College baseball preview: Top 30 juniors

The 2014 college baseball season is just over a week away, set to start on February 14. With the freshmen and sophomores out of the way, it’s time to focus on the top juniors in the country. I have decided to rank the juniors as they are draft eligible and everyone likes a good ranking. Here are my top 30 juniors for the 2014 season:

Top 30 freshmen preview      Top 30 sophomore preview

Carlos Rodon
Carlos Rodon is still number-one on nearly everyone’s board.

1. Carlos Rodon, LHP, North Carolina State

To give you an idea of just how good Rodon is, many think he would be a top-five prospect in baseball right now. The 6’-3”, 240 pound southpaw has a ridiculous arsenal and will throw any pitch in any count. He features a mid-90s fastball with life, a plus/plus slider that wipes out hitters, a change-up with nice fade, an above-average curveball and he also mixes in a cutter. As a sophomore for the Wolfpack, he posted a 2.99 ERA, 1.05 WHIP with 184 K/45 BB over 132.1 innings. He then went out and dominated for the Collegiate National Team, going 3-0 with 21 K/4 BB over 17 shutout innings, allowing just five hits.

2. Tyler Beede, RHP, Vanderbilt

I am extremely high on Beede, and the way he dominated in the fall makes me nervous that he won’t be there when the Cubs are picking at four. The 6’-4”, 210 pound right-hander allowed just three runs on three hits over 14 innings. He also struck out 23 batters without walking a single one. His four-seam fastball can touch 97 mph and sits in the 93-94 range. His two-seamer was sitting 91-92 mph this fall and had Wiffle ball movement on it, often resembling a change-up to batters. His curveball is a knee-buckler with 12-6 action, sitting in the low 80s. His change-up has great deception and was also rated plus by scouts this fall. As a sophomore, he set a school record with 14 wins and posted a 2.32 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 103 K/63 BB over 101 innings. He allowed just 64 hits, holding batters to a .187 average.

3. Jeff Hoffman, RHP, East Carolina

The 6’-4”, 200 pound right-hander used the Cape Cod League as his coming out party and most have him going in the top two picks in the 2014 MLB draft. Over 24.1 innings, he had 33 K/5 BB and allowed 20 hits for Hyannis and showed the stuff of a future ace. His fastball can touch 98 mph, his curveball is a wipe-out pitch, sitting 80-84 mph, and both his slider and change-up are solid offerings and getting better. Over 15 starts as a sophomore, he had a 3.20 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 84 K/39 BB over 109.2 innings. His 7.2 innings-per-start show the kind of stamina he has, and he maintains velocity deep in games.

4. Trea Turner, SS, North Carolina State

Another one of my favorites, Turner is a guy who brings a lot of abilities to the field every GM wants. With his speed, instincts, soft hands and arm, he easily will stick at shortstop and is a very good defender who can make highlight-reel plays. He also has an advanced approach at the plate and, once he gets on, is a menace on the base paths. Over 56 games as a sophomore, the 6’-1” right-hander hit .368/.455/.553 with 30 stolen bases and drew 38 walks to just 30 strikeouts. He also hit seven home runs, showing developing power. As a freshman, he led the nation in stolen bases with 57 and was only thrown out four times. Fully healed from an ankle injury that slowed him down over the summer, Turner is ready for a monster junior season in hopes of leading NC State to Omaha.

5. Aaron Nola, RHP, LSU

A control artist extraordinaire, The 6’-1” right-hander features a plus, low-90s fastball with nasty sink to it. He offsets his fastball with a deceptive change-up that freezes hitters. As a freshman, he had 89 K/7 BB over 89.2 innings and 40 of those strikeouts were looking. He was lights-out as a sophomore for LSU, going 12-1 over 17 starts with a 1.57 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 122 K/18 BB over 126 innings. His size limits his upside a bit, and he isn’t a power arm, but he is a pitcher in every sense of the word. He has a date with Tyler Beede and Vanderbilt on March 14 which should draw it’s share of scouts.

6. Derek Fisher, OF, Virginia

I feel a breakout year coming from the 6’-3”, 200 pound right-hander. One of the better all around players in the 2014 MLB draft, Fisher made great strides in his approach at the plate last season, dropping his strikeouts from 61 to 38 in roughly the same number of games. A great athlete with good speed on the base paths, he hit .306 over 53 games as a sophomore with 12 doubles, seven home runs, stole eight bases and had a .420 OBP/.505 SLG. He hit .333 in the Cape Cod League and drew 25 walks to just 19 strikeouts, again showing his improvement in his approach. The Cavaliers are one of the top teams in the country and Fisher is a big reason why.

