2015 college baseball: Top returning sophomores

The 2015 college baseball season is now less than a week away, set to start on Friday, February 13. With the top incoming freshmen out of the way, it’s time to focus on the top returning sophomores. In no particular order, here are 25 sophomores that I am excited to watch this season and should be big names for the 2016 MLB draft:

2015 college baseball
Zack Collins may have the most power in all of college.

Zack Collins, C/1B, Miami

Collins helped lead a young Hurricanes team to a 45-20 record, including 24-6 in the ACC. The 6’-3”, 220 pound left-handed hitter was named Freshman of the Year by Baseball America after hitting .298/.427/.556 over 61 games with 14 doubles, 11 home runs and 54 RBI. He has an advanced approach, above-average bat speed and enormous power from the left side. Over 21 games for the Collegiate National Team, he hit .273/.403/.491 and led the team with three home runs. Most believe he’ll end up at first base at the next level, hurting his draft stock a bit, but he still has time to work on his receiving skills. Some believe he is the best bat in college, regardless of class.

Sheldon Neuse, SS/RHP, Oklahoma

After a stellar freshman campaign, Neuse will play an even bigger role for the Sooners this year serving as the team’s closer, as well as switching over to shortstop from third base. He hit .304/.369/.521 with 17 doubles, seven triples, seven home runs and 47 RBI over 58 games last season. He also drew 27 walks to 31 strikeouts showing a solid approach at the plate. The 6’-0”, 195 pound right-hander has a lot of upside offensively but he could also be drafted for his arm as he sits 92-95 with his heater and adds a plus slider with good command of both. He had 11 K/4 BB over 12 innings last season in limited work. Word is he worked extremely hard over the summer on improving his defense in preparation for playing short, but most still believe the hot corner is his future home where the power and canon arm would play well.

Ryan Boldt, OF, Nebraska

Boldt suffered a season-ending knee injury just two games into his senior season of high school, and that played a part in him honoring his commitment to Nebraska as scouts didn’t get a good chance to see him leading up to the draft. The 6’-2”, 210 pound left-handed hitter was named to several All-Freshman teams after hitting .311/.382/.437 over 61 games with 20 extra-base hits, 31 RBI and seven stolen bases. A great athlete with plus speed and a strong arm, he has a shot to stick at center field and his size suggests more power will come. He has excellent bat speed and a mature approach at the plate. An exciting player with all of the tools.

Corey Ray, OF, Louisville

Ray is a quick-twitch athlete who forced his way into the starting lineup late in the year and put up big numbers for the Cardinals in their run at the College World Series. Over his last 13 games, he hit .421/.511/.553 and had more walks (7) than strikeouts (6). He struggled a bit at the Cape Cod League, hitting just .250 with 6 B/34 K and a .326 SLG but he was one the youngest players there. The 6’-0”, 190 pound left-hander has a right field arm and enough speed to play all three outfield spots but he will need to develop more power to stick in a corner. I feel a breakout year coming.

Nick Solak, 2B, Louisville

Solak was an absolute stud for the Cardinals down the stretch as a freshman. In his last 13 games (all starts), he hit .465/.582/.674 with three doubles, two home runs, 16 RBI and stole three bases. He drew seven walks in that span to five strikeouts and seemed to always come through when needed. He then played in the New England Baseball League over the summer. Through his first 10 games, he went 5-for-34 (.147) and didn’t draw a walk. He turned it on over his last 18, however, hitting .381/.435/.524 with six walks and five stolen bases. The 5’-10”, 175 pound right-hander has soft hands and all the actions to stick at second base. He has an advanced approach at the plate, above-average speed and surprising pop for his size and will hit at the top of the lineup for one of the best teams in the nation this year.

