College baseball preview: Top 30 sophomores

With the college baseball season starting just over two weeks from now, it’s time to take a look at the sophomore class. The class is loaded, and the 2015 MLB draft should be well represented by college players early on. Here are my personal top returning sophomores, in no particular order:

(Top 30 incoming freshmen review can be seen here.)

Alex Bregman college baseball
Alex Bregman is coming off a monster freshman campaign.

Alex Bregman, SS, LSU

Voted Freshman of the Year by many outlets, the 6’-1” right-hander had an outstanding freshman year, hitting .369/.417/.546 over 67 games with 18 doubles, seven triples, six home runs and 16 stolen bases. He drew 24 walks to just 25 strikeouts, showing an advanced approach at the plate. His 104 hits ranked second in the nation. He had a 23-game hitting streak during which he hit .495/.542/.742, and he also reached base in 31 straight games. LSU lost a lot of impact players to the draft and graduation, and Bregman will be the leader of the team, along with staff ace Aaron Nola, in hopes of guiding the Tigers to Omaha again. I got a chance to ask Alex Bregman a couple of questions about the upcoming season. See the interview here.

Skye Bolt, OF, North Carolina

Like Bregman, Bolt put together an impressive freshman year and also led his team to Omaha, hitting .321/.418/.491 over 54 games with 14 doubles, six home runs, 51 RBI and 10 stolen bases. He also showed an advanced approach at the plate by drawing 32 walks to just 28 strikeouts. The 6’-2”, switch-hitter should develop more power, and his athleticism, strong arm and instincts allow him to play all three outfield spots. A high-character kid with a ton of upside who was also a member of Collegiate Team USA.

Thomas Eshelman, RHP, Cal State Fullerton

The 6’-3” right-hander put up video-game numbers during his freshman campaign. Over 17 starts, he went 12-3 with a 1.48 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and allowed just one home run over 115.2 innings. The most shocking stat may have been his strikeout-to-walk ratio: 83 strikeouts to just three walks. With his simple mechanics, he repeats his delivery well and locates his pitches with pinpoint control. Not a power pitcher, as his fastball sits in the 88-91 mph range, he relies on his ability to mix his pitches well and attacks hitters inside and out. He relied mostly on a fastball/change-up combo and used his curveball and cutter as complementary offerings.

Justin Garza, RHP, Cal State Fullerton

With a compact delivery, the 5’-11”, 170 pound right-hander gets the most out of his frame. His fastball sits in the 90-94 mph range due to his quick arm, and his change-up shows plus potential with good depth. He put together a monster of a freshman season, going 12-0 with a 2.03 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 95 K/17 BB over 115 innings. The Titans are going to be tough to beat with Garza, Eshelman and incoming freshman, Phil Bickford, at the top of the rotation.

Ryan Burr, RHP, Arizona State

A 6’-4”, 215 pound power right-hander, Burr was untouchable his freshman season as opponents hit just .141 against him. Over 31 appearances, he posted a 2.20 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and had 60 K/23 BB over 45 innings. Playing for Collegiate Team USA, he was even more impressive, striking out 20 over 9.2 innings, allowing just two hits. His fastball sits in the mid 90s and can touch 97 mph, although he can get wild when he overthrows. He adds a slurve that has plus potential and wipes out hitters when on.

D.J. Stewart, OF, Florida State

A Freshman All-American by Baseball America, Stewart is built like a tank at 6’-0” and 230 pounds. The left-handed hitter put up a slash line of .364/.469/.560 over 60 games with 25 doubles, five home runs, 59 RBI and eight stolen bases. He has a great approach at the plate as he drew 38 walks to 40 strikeouts. A very good athlete for his size, he has been clocked at 6.84 in the 60 (although that was in high school) and his arm at 90 mph from the outfield. He generates a ton of power from the left side and he should be able to stick in a corner outfield spot, most likely left field.