7. Max Pentecost, C, Kennesaw State

Like Hoffman, Pentecost used the Cape Cod League to show just how talented he is. With the tools to stick behind the plate, his athletic abilities and offensive potential make him a first-rounder even if he has to switch positions. He won the MVP at the Cape, hitting .346 over 35 games with six home runs, 29 RBI and five stolen bases. He also drew 16 walks to 22 strikeouts, showing off a solid approach at the plate. Many believe the power will continue to develop.

8. Sean Newcomb, LHP, Hartford

With a fastball that can touch 96 mph, the 6’-5”, 220 pound southpaw is a power arm that could really break out this year if his secondaries continue to improve. Over 13 starts as a sophomore, he had a 3.75 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 92 K/37 BB over 72 innings while holding hitters to a .213 batting average. His slider shows plus potential but is still inconsistent. It has potential to be a wipe-out pitch. His change-up is still developing. There is a lot to like due to his size and power arm from the left side.

9. Bradley Zimmer, OF, San Francisco

The younger brother of Royals top prospect Kyle Zimmer, Bradley is a 6’-5” right-hander with plus speed and developing power. Over 58 games as a sophomore, he hit .320/.437/.512 with 12 doubles, seven home runs and stole 19 bases. He also shows a great approach at the plate as he drew 29 walks to 31 strikeouts and was hit by a pitch a whopping 16 times, proving he’ll do whatever it takes to get on base. He showed off his wheels for the Collegiate National Team, swiping 11 of 12 bases over 21 games while also hitting an even .300. His speed and plus arm should allow him to remain in center field at the next level.

Kyle Freeland was one of the best pitchers at the Cape Cod League.
Kyle Freeland was one of the best pitchers at the Cape Cod League.

10. Kyle Freeland, LHP, Evansville

A 6’-4”, 185 pound southpaw, Freeland was one of the better pitchers at the Cape Cod League, posting a 2.25 ERA and 48 K/4 BB over 40 innings. He seemed to get better as the season went on, and his last start was his best outing — he allowed three hits over seven shutout innings while striking out 10 to no walks. His fastball sits in the low/mid 90s and he adds a plus slider. His change-up still needs work but there’s a lot to like about him due to his size and stuff from the left side. As a sophomore, he had 84 K/26 BB over 93.1 innings. The one knock on him seems to be the amount of effort in his delivery.

11. Luke Weaver, RHP, Florida State

A 6’-2”, 180 pound right-hander, Weaver enjoyed an outstanding season for the Seminoles this year. Over 15 starts, he had a 2.29 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 119 K/19 BB over 98.1 innings. His 10.9 K/9 and 6.3 K/BB ratios show the kind of power/command pitcher he is. His fastball sits in the low/mid 90s and he adds a change-up that shows plus potential. There is still room for projection and added velocity as he fills out. Over 21 innings for Team USA, he had 17 K/5 BB. A March 14 match-up with NC State and Carlos Rodon is a must watch.

12. Kyle Schwarber, C/1B, Indiana

The 6’-0”, 230 pound right-hander has tremendous power and is also one of the better hitters available in the 2014 MLB draft. His ability to remain behind the plate is still up for debate, but he wants to stay there and has been working hard on his defense. Over 61 games as a sophomore, he hit .366/.456/.647 with 10 doubles, 18 home runs and drew 42 walks to just 37 strikeouts. He then hit .308/.396/.436 over 21 games for the Collegiate National Team with 11 walks. We all saw the premium put on college bats in last year’s draft, and Schwarber should benefit from that this year.

13. Michael Conforto, OF, Oregon State

One of the better bats available in the 2014 MLB draft, the 6’-2”, 215 pound right-hander uses the whole field and has a great approach at the plate. I got a chance to see him hit when the Collegiate National team played at Kane County, and I was extremely impressed by the way he handles himself at the plate — waiting for his pitch and driving it to the gaps with ease. He hit .328/.447/.526 over 65 games as a sophomore with 11 home runs and 41 walks. He’s not going to steal many bases, and he will most likely end up in left field. His bat is what will land him in the first round, but there will be a lot of pressure on it to produce.

