With the 2015 college baseball season due to start in about two weeks, I thought I would start rolling out some previews. Let’s begin with the top incoming freshmen. These are 25 players I’m looking forward to following this year, and the list doesn’t include JUCO players like Brady Aiken, Mac Marshall, Isiah Gilliam and Clay Casey. The sophomores are up next, but here are my top 25 freshmen for this season, in no particular order:
Jacob Bukauskas, RHP, North Carolina
Bukauskas made it known early in his senior season that he would be honoring his commitment to UNC, making it easier for everyone during the draft process. The 6’-1”, 200 pound right-hander was hitting 100 mph during the year and finished with 98 K/5 BB over 43.1 shutout innings, allowing just 11 hits. He adds a deceptive change-up with nice fade, and his slider has been flashing plus in scrimmages. With Trent Thornton, Benton Moss and Zac Gallen returning, Bukauskas will likely get his innings as a mid-week starter and reliever. A huge name to watch for 2017.
Luke Bonfield, OF, Arkansas
Bonfield was one of the best pure hitters available in the 2014 MLB draft and would have been drafted in the first couple of rounds had his commitment not been so strong. He uses his excellent bat speed to make hard, consistent contact to all fields and he has an advanced approach at the plate. At 6’-2” and 190 pounds (more power should come as he matures), he is a good athlete having been timed at 6.8 in the 60. His arm is strong enough to hold down left field and his bat would play well. Over 24 games as a senior, he hit .379/.523/.712 with 14 extra-base hits and 20 walks to seven strikeouts. At the Future’s League this past fall, he hit .483 over 58 at-bats, again showing how special his bat is.
Jake Godfrey, RHP, LSU
A 6’-3”, 215 pound right-hander who sits in the low-90s but can touch 94 mph with his fastball, Godfrey heads a stellar group of freshmen arms for the Tigers. His curveball sits 75-77 mph and was considered one of the best in his class showing great depth and spin. He adds a solid 78-82 mph change-up that he has a good feel for but didn’t use often in high school. He has great mound presence and solid command of his stuff and should be a workhorse-type pitcher during the 2015 college baseball season for LSU, which gets a lot of innings from its freshman.
Jeren Kendall, OF, Vanderbilt
It’s going to be hard to get playing time as a freshman during the 2015 college baseball season for Vanderbilt, but Kendall’s speed should get him into games. He also is an excellent defender with a strong arm and could get into games late because of it. He has a short, compact swing from the left side with a solid approach and surprising pop for his size (5’-10” 175 pounds). An electric player who will see playing time one way or another. His dad, Jeremy Kendall, is a former minor league player and currently runs a baseball training facility.
David Peterson, LHP, Oregon
Peterson broke his leg at the beginning of his senior year and wasn’t able to give scouts much to look at — as far as improvements over his junior year. He would have likely gone in the first two rounds but now will be in the rotation for one of the top programs this year. At 6’-6” and 210 pounds, he has a smooth delivery and there is still a lot of projection left as he can already touch 94 mph with his fastball with giddy up. His change-up is already an above-average offering, and his slider is still developing. He has deception to his delivery and left-handed hitters are at his mercy.
Willie Rios, LHP, Maryland
Rios is a strongly built southpaw at 6’-0” and 200 pounds, and he can touch 94 mph with late life on his fastball. He adds a low-80s change-up with nice fade, and a mid-70s curve and slider that are both average offerings right now. There is some deception to his delivery but his command can get the best of him at times. He had 37 K/15 BB over 28 innings at the Cal Ripken League over the fall and should log a lot of innings during the 2015 college baseball season as a freshman for the Terps.
Tate Blackman, INF, Ole Miss
An advanced hitter with quick hands and a great eye, Blackman has gap power to all fields and rarely misses a pitch. He has a high baseball IQ and is a very polished all-around player. The 6’-1”, 185 pound right-hander has the tools to stick at second base, and some believe he could even stick at the hot corner, although his power may not play well there.
J.J. Schwarz, C, Florida
Schwarz led U18 Team USA with a .429 average, as well as nine RBI. He is more offense than defense and the 6’-1”, 195 pound right-hander has raw power and an advanced approach. The bloodlines are there too, as his dad is Jeff Schwarz, a former MLB pitcher and current minor league pitching coach for the Marlins. J.J. has good actions behind the plate and should be able to stick, and he has a great understanding of the game. He should be a leader for the Gators for the next three years and hit in the middle of the lineup.
