It’s never too early to start looking ahead to next year’s MLB draft. Not with the way several sophomores are playing out of their minds lately, which makes the 2014 MLB draft look very good at the top. And let’s face it, if you’re a fan of the Astros, Marlins and Cubs, there isn’t much else to look forward to for awhile. Here are 10 college sophomores who may very well hear their names called early in the 2014 MLB draft.
Carlos Rodon, LHP, North Carolina State
The 6’-3”, 235-pound southpaw, who is about a clear-cut number-one overall pick as there is, didn’t start the season on a high note. In the season opener against Appalachian State, he gave up five runs over six innings in a 6-3 loss. He did, however, strikeout eight to just one walk, so it wasn’t all that bad. His last two starts have been something out of a video game. Over 14 innings, he has allowed one run on just two hits, including seven no-hit innings against LaSalle in which Karl Keglovits finished off the no-no with two hitless frames. Over those 14 innings, Rodon has struck out an incredible 30 batters to just three walks, pushing his season totals to 38 K/ 5 BB over 20 innings (17.1 K/9). He has a five- pitch arsenal that includes a mid-90s heater, a power slider, a lethal cutter, an above-average curveball and a change-up with nice fade. He commands all of them and is comfortable throwing any of them in any situation.
Tyler Beede, RHP, Vanderbilt
The only other player who has a chance to challenge Rodon for the top pick in next year’s MLB draft is Beede, who would be one hell of a consolation prize. The 6’-4” right-hander has three plus pitches of his own in a mid-90s fastball with great movement, a power curveball and a deceptive change-up. He doesn’t have quite the command that Rodon does, but he is just as unhittable. On the year, he is 3-0 with a 1.45 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 20 K/9 BB over 18.2 innings, allowing just 12 hits for third-ranked Vandy.
Trea Turner, SS, North Carolina State
Maybe the most exciting player in college, Turner is a burner who is also showing power this year. The 6’-1”, 185-pound right-hander led the nation in stolen bases last year with 57 and was caught just four times. He also hit .336 with a .436 OBP and struck out just 38 times in 63 games. This year, he has recorded a hit and scored a run in all 11 Wolfpack games. He is hitting .477 (21-for-44) with 21 runs, five doubles, three home runs, five stolen bases and has struck out just twice. He may not end up at shortstop at the next level, but offensive talent and plus speed will make him an everyday regular.
Michael Conforto, OF, Oregon State
After hitting .349 with 14 doubles, 13 home runs, 76 RBI and a slash line of .438/.601/1.039 as a freshman last year, the 6’-1”, 200-pound left-hander was showered with awards and had high expectations coming into this year. After nine games, he was hitting .273 with two doubles, no home runs and four RBI. On Saturday, he went 3-for-7 in a double-header with his first two home runs of the season and five RBI. On Sunday, he went 3-for-5 with two more home runs and seven RBI. The bat has woken up, and I expect a full on assault coming for one of the best overall hitters in the 2014 MLB draft.
Derek Fisher, OF, Virginia
Like Conforto, the 6’-3”, 210-pound left-hander had a sensational freshman season, hitting .288 with 11 doubles, eight triples, seven home runs and 50 RBI. He has started hot out of the gate for the Cavaliers, going 13-for-38 (.342) over the first 11 games. He has added a double, triple, two home runs and has knocked in 16 runs for undefeated Virginia. A great athlete, he also has an advanced approach at the plate, drawing seven walks to six strikeouts this year and has a .457 OBP.
A.J. Reed, 1B/LHP, Kentucky
Both a pitcher and hitter for the Wildcats, the 6’-4”, 245-pound left-hander has been his own offensive force when on the mound. Over the three games he has started, he is 10-for-14 with a triple, two home runs and 11 RBI. On the season, he is hitting .409 (18-for-44) with a double, triple, four home runs and 22 RBI over 11 games. His .480 OBP and .750 SLG show the kind of offensive talent he is. On the mound, he is 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA and 11 K/2 BB over 15.1 innings.
Mark Zagunis, C/OF, Virginia Tech
One of the more athletic catchers you will find, the 6’-1”, 200-pound right-hander stole 17 bases in 22 attempts as a freshman. He also hit .344 with 13 doubles, five home runs, 34 RBI with a slash line of .430/.513/.943 over 49 games, striking out just 25 times. He has started the year out hitting .415 (22-for-53) for the Hokies with five doubles, a home run, 14 RBI and six stolen bases. It remains to be seen if he will stick at catcher or end up in a corner outfield position. His bat and athleticism will find a way into a lineup at the next level.Aaron Nola, RHP, LSU
One of the best control artists in college, Nola also has power behind his pitches. As a freshman, he had 87 strikeouts over 83.2 innings and walked just seven. In his second start of his career, he threw 62 out of 78 pitches for strikes against Tulane. The 6’-1”, 190-pound right-hander has been just as impressive this year. In his first start against Maryland, he tossed 6.2 shutout innings, allowing two hits while striking out nine to one walk. Against Brown in his third start, he went seven scoreless, striking out 11 to no walks, allowing three hits. Over his 19.2 innings on the season, he has 26 K/4 BB and has allowed just nine hits. He uses his low-90s sinker to bury hitters and sets up the pitch with a low-80s change-up with good deception.
Philip Pfeifer, LHP, Vanderbilt
In high school, Pfeifer went 46-4 with 465 strikeouts and won four state titles for Farragut HS in Tennessee. He wasn’t drafted until the 44th round because everyone knew he was going to Vanderbilt. Over 16.2 innings as a freshman, he had a 3.24 ERA and 8 K/9 BB. The 6’-1”, 190-pound left-hander made a relief appearance on February 16 against Long Beach State, allowing one unearned run on three hits over 1.1 innings. Since then, he has made three starts and has been brilliant for the third-ranked Commodores. Over 18.2 innings, he has allowed one run on nine hits, striking out 23 to eight walks. Your prototypical “crafty” southpaw, what he lacks in velocity, he makes up for in command and ability to mix his pitches well.
Sam Travis, 1B, Indiana
I need to show some love for the Midwest. Travis was named the Big 10 Freshman of the Year after hitting .319 over 60 games with 17 doubles, nine home runs, 50 RBI and a slash line of .397/.509/.906. The 6’-0”, 200-pound right-hander reached base in his first 30 games, including a 17-game hitting streak. This season, he has reached base in all eight of Indiana’s games to start the season. Over those eight games, he is 13-for-29 (.448) with five doubles, two home runs, 10 RBI and 10 walks for a ridiculous slash line of .600/.828/1.428.
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