14. Brandon Finnegan, RHP, TCU

A power lefty who can touch 97 mph with his fastball, Finnegan’s size (5’-11”, 185 pounds) has some questioning if he can remain an elite starter at the next level. His fastball sits in the mid 90s with a lot of life and his slider has plus potential. Posted a 3.18 ERA, 1.37 WHIP with 86 K/35 BB over 79.1 innings as a sophomore. Starring for the Collegiate National Team, he had a team-high 23 K over 23.2 innings, allowing just 11 hits. He did issue 10 walks, however, and his command can get him in trouble at times. A strong junior season is expected.

15. Nick Burdi, RHP, Louisville

When you are 6’-4”, 215 pounds, and can routinely hit triple-digits with your fastball, you’ve got the world on a string. Burdi’s lack of a third pitch will likely keep him in the bullpen where he has the stuff, and mind set, to be a dominant closer at the next level. He adds a slider that sits 88-91 mph and completely baffles hitters who are waiting on his fastball. He obliterated hitters last year, posting an 0.76 ERA over 35.2 innings with 62 K/13 BB for a ridiculous 15.7 K/9 ratio.

16. Michael Cederoth, RHP, San Diego State

At 6’-6” and 210 pounds, the right-hander can sling it up to 99 mph and sits in the mid 90s. He also adds a mid-80s slider, as well as a mid-80s change-up that is more of an out pitch. His command can be shaky at times as he is still learning how to be a pitcher instead of just running his overpowering fastball. Over 15 starts last year, he had a 4.25 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 109 K/48 BB over 95.1 innings. If he works on his command the way Jonathan Gray did last year, as well as refine his off-speed stuff, he should be one of the first college pitchers off the board.

17. Erik Fedde, RHP, UNLV

The 6’-4”, 180 pound right-hander features a classic three-pitch mix and all three are solid offerings. His best pitch is his mid-80s power slider that shows plus potential. He adds a 90-93 mph fastball and a solid change-up to his arsenal. As a sophomore, he posted a 3.92 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 83 K/28 BB over 96.1 innings. He also was a member of Collegiate Team USA, striking out eight to one walk over 5.2 innings. Great mound presence and knows how to mix up his offerings.

18. Dylan Davis, RHP, Oregon State

A two-way player, Davis has a lot of upside as a pitcher but is more advanced as a hitter. On the mound, he can touch 97 mph with his sinking fastball and also shows the makings of a plus slider. Offensively, the 6’-2”, 210 pound right-hander has immense power potential and a good approach at the plate. Over 63 games last year, he hit .335/.379/.502 with 22 doubles, five home runs and 61 RBI. He drew 19 walks to 35 strikeouts and stole nine bases. A very good athlete with tools galore.

19. Matt Chapman, 3B, Cal State Fullerton

The 6’-2”, 200 pound right-hander has a plus arm and enough range to stick at the hot corner. Whether or not the power will show up and remain there is up for debate, although reports are he will be playing some shortstop this year. He does show an advanced approach at the plate, having drawn 34 walks to 29 strikeouts over 55 games as a sophomore. I got to see him play with the Collegiate National Team and really liked his line-drive swing. He wound up leading Team USA in RBI with 20 over 23 games and drew 14 walks for a .396 OBP. If the power comes this year, he could move up draft boards.

20. Mike Papi, OF, Virginia

Playing alongside Derek Fisher is going to give Papi a ton of looks from scouts this year. The 6’-3”, 200 pound left-hander wasn’t even a starter until the 11th game of the season. From that point on, he was one of the best hitters in college and led the nation in OBP. Over 55 games, he hit .381/.517/.619 with 15 doubles, seven home runs and drew an impressive 45 walks to just 25 strikeouts. A good athlete, he should be able to stick at a corner outfield position. He has a tough act to follow as a junior.

21. Taylor Sparks, 3B/1B, UC Irvine

The Big West Conference Player of the Year as a sophomore, the 6’-4”, 210 pound right-hander hit .360/.388/.581 over 55 games with 10 home runs and 50 RBI. He only drew six walks to 40 strikeouts, showing needed work on his approach. Defensively, he has the arm and actions to stick at the hot corner where his plus power would play well. He led Collegiate Team USA with a .396 average over 19 games and was 7-for-7 in stolen bases, showing good speed on the base paths.