Keegan Thompson, RHP, Auburn

Thompson was a workhorse in high school, racking up 366 strikeouts over 223.1 innings his last three seasons for Cullman HS in Alabama. He was also a stud for several Team USA Baseball squads, including the 2011 U16 team in which he tossed a shutout against Cuba in the gold-medal game. He maintained his reputation as a workhorse while a freshman with Auburn, logging 90 innings with a 2.01 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 73 K/23 BB. His season was cut a bit short, however, when he suffered a fractured bone in his foot from a line drive on May 14. The 6’-1”, 210 pound right-hander features a low-90s fastball, plus curve, a developing change-up and he has superb command of all three. Even though he struggled offensively (.244/.273/.285 over 123 at-bats), he is a pretty good hitter with the tools to hit in the middle of the lineup. His future seems to be on the mound, however.

Garrett Hampson, SS, Long Beach State

A plus runner with the glove, arm and instincts to stick at shortstop, Hampson is an exciting player who projects to a top of the order hitter with gap power. The 5’-11”, 175 pound right-hander hit .308/.346/.392 over 60 games as a freshman for the Dirtbags with 16 extra-base hits. He was 9-for-15 in stolen bases and will need to work on his base running a bit. He also drew just 14 walks to 39 strikeouts and scouts want to see him be more patient and work counts to utilize his speed more. If he puts it all together, he could be a first-round pick in 2016 as speedy, defensive shortstops aren’t exactly readily available.

Bryan Reynolds, OF, Vanderbilt

As a freshman, Reynolds played in every game for the National Champs and led the team in batting average, RBI, total bases and SLG, earning numerous All-Freshman Teams. The 6’-2”, 210 pound switch-hitter hit .338/.395/.480 with 24 doubles, four home runs, 54 RBI and stole 14 bases for the Dores. His size suggests more home run power should come, and he can play all over the field with a legit shot to stick in center.

2015 college baseball
Chris Okey may be the best catching prospect in the 2016 MLB draft.

Chris Okey, C, Clemson

An intense player with a high baseball IQ, Okey is an athletic backstop with all of the actions to stick behind the plate at the next level. His offense and power are catching up and scouts want to see more power over the next two years. The 5’-11”, 195 pound right-hander started every game for the Tigers as a freshman, hitting .248/.311/.350 over 61 games with nine doubles, one home run and 41 RBI. He drew 22 walks to 33 strikeouts showing a solid approach. He’s an aggressive hitter who makes hard contact to all fields and has the wheels to turn singles into doubles. Was a two-time, gold-medal winner with Team USA Baseball and is a true leader on and off the field.

Cal Quantrill, RHP, Stanford

Quantrill, son of former MLB pitcher Paul Quantrill, was the first Cardinal freshman to start opening day since Mike Mussina back in 1988. The 6’-3”, 195 pound right-hander had a brilliant season, finishing with a 2.68 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 98 K/34 BB over 110.2 innings. He earned PAC 12 Freshman of the Year honors, as well as All-PAC 12 honors. A very good athlete, he features a low-90 fastball that can touch 95, a plus change-up and an average curveball that is getting better. He will throw any pitch in any count and has great mound presence and feel for his stuff. He had 33 K/9 BB over 22.2 innings at the Coastal Plain League this past fall and was considered the number-one prospect by most.

Mike Shawaryn, RHP, Maryland

Shawaryn had a stellar freshman campaign, going 11-4 with a 3.12 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 72 K/24 BB over 92.1 innings for the Terps. The 6’-3”, 210 pound right-hander is a bulldog on the mound with a four-pitch mix, headlined by a low-90s fastball and a change-up that flashes plus. He has excellent command of his stuff and great mound presence. He’ll be the Friday night starter for a top-20 team.

Logan Shore, RHP, Florida

Shore was the Gatorade Player of the Year for Minnesota after posting a 0.50 ERA, 0.51 WHIP and 67 K/6 BB over 54.2 innings for Coon Rapids HS as a senior. The 6’-1”, 210 pound right-hander garnered numerous All-Freshman awards as he went 7-4 with a 2.16 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 68 K/20 BB over 95.2 innings last season for the Gators. He features a low-90s fastball, a much improved slider that flashes plus and a solid change-up. He has great command of all three and he will be the Friday night starter for one of the best teams in the nation this year.