Ryan Kellogg, LHP, Arizona State

The 6’-5”, 220 pound southpaw tossed a no-hitter on March 23 against third-ranked Oregon State. For the year, he went 11-1 with a 3.15 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 54 K/17 BB over 103 innings. Not a power pitcher, as his fastball sits in the 88-91 mph range, he relies on his command and ability to mix it up on the mound. He adds a tight curveball that complements his fastball and his change-up is still developing. With his size and easy delivery, there is still projection left.

Cole Irvin, LHP, Oregon

With four pitches in his arsenal, the 6’-4”, 185 pound southpaw relies on his control and ability to mix his pitches well rather than overpowering hitters. His fastball sits in the 88-92 mph range and his change-up is already a plus pitch. He adds a low-80s slider that also shows plus potential, and his curveball is still inconsistent right now but looks to be a quality offering, as well. He was a workhorse his freshman year, going 12-3 over 16 starts with a 2.48 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 60 K/22 BB over 116 innings.

Andrew Moore, RHP, Oregon State

While he may be a bit undersized (5’-11”, 185 pounds) for a frontline starter, the right-hander was a workhorse for the Beavers as a freshman, logging 131 innings and posting a 1.79 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 14-2 record, which earned him first-team Freshman All-American honors from Baseball America. He added 72 K/28 BB and opponents hit just .207 against him. With the huge workload he took on as a freshman, it will be interesting to see how he responds his sophomore year.

Hunter Virant, LHP, UCLA

Coming out of high school, the 6’-4” southpaw was one of the better prep arms available in the 2012 MLB draft. With a  strong commitment to UCLA, he fell to round 11 to the Houston Astros but decided to forgo the draft. He features a low-90s fastball but his best pitch may be his change-up, which sits 77-79 mph with great deception. He adds a mid-70s, loopy curveball that has potential to be a very good offering with continued work. He didn’t see much time as a freshman, tossing 3.1 scoreless innings, striking out one to four walks. His command can be an issue but he has a lot of upside due to his size.

Cody Poteet, RHP, UCLA

Like Virant, Poteet was a big name in high school, impressing at every event he participated in. His strong commitment to UCLA also led him to drop in the draft, ultimately going in round 27 to the Washington Nationals. With a mid-90s fastball that can touch 97 mph, and a plus breaking ball, the 6’-1” right-hander has the stuff. As a midweek starter and reliever for the Bruins last year, he posted a 4.84 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 56 K/31 BB over 70.2 innings, allowing just 57 hits. A very good athlete, he has been clocked at 6.83 in the 60 and was a great hitter in high school.

Trent Thornton, RHP, North Carolina

At 6’-0” and 170 pounds, Thornton is a starter now, but some think he will be a reliever at the next level due to his effort in his delivery. The right-hander had a sensational freshman season, going 12-1 with a 1.37 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 81 K/19 BB over 91.2 innings as a mid-week starter and reliever. His fastball sits in the 90-94 mph range and he adds a power curve, sitting in the upper 70s.

Matthew Crownover college baseball
Matthew Crownover overcame Tommy John surgery and had an impressive freshman campaign.

Matthew Crownover, LHP, Clemson

Fifteen months after having Tommy John surgery, Crownover was named to several Freshman All-American teams after going 7-3 with a 2.19 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 45 K/17 BB over 70 innings for Clemson. At 6’-0” and 210 pounds, the southpaw has an effortless delivery and just knows how to pitch. His fastball sits in the low 90s and his change-up shows plus potential. He adds a mid-70s curveball and he has great command of all three. A very good athlete who repeats his delivery well and is confident on the mound.

C.J. Hinojosa, SS, Texas

After a decorated career at Klein Collins HS in Texas, the 5’-11”, 190 pound right-hander was drafted late, in round 26 by the Houston Astros, due to his strong commitment to Texas. A very good athlete, who runs a 6.71/60 and has had his arm clocked at 90 mph from the infield, he has a chance to stick at shortstop but could transition to second base where his future power will play well. As a freshman, he hit .309/.368/.414 over 51 games with 14 extra-base hits and 18 walks to just 26 strikeouts. A solid approach at the plate, as well as the overall game.