22. J.D. Davis, 1B/3B, Cal State Fullerton

The 6’-3”, 215 pound right-hander has plus power to all fields and a solid approach at the plate. Over 60 games as a sophomore, he hit .318/.407/.436 with 31 walks to 37 strikeouts. He also has a plus arm and can touch 94 mph on the mound as a reliever. He doesn’t offer any speed but could handle the hot corner due to his arm and footwork.

23. Matt Imhof, LHP, Cal Poly

At 6’-5” and 220 pounds, the southpaw has the size you want in a workhorse. He will only be 20 years old come draft day, making him one of the youngest college players in the draft. His fastball sits in the 89-92 mph range and can touch 94 due to his smooth, effortless delivery. He adds solid secondary stuff and knows how to mix his pitches well. Posted a 2.73 ERA, 1.23 WHIP with 95 K/30 BB over 101.2 innings as a sophomore. Has very good command of his stuff and there is still some projection left due to his size, age and delivery.

24. Andrew Suarez, LHP, Miami

When your fastball gains eight miles per hour in one year, people are going to notice. Fully healthy from shoulder surgery he had after his senior season of high school, the 6’-2”, 205 pound southpaw was hitting 95 mph with his fastball this fall. He also showed off an improved slider, sitting 81-84 mph and his change-up is developing nicely. While he may lack the size of a frontline starter, his three-pitch mix makes him a mid-rotation guy who still has some upside left.

25. Chris Oliver, RHP, Arkansas

A 6’-4”, 185 pound right-hander who can touch 97 mph with his fastball and adds a mid-80s power slider, Oliver will get a chance to start this year after working out of the bullpen his first two years. His change-up is still developing and a big year could propel him up draft boards. Had 21 K/8 BB over 20 innings last year, allowing 14 hits.

26. Grayson Greiner, C, South Carolina

At 6’-5” and 210 pounds, the right-hander makes for a big target behind the plate. He also has a plus arm (1.81 POP times) and is very accurate with it. He is a good athlete for his size and most believe he can stick behind the plate. The bat is the biggest question right now. He hasn’t shown a lot of power and his bat speed is just average. Over 57 games last year, he hit .298/.365/.424 with four home runs. He did draw 24 walks to just 28 strikeouts, showing a good approach at the plate. With his size and arm, he also has some upside as a pitcher.

27. Jonathan Holder, RHP, Mississippi State

Like Burdi, Holder is a dominant closer with two plus pitches. His fastball sits in the mid 90s with movement and his curveball is a mid-70s hammer. Over 34 appearances last year, the 6’-2”, 230 pound right-hander posted a 1.65 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and had 90 K/17 BB over 54.2 innings for a 14.8 K/9. He held opponents to a .175 average. He has great control of his stuff and can paint the corners with his fastball before dropping the curveball to absolutely freeze hitters.

28. Jordan Brink, RHP, Fresno State

Another pitcher who showed much improved stuff over the fall, the 6’-1”, 200 pound right-hander was hitting 96 mph with his fastball and showed a plus slider in the low 80s. His change-up is also developing rapidly and his three-pitch mix makes him starter material. Used as a mid-week starter/reliever as a sophomore, Brink will be the Friday starter this year. He posted a 3.92 ERA, 1.26 WHIP with 65 K/25 BB over 59.2 innings last year.

29. Joey Pankake, SS, South Carolina

Reports are Pankake is going to be playing all over the field this year. He will be the team’s closer, play some outfield and move around the infield — all in hopes of raising his draft stock. At 6’-1” and 200 pounds, he has an advanced approach at the plate, a canon arm and excellent bat speed. He showed developing power as a sophomore, hitting .311/.387/.496 over 62 games with 11 home runs and drew 29 walks to just 29 strikeouts. Even if he can’t stick at short, he should be bale to handle second base.

30. Brian Anderson, 2B, Arkansas

With a plus arm, instincts and good range, the 6’-3”, 190 pound right-hander should remain at second base and he shows the offensive potential to be a star. Over 59 games as a sophomore, he hit .325/.448/.488 with 12 doubles, four home runs and 36 RBI. He also drew 41 walks to 33 strikeouts, showing a very good approach at the plate. Scouts love his aggressiveness on the field and a strong junior year could push him into the first round.

Next five: Chris Ellis, RHP, Ole Miss, Nick Howard, 3B/RHP, Virginia, Fresno State, Casey Gillaspie, 1B, Wichita State, Alex Blandino, 3B, Stanford, Sam Travis, 1B, Indiana

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

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