Will Crowe, RHP, South Carolina

The likely Friday night starter after a sensational freshman season, in which he went 8-3 with a 2.75 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 59 K/19 BB over 91.2 innings, Crowe may also get the nod because of his competitiveness. The 6’-2″, 240 pound workhorse has a heavy, low-90s fastball and solid secondaries with excellent command. At Pigeon Forge HS in Tennessee, he was named The Gatorade Player of the Year after posting silly numbers of 16-1 with a 0.64 ERA and 187 K/14 BB over 98 innings. He tossed 10 shutouts, four no-hitters and two perfect games.

Hayden Stone, RHP, Vanderbilt

Stone was the winning pitcher in the championship game against Virginia, striking out four over 1.2 shutout innings to capture Vanderbilt’s first national title. The 6’-0”, 185 pound right-hander was a stud all season for the Dores, posting a 1.71 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 80 K/14 BB over 58 innings. He features one of the best sliders in the nation and a low-90s fastball with movement. He’ll work out of the bullpen but could see some mid-week starts if needed.

Brandon Lowe, 2B, Maryland

A draft-eligible sophomore after red-shirting his freshman season, Lowe may not hit for a lot of power but he has a great approach at the plate and should hit for a high average at the next level with a high OBP. He is an average runner but has all of the actions to stick at second base. Over 54 games last season, he hit .348/.464/.464 with 12 doubles, one home run and drew 34 walks to just 20 strikeouts. Over 26 games at the Cal Ripken League, he hit .329/.509/.549 with 26 BB/10 K.

Connor Jones, RHP, Virginia

Working out of the pen as a long reliever as a freshman, Jones posted a 3.13 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 40 K/23 BB over 54.2 innings. The 6’-3”, 200 pound right-hander has a pitcher’s body and can touch the mid-90s with his fastball with sinking action. His slider flashes plus and his change-up is still developing. He’ll be in the weekend rotation this season and could have a breakout season for one of the best teams in the nation. Scouts want to see him work on his command and consistency. He is also a very good athlete which bodes well for development.

Cole Irvin, LHP, Oregon

Another draft-eligible sophomore after red-shirting last season, Irvin had Tommy John surgery on February 3, 2014, and missed all of last season. His upside is high but will obviously depend on how well he rehabbed. At 6’-4” and 190 pounds, the southpaw is a workhorse pitcher who can touch 94 mph with his fastball and sits 89-92. He adds a plus change-up and his slider flashes plus potential, sitting 81-83. His curveball is an average offering right now but looks to be a solid offering, giving him four quality pitches. As a freshman, he went 12-3 with a 2.48 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 60 K/22 BB over 116 innings, completing a team-high four games. He will start the season in the pen and work his way into the rotation.

A.J. Puk, LHP/1B, Florida

A two-way player with more upside on the mound, Puk is a 6’-7”, 230 pound southpaw with a mid-90s fastball and a slider that flashes plus. His change-up is still developing but word is it has improved greatly over last year giving him three quality pitches. He posted a 3.19 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 46 K/18 BB over 42.1 innings as a freshman and should rack up a lot of strikeouts this season as a weekend starter. Offensively, he has huge power potential but struggled as a freshman, hitting just .222/.319/.270 over 68 at-bats.

Tres Barrera, C, Texas

Still relatively new to catching, Barrera showed good actions behind the plate as a freshman and has a shot to stick there with continued work. He will, however, split time this season with freshman Michael Cantu but should still see time at DH when not catching. He has a lot of raw power and won the 2014 College Home Run Derby with 41 total home runs. Over 65 games as a freshman, the 6’-0”, 210 pound right-hander hit .261/.337/.402 with 13 doubles, five home runs and 35 RBI.

