With the 2014 college baseball regular season in the books, it’s time to take a look at the players who improved their 2014 MLB draft stock the most with their success and improvements this year. Here are my personal top 10:
Kyle Freeland, LHP, Evansville
Freeland entered the season buzzing after an impressive Cape Cod League in which he had 48 K/4 BB over 40 innings and was hitting 94 mph with his fastball while showing off his plus slider and plus command. He was in first-round talks already, but no one thought he would end up in top-five consideration. He has been arguably the most consistently dominant pitcher in college all season, going 10-2 through 14 starts with a 1.90 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and an eye-popping 128 K/13 BB over 99.2 innings. He has yet to allow a home run and, if you add in his Cape numbers, he has 176 K/17 BB over his last 139.2 innings for 11.35 K/9 and 10.35 K/BB ratios.
Max Pentecost, C, Kennesaw State
Another star at the Cape Cod League, Pentecost won the MVP after hitting .346 with seven doubles, six home runs and 29 RBI over 35 games for the Bourne Braves. He entered his junior season as a possible first round candidate due to his strong catching abilities, athleticism and offensive upside. As a sophomore, he hit .302/.374/.410 over 57 games with 14 doubles and three home runs. Scouts wanted to see more power from him as a junior — especially after his Cape showing. He has answered those concerns this year and he is hitting .422/.477/.626 through 54 games with 21 doubles, eight home runs and 15 stolen bases in 17 attempts. He has drawn 23 walks to just 23 strikeouts, showing an improvement in his approach despite swinging for more power. With his offensive upside, he may make a switch to the outfield where his strong arm and athleticism would play well. He could go in the top 12 picks.
A.J. Reed, 1B/LHP, Kentucky
Reed came into this year with more upside as a left-handed power arm than an offensive player. At 6’-4” and 240 pounds, he always had a ton of power at the plate, but there were more questions marks offensively than on the mound where he can touch 95 mph with his fastball. While he has had a dominant year on the mound, going 11-2 with a 2.10 ERA and 1.15 WHIP through 15 starts, the numbers he has put up on offense may have changed the minds of a lot of people. Through 55 games, he is hitting .358/.494/.786 with 15 doubles, 70 RBI and he leads the nation with 23 home runs — more than the total of nearly 200 division one teams. He has drawn 44 walks to 43 strikeouts, showing an improved approach at the plate, although he does have some swing-and-miss to his game. He could go in the first round and the team that drafts him will have options.
Erick Fedde, RHP, UNLV
Before requiring season-ending Tommy John surgery, Fedde was in talks for the top-five. At 6’-4” and 180 pounds, the athletic right-hander has a low-90s fastball with late life, a plus slider and a solid change-up. With his size and athleticism, there is still upside and he has great command of his stuff. Over 11 starts, he went 8-2 with a 1.76 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 82 K/21 BB over 76.2 innings. He only allowed one home run and held opponents to a .209 BAA. Even with the injury, he should go in the first round and the team willing to wait a year will reap the rewards.
Bradley Zimmer, OF, San Francisco
Zimmer came into this year as a projected first-round pick based on his speed, athleticism, strong arm and power potential at 6’-5” and 200 pounds. As a sophomore, he hit .320/.437/.512 over 58 games with 12 doubles, seven home runs, 19 stolen bases and 29 walks to 31 strikeouts. Still, scouts wanted to see more power and continued work on his approach. He squashed a lot of those concerns this year and, even though he has struggled a bit down the stretch, he is still hitting .368/.461/.573 through 54 games with 10 doubles, seven triples, seven home runs and 21 stolen bases. He has been caught stealing 11 times, however, and still needs to refine his base running skills. He has drawn 31 walks to 34 strikeouts, showing a continued effort on his work on his approach. He has some of the best power and speed tools in the 2014 MLB draft and, coupled with his size and arm, there isn’t a lot to dislike about him. He has been in top-10 talks for a while now.
Sam Travis, 1B, Indiana
Travis came into this season with a strong track record on offense. Over his first two years, he hit .317/.410/.530 over 125 games with 39 doubles, 19 home runs and 68 walks to 68 strikeouts. He has dialed it up even more this year, hitting .357/.420/.582 through 51 games with 14 doubles, 10 home runs and 20 walks to 19 strikeouts. He has been a monster the second half of the season for Indiana, hitting .377/.430/.685 over 30 games with eight doubles, 10 home runs and 36 RBI as the Hoosiers have gone 26-4 during that stretch. Travis earned Big Ten Player of the Honors for his efforts. Despite being a first baseman, he should be gone on day one as his approach, hitting abilities and power are some of the best in the 2014 MLB draft.
Austin Byler, 1B/3B, Nevada
Byler enjoyed a brilliant regular season for Nevada, hitting .335/.426/.660 over 52 games with 13 doubles, five triples, 14 home runs and drew 24 walks to 43 strikeouts. He finished on a strong not, hitting .403/.488/.806 over his last 18 games with five doubles and eight home runs. At 6’-3” and 220 pounds, the left-handed hitter has very good bat speed and huge power potential. He made the switch over to first base this year but he is athletic enough to play third and his arm is strong enough as well. As a sophomore, he hit .346/.424/.566 over 47 games with 10 doubles and eight home runs. There is some swing-and-miss to his game but he should go on day one.
Jordan Luplow, OF, Fresno State
Even though he hit just .275/.325/.395 over 96 games as a freshman and sophomore with just four home runs and 23 BB/76 K, most knew the talent was there, and he was due for a breakout year. At 6’-1” and 195 pounds, the right-hander is a terrific athlete with great bat speed, a strong arm and good power potential — he just needed to put it all together. Through 54 games, he has done exactly that. He is hitting .385/.478/.629 with 21 doubles, nine home runs, eight stolen bases and has drawn 32 walks to just 21 strikeouts, showing an incredible improvement in his approach from his first two years while adding more power to his game. An exciting player who has all the tools, he should be gone on day one.
Ben Wetzler, LHP, Oregon State
It has been some kind of year for Wetzler. First dealing with the NCAA rule violation that got him suspended the first 11 games of the season when he decided to seek advice from an agent on whether to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies or return to school for his senior season — he decided on the latter and the Phillies took action. Then, he got arrested two weeks ago for criminal trespassing as he tried to enter the wrong home while intoxicated. We have all done stupid things at that age, and it shouldn’t affect his draft stock as there is no track record of this type of behavior with him. In between those incidents, he has been a stud for the Beavers, and going back to school will pay huge dividends at the draft where he should go in the top-three rounds. Through 12 starts, he is 10-1 with a 0.84 ERA, 0.78 WHIP and 68 K/25 BB over 86 innings. He is holding opponents to a silly .146 BAA and has allowed just one home run. Not a power arm, his fastball sits in the 89-91 mph range and he adds a slider and change-up — both quality offerings. He attacks hitters and mixes his pitches well, commanding all three.
Connor Joe, C/1B, San Diego
More offense than defense, Joe’s draft stock could be determined if teams believe he can remain behind the plate. He does have a strong arm but needs to refine his receiving skills as he is still relatively new to the position. Even as a first baseman, however, the bat is good enough and the power is great. He also has an advanced approach at the plate and consistently puts bat on ball and drives it hard to all fields. Through 53 games, the 6’-1”, 205 pound right-hander is hitting .367/.462/.606 with 21 doubles, nine home runs and 32 walks to just 24 strikeouts.
Five more: Jake Stinnett, RHP, Maryland, Matt Imhof, LHP, Cal Poly, Zac Curtis, RHP, Middle Tennessee State, Mac James, C, Oklahoma, Casey Gillaspie, 1B, Wichita State
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