Scott Hurst, OF, Cal State Fullerton
Known for having a canon arm, as well as above-average to plus speed (6.5/60), Hurst is another kid who should see significant at-bats as a freshman. The left-handed hitter raked at the Alaska League this fall, leading the league in batting average (.429) and OBP (.555). His short stroke allows him to wait on his pitch and he has gap power to all fields but isn’t likely to hit a lot of home runs. At 5’-11” and 175 pounds, he projects to a top-of-the-order hitter with an advanced approach and the ability to rack up stolen bases. He is also an alumni of Team USA baseball.
Cobi Johnson, RHP, Florida State
With a fastball that touches 94 mph, as well as a curveball that flashes plus, the 6’-4” right-hander could force his way into the weekend rotation on his potential alone. His dad, Dane Johnson, was a second-round pick by the Blue Jays in 1984 and is currently a pitching instructor in their system. Cobi has been taught well and has a great baseball IQ. His change-up is still developing but he has a good feel for it, and he creates a lot of angles and deception with his stuff.
Keith Weisenberg, RHP, Stanford
The 6’-5”, 200 pound right-hander has three pitches already, headlined by a fastball that can touch 95 mph with sink and run. He adds a slider that flashes plus and his change-up is average and still developing. There is still a lot of upside left as he is still learning to use his legs on the mound. A probable top-two rounds pick had his commitment not been so solid, Weisenberg should be a beast for the Cardinal for the next three years and could get significant innings as a freshman, much like Cal Quantrill had last year. He had 88 K/21 BB over 64 innings as a senior.
Alex Destino, OF/DH, South Carolina
Destino entered his senior season with more upside as a pitcher than hitter and finished as one of the best two-way prospects in the 2014 MLB draft. At 6’-3” and 220 pounds, the southpaw can touch 93 mph with his fastball and he adds a mid-70s slider and low-80s change-up. With full time focus, he should be able to refine his secondary offerings, work on his command and add a couple of ticks to his fastball. Over 73.1 innings last year, he had 116 K/41 BB and allowed 36 hits. He was also a complete monster at the plate, hitting .535/.598/1.118 with 14 doubles, 15 home runs and only four strikeouts. As good as he is on the mound, he likely has more potential as a hitter. He showed much more power as a senior, as well as an advanced approach from the left side. His size, power potential from the left side and strong arm will make him much more valuable on offense, but he should get a chance to get some work on the mound during the 2015 college baseball season.
Jeremy Vasquez, 1B, Florida
Vasquez may not get a lot of playing time as a freshman but the kid can flat out hit, and he has a great approach at the plate, hardly missing a pitch. The 6’-1”, 190 pound left-handed hitter has excellent bat speed and can wait on his pitch without getting fooled. He also shows good actions at first and projects to a plus defender. Over 28 games, he hit .511/.620/.841 with 15 doubles, four home runs and drew 23 walks to just eight strikeouts. If he gets regular at-bats, he is going to hit for a high average during the 2015 college baseball season.
Evan Skoug, C/DH, TCU
A powerfully built kid at 5’-11” and 200 pounds, Skoug has a ton of power from the left side and very good bat speed. His offense is ahead of his defense right now and he will split time behind the plate with fellow freshman Zack Plunkett. He should get a lot of playing time at DH when he is not catching, however, and could put up some impressive numbers as a freshman. He has a great approach at the plate and has drawn comparisons to Chicago Cubs 2014 first round pick Kyle Schwarber.
Alex Faedo, RHP, Florida
Faedo shot up draft boards all year as a senior and still decided to honor his commitment to Florida. At 6’-5” and 210 pounds, the right-hander has a lot of projection and can touch 94 mph with his fastball. His slider shows plus potential and his easy delivery promises for more velocity. His change-up sits 77-80 mph and he already has a good feel for it. He finished with 68 K/8 BB over 48 innings, allowing five runs on 27 hits. For the 2015 college baseball season, he has a chance to log a lot of innings as a freshman.
Riley Adams, C, San Diego
At 6’-4” and 200 pounds, Adams is still growing into his body, and scouts love the power potential he has. He has very good bat speed, and he is one of those players in which the ball just sounds different coming off his bat. A great athlete with a plus arm, some believe he can remain behind the plate despite his size, although he has all the tools to hold down a corner outfield spot. He could develop immensely over the next three years and be a top name for 2017.