Riley Ferrell, RHP, TCU

The 6’-1”, 200 pound right-hander turned heads when he was hitting 98 mph with his fastball for Collegiate Team USA. He sits in the mid 90s with it and it has nasty life to hit. His secondary offerings are still developing and there are questions if he is a starter or reliever at the next level. Over 32.2 innings of relief as a freshman, he posted a 2.20 ERA, 1.07 WHIP with 39 K/11 BB.

P.J. Conlon, LHP, San Diego

A 6’-0”, 180 pound southpaw who started the season in the pen and finished as the Friday night starter, Conlon features a low-90s fastball with movement and he adds solid secondaries in a curveball and change-up. He repeats his delivery well and has good command of his stuff because of it. He posted a 2.16 ERA, 1.25 WHIP with 71 K/28 BB over 87.1 innings. He was dominant in WCC play, going 6-0 with a 1.28 ERA over 49.1 innings.

Kyle Funkhouser, RHP, Louisville

At 6’-3” and 205 pounds, the right-hander showed an electric fastball at the Cape, hitting 97 mph and sitting 92-94 with life. His slider is a solid offering and his change-up is still developing but some believe he can be a starter due to his frame and easy delivery. Had 21 K/6 BB over 13 innings of relief at the Cape. H was a midweek starter and reliever for Louisville his freshman year, posting a 2.14 ERA, 1.25 WHIP with 55 K/25 BB over 54.2 innings.

Rhett Wiseman, OF, Vanderbilt

A very good athlete, the 5’-11”, 190 pound left-handed hitter impressed at the Cape Cod League, hitting .294/.366/.515 with 14 doubles, four home runs and 12 stolen bases over 41 games. He still is considered raw in areas but has the tools to put it all together and can generate good power from the left side. As a freshman for the ‘Dores, he hit .289/.360/.438 over 121 at-bats with three home runs and was 6-for-6 in stolen base attempts. Should be a big part of the offense this year.

David Thompson, 3B, Miami

The 6’-2”, 210 pound right-hander has tremendous power potential and even broke Alex Rodriguez’ school record for career home runs with 55 at Westminster HS in Florida. He entered his freshman season with the Hurricanes as their clean-up hitter and thrived all year. Over 52 games, he hit .286 with 14 doubles, six home runs and 46 RBI. He reached base in his last 28 games. He did have shoulder surgery for a torn labrum on his throwing arm over the summer but is said to be at 100 percent and should resume his duties at third base. Big-time power potential.

Kevin Newman, SS, Arizona

The 6’-1“, 175 pound right-hander became the first freshman ever to win the batting title at the Cape Cod League. Over 40 games, he hit .375 and stole 16 bases. As a freshman for the Wildcats, he hit .336/.398/.392 over 55 games with 11 stolen bases and 20 walks to just 13 strikeouts. A very good defender with range, soft hands and a solid arm, Newman should be able to stick at shortstop and he profiles to a top of the order hitter with a great approach and above-average speed. One of those high IQ, fundamentally sound players.

Joe McCarthy, OF, Virginia

A three-sport star in high school, the 6’-3”, 215 pound left-hander is a terrific athlete and runs a 6.69/60. He has a great approach at the plate and more power will come very soon. Over 60 games as a freshman, he hit .336/.469/.453 with 10 doubles, four home runs, 51 RBI and 11 stolen bases. He also drew 54 walks to just 32 strikeouts and is one of the better hitters in college. His speed, instincts and arm allow him to play all three outfield spots but a corner is where he will likely end up.

Steven Duggar, OF, Clemson

A great athlete who runs a 6.64/60 and has a very strong arm, Duggar is a 6’-2”, 190 pound left-handed hitter with excellent bat speed. Over 62 games as a freshman, he hit .300/.359/.380 and stole 15 bases. He has a solid approach at the plate, and the bat speed allows him to wait on his pitch and drive the ball to all fields. He recorded nine assists in the outfield and has all the tools to hold down a corner outfield spot, possibly center field. An exciting player with a lot of intangibles.