Ronnie Dawson, OF, Ohio State

A quick-twitch athlete with plus speed and a lot of raw tools, Dawson is a 6’-2”, 225 pound left-handed hitter with excellent bat speed and raw plus power. He hit .337/.396/.454 over 55 games as a freshman with 10 doubles, four home runs and 10 stolen bases. He was tabbed as the best prospect at the 2014 Prospect League, hitting .303/.414/.540 over 211 at-bats with 17 stolen bases and a league-leading 11 home runs. He still needs to refine his approach but there is a lot of upside here.

Mike Donadio, OF, St. Johns

The Big East Rookie of the Year, Donadio hit .328/.434/.487 over 55 games for the Red Storm with five home runs, seven stolen bases and 31 walks to 28 strikeouts. The 6’-0”, 195 pound left-handed hitter has an advanced approach at the plate and hits right-handers and southpaws equally well. He has been timed at 6.52 in the 60 and is still learning to use his speed on the base paths. Was the top prospect at the Hamptons Collegiate League, hitting .380/.467/.481 over 41 games with nine stolen bases and 19 walks to 23 strikeouts.

Nick Banks, OF, Texas A&M

A great athlete with plus speed and raw power from the left side, Banks could be one of the better power/speed guys in the 2016 MLB draft. The 6’-0”, 200 pound left-hander hit .327/.386/.427 over 57 games as a freshman with 10 doubles, two home runs and seven stolen bases. The power is raw but just waiting to break out. There is some swing-and-miss to his game but it’s a sweet swing and his approach is improving. He was a member of the 2014 Collegiate National Team.

Tyler Alexander, LHP, TCU

Another southpaw who relies more on his ability to throw strikes than overpowering opponents, Alexander put up impressive numbers as a freshman for the Horned Frogs. Over 20 appearance (16 starts), he had a 2.36 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 59 K/11 BB over 99 innings. He is a polished pitcher with excellent command of his four-pitch mix. His fastball sits 88-91 mph and he adds an above-average curveball and a solid change-up and slider. There may not be a lot of projection left, but he will eat up a lot of innings with solid numbers.

J.B. Woodman, OF, Mississippi

A great athlete who was a star quarterback in high school, Woodman is a 6’-2”, 210 pound left-handed hitter with above-average speed and a strong enough arm in the outfield. He has the tools to stick in center and his size suggests more power will come, making him a good fit in a corner outfield spot as well. Over 58 games as a freshman, he hit .298/.346/.429 with 15 extra-base hits and 10 stolen bases. He is an aggressive hitter, drawing just 13 walks, and scouts want to see him work on his approach. He impressed at the Cal Ripken League over the summer, hitting .342/.393/.524 over 20 games with 11 extra-base hits and eight stolen bases.

Peter Alonso, 1B, Florida

The 6’-2”, 225 pound right-hander has massive power potential and he showed it at the Northwoods League, belting 18 home runs, good for second in the league. He hit .354/.418/.633 over 59 games and scouts liked the improvements he made in his approach as he drew 20 walks to 32 strikeouts. As a freshman for the Gators, he hit .264/.344/.376 with four home runs over 60 games. He has the arm and enough athleticism to handle a corner outfield spot and a big year could be coming.

Next 10:

Matthew Krook, LHP, Oregon
Tyler Stubblefield, LHP, Texas A&M
Willie Abreu, OF, Miami
Jared Poche’, LHP, LSU
Jake Fraley, OF, LSU
Heath Quinn, OF, Samford
Ben DeLuzio, 2B, Florida State
Andrew Knizner, 3B, North Carolina State
Kyle Serrano, RHP, Tennessee
Jon Duplantier, RHP, Rice

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @DanMKirby for 2015 MLB draft updates, high school and college news, as well as Chicago Cubs ramblings.

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