Bryce Montes de Oca, RHP, Missouri
At 6’-8” and 265 pounds, the right-hander is quite the intimidating force on the mound, especially when he can run his fastball up to 98 mph. His curveball shows above-average, an 11-5 offering with tight spin. His change-up is still developing but shows promise, and he has worked hard on his mechanics since having Tommy John surgery after his sophomore season. He may have the most upside as anyone on this list and should be a big name in 2017.
Keaton McKinney, RHP, Arkansas
A 6’-5”, 220 pound right-hander, McKinney has a plus change-up already with great deception and fade. He can also dial his fastball up to 94 mph and has good command of those two offerings. He adds a developing curveball and the progress of that pitch will determine if he remains in the rotation. Aside from his prowess on the mound, he is also a very good hitter and was a stud for U18 Team USA baseball. During the 2015 college baseball season, he should put up very good numbers on the mound as a freshman for the Hogs.
Garrett Cave, RHP, FIU
A 6’-4”, 195 pound right-hander with a loose arm and a lot of upside, Cave was soaring up draft boards as a senior after seeing a big spike in velocity. He can touch 95 mph with his fastball and he adds a mid-70s curveball and mid-80s change-up, both solid offerings with good command. He was one of the youngest players in his class and could log significant innings as a freshman.
Carl Chester, OF, Miami
At 6’-0” and 190 pounds, the right-hander has been timed at 6.28 in the 60. That kind of plus/plus speed allows him to wreak havoc on the base paths and he uses his excellent bat speed to spray the ball to all fields with developing power. He is also a great defender in center field with a strong arm. He should hit atop a loaded Miami offense and could put up some impressive numbers as a freshman with regular playing time during the 2015 college baseball season.
Sean Bouchard, 3B, UCLA
A plus defender at third with a plus arm as well, Bouchard is a 6’-3”, 200 pound right-hander with a lot of raw tools offensively. He has a quick bat and projects to above-average power, and he is still growing into his body. Some have questioned his hit tool and he needs to work on his approach. He should see significant playing time this year and is a middle of the order-type player. He was a teammate of 2014 first-overall pick Brady Aiken in high school.
Alex Lange, RHP, LSU
Like Godfrey, Lange should log a lot of innings as a freshman and his slider is arguably the best in his class. His fastball can touch 94 mph and he commands both well. He adds a developing change-up and he has deception to his delivery, making it hard for hitters to pick him up. At 6’-3” and 200 pounds, the right-hander has a strong body and solid trunk.
Will Toffey, 3B, Vanderbilt
A great athlete who was a star hockey player before deciding to focus on baseball full time, Toffey should get a lot of playing time for a team loaded with talent. At 6’-2” and 200 pounds, the left-handed hitter has an advanced approach and developing power. As one of the youngest players at the Future’s League, he hit .322/.463/.537 over 46 games with seven home runs and drew 38 walks. He has a plus arm and good speed and many believe he could hold down shortstop if needed.
Adam Haseley, OF/LHP, Virginia
A two-way player with upside at both, Haseley’s future may be brighter as a hitter, where the 6’-2”, 190 pound left-hander has an advanced approach, plus speed and developing power. He led U18 Team USA with a .484 batting average and hit .425 with five home runs and just nine strikeouts over 27 games as a senior for The First Academy. With the departure of Derek Fisher, Brandon Downes and Mike Papi to the draft last year, and with Joe McCarthy sidelined up to 12 weeks following back surgery, Haseley could see significant playing time right out of the gate. He is a very good athlete with a plus arm in center field. On the mound, he sits 88-91 with his fastball and can touch 93. He adds a slider that shows a lot of potential and his delivery and athleticism bode well for future projection.
Pavin Smith, 1B/OF, Virginia
For the same reasons as listed above, Smith could see a lot of at-bats early on and will have a chance to show the tools that are going to make him a stud very soon. The 6’-2”, 200 pound left-hander has an advanced approach and developing raw power. He also has a plus arm and can sling it up to 93 mph on the mound. As a senior, he hit .395 with seven home runs and just seven strikeouts.
Zack Gahagan, 3B, UNC
Chase Pinder, OF, Clemson
Ryder Ryan, 3B/RHP, UNC
Tristan Gray, OF, Rice
Jake Latz, LHP, LSU
Dalton Guthrie, 2B, Florida
Michael Cantu, C/DH, Texas
Griffin Helms, C, Kennesaw State
Andrew Karp, RHP, Florida State
Elliott Cary, OF, Oregon State
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