Xavier Turner, 3B, Vanderbilt

A mature player with a great approach at the plate, Turner’s bat speed allows him to drive the ball to all fields, although the lack of present power may force him off the hot corner. At 6’-2” and 220 pounds, the power could come but he has the actions and arm to handle second base, or a corner outfield spot where his speed would play well. Over 59 games as a freshman, he hit .324/.387/.370 with 22 stolen bases and drew 19 walks to just 22 strikeouts. He profiles as a top-of-the-order, high-average hitter with good speed.

James Kaprielian, RHP, UCLA

The 6’-4”, 190 pound right-hander should be a weekend starter this year after impressing at the Cape. He showed a 92-94 mph fastball, a 81-84 mph sharp slider and his change-up has developed nicely, rounding out a three-pitch mix. He had 38 K/6 BB over 26 innings at the Cape, including the playoffs. As a freshman, he posted a 1.55 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and allowed just 19 hits over 40.2 innings with 53 K/24 BB. A lot of upside due to his size, easy delivery and stuff.

Tate Matheny, OF, Missouri State

Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in round 23 out of high school, his dad is Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny. Tate opted to forgo the draft and the move has already paid off. A second-team Freshman All-American by Baseball America, the 6’-0”, 190 pound right-hander hit .336/.396/.459 over 54 games with 14 doubles, four home runs and drew 22 walks. An aggressive player with a good approach at the plate, he also has a high game IQ having grown up around it.

Ian Happ, 2B, Cincinnati

A first-team Freshman All-American by Baseball America, the switch-hitter brings speed, power and an advanced approach at the plate with him to the field. He also has a strong arm and even tossed an inning of relief in the Cape, striking out two batters. Over 56 games as a freshman, he hit .322/.451/.483 with six home runs and 25 stolen bases, and he drew a whopping 47 walks to 32 strikeouts. He was named to the Cape Cod League All-Star team after hitting .293/.359/.469 over 39 games with five home runs and 13 stolen bases. A great all-around player who should stick at second base.

Landon Lassiter, 3B, North Carolina

After playing most of last season at shortstop, the 6’-1”, 170 pound right-hander will man the hot corner this year for the Tar Heels. One of the better hitters in college, he hit .358/.491/.447 over 69 games as a freshman and drew a silly 53 walks. With an advanced and patient approach, Lassiter sprays the ball to all fields and more power should come as he matures. A very good athlete, he has been clocked at 6.89 in the 60.

Kyle Twomey, LHP, USC

A former third-round pick by the Athletics, Twomey has a lot to like as a prospect. With a smooth, easy delivery, his fastball sits 91-94 mph and there is still room for more in the tank with his minimal effort. He adds a change-up that shows plus potential, and his curveball is heading in the same direction. At 6’-3” and 170 pounds, the right-hander has a projectable frame and a good feel for the mound. Was impressive at the Cape, striking out 31 over 23 innings.

Walker Buehler, RHP, Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt’s likely Sunday starter, Buehler is a 6’-1”, 160 pound right-hander with a lot of projection due to his smooth, effortless delivery, four-pitch mix and ability to throw any of them in any situation. His fastball sits 92-94 mph and can touch 96 with life. His curveball shows plus potential with depth and late bite and both his change-up and slider are still developing. He never rattles and shows great composure and mound presence. Posted a 3.14 ERA, 1.41 WHIP with 57 K/25 BB over 63 innings as a midweek starter and reliever as a freshman.

Max Schrock, 2B, South Carolina

The 5’-9”, 180 pound left-handed hitter started the season in a funk. Through his first 99 at-bats, he was hitting just .212. He then hit .336 the rest of the way, earning second-team Freshman All-American honors from Baseball America. He runs a 6.86/60 and stole 14 bases as a freshman. He also drew 36 walks to just 23 strikeouts, showing an advanced approach at the plate. He should be able to stick at second base and he has some pop in his bat as he hit six home runs last year.

Next five: Jacob Cronenworth, Michigan; Jake Matthys, Kansas State; Carson Fulmer, Vanderbilt; Tyler France, San Diego State; Mitchell Tolman, Oregon.

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

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