just one run over 16.2 innings with 19 K/2 BB. He adds a slider and change-up and has great command of his stuff. Much like former Wildcat, Kurt Heyer, he is a workhorse pitcher with an advanced feel for pitching despite not having a plus pitch.

Skyler Ewing, 1B/C, Rice (NR)

The 6’-1”, 220 pound right-hander hit just .226/.347/.342 over 57 games as a sophomore. He did show a good approach at the plate, however, drawing 23 walks to 30 strikeouts. After making some adjustments to his swing, he was impressive at the Cape Cod League, hitting .287/.374/.496 over 34 games for Hyannis with 14 extra-base hits. He then led the team in nearly every offensive category this fall and was set for a big year. Through his first eight games, he has been a monster for the Owls. He has gone 16-for-33 (.485) with two doubles, three home runs and 17 RBI. He has drawn four walks to three strikeouts, showing a continued progression in his approach while being more aggressive at the plate. He is most likely relegated to first base, putting a lot of pressure on his bat to produce, although he can fill in at catcher if needed.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @DanMKirby for 2014 MLB draft updates, college and high school baseball news and Chicago Cubs ramblings.

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