College baseball preview: Top incoming freshmen

Last year’s college baseball season provided fans with some amazing performances by freshmen. Carlos Rodon, Michael Conforto, Derek Fisher, Trea Turner and a host of others had monster debuts, showing that the 2014 MLB draft should be a good one for college bats and arms. This year’s incoming freshmen class looks to be every bit as talented. Headlined by some great arms, here are 16 freshman to keep an eye on this year and in the future:

Hunter Virant should make an immediate impact for the Bruins this season. (Chuck Kirman/the Star)

Hunter Virant, LHP, UCLA

Drafted by the Houston Astros in the 11th round, Virant is a 6’-4” left-hander with a lot of projection. His fastball sits in the 87-89 mph range and he has great command of both sides of the plate. His fastball has nice tailing action against lefties and he has a very smooth delivery. His curveball is still a bit inconsistent but looks to be a future plus pitch with more refining. It is a slow, looping 12-6 offering with tight control that sits in the low 70s. His slider needs work, as well as his change-up. All four, however, should be above-average offerings at the next level. Virant is also a freak athlete who can rake it at the plate. This is a kid you are going to hear a lot about over the next three years and he should wind up a first-round pick if he continues to sharpen his pitches.

C.J. Hinojosa, SS, Texas

A very strong commitment to Texas, coupled with a shoulder injury that required season-ending surgery, caused Hinojosa to slip way down in the draft. The Astros selected him with the 789th pick but C.J. stuck with his commitment. The 5’-11″, 185-pound right-hander has very good bat speed and a strong understanding of the strike zone. He hit for a lot of power in high school but it remains to be seen if it will translate to the next level. He should hit for a good average, however. Defensively, he doesn’t have great range but his strong arm makes up for any deficiencies. He could stick at short but a move to second base may suit him better. A very intelligent player who gets the most out of his abilities.

Rhett Wiseman, OF, Vanderbilt

When Vanderbilt is attached to your name, most teams know you will be a tough sign. Selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 25th round, Wiseman’s decision to make good on his commitment was a no-brainer. An excellent athlete, the 6’-1”, 200-pound left-hander has a short, compact swing and can spray the ball to all fields. As a junior, he hit .447 with 11 home runs and used his 6.51/60 speed to swipe 29 bases. As a senior, he was named Gatorade Player of the Year in Massachusetts after hitting .444 over 21 games with eight home runs and 24 RBI. He is as gifted in the classroom as he is on the baseball field, and although he is still raw in some areas, three years at Vanderbilt should cure that.

Mitchell Traver, RHP, TCU

Traver is a 6’-7”, 250-pound right-hander with a ton of projection due to his size. He features a plus fastball that can reach 95 mph with late life. His curveball is a potential plus pitch and his change-up, while still developing, appears to be an above-average offering. His command needs work but he is in good hands at TCU and has three years to work on it. Over 61.1 innings as a senior, he had a 1.60 ERA with 75 strikeouts and held opponents to a .151 batting average. He did walk 36 batters, however, showing the needed improvement in that area.

Alex Bregman, 2B/C, LSU

Bregman is a 6’-0”, 190-pound right-hander with great power to all fields. As a junior, he set a New Mexico state record by crushing 19 home runs, as well as hitting .678 with 23 stolen bases. An advanced hitter with an easy swing, he has a high understanding of the game and will out work everyone to improve his game. A two-time gold medal winner with Team USA, he hit .564/.596/.846 with the U16 team in 2010 and .417 with seven RBI and five stolen bases with the U18 2011 team. He fits better at second base but has the ability to remain at catcher for LSU. An exciting player with a knack for coming through in the clutch.

Kayden Porter, RHP/1B, North Carolina

Country strong. Porter is a 6’-5”, 240-pound right-hander who excels on the mound, as well as the plate. As a senior, he hit .368 with nine doubles, 10 home runs and a .900 SLG over 97 plate appearances. He also went 5-1 with a 1.79 ERA and 60 K/28 BB over 47 innings, allowing just 20 hits. His fastball can touch 94 mph, and he also adds a low-80s curveball with sharp break. As a junior, he made it to the final round of the triple-A home run derby, routinely hitting 450-foot bombs, including a 474-foot shot to dead center field.

Rock Rucker, LHP/OF, Auburn

War Damn Eagle. Rucker is another two-way player who could turn into a monster once he refines his overall game. The 6’-5” left-hander can crank his fastball up to 96 mph, and he complements the pitch with a sharp curveball that looks plus at times. At the plate, he generates a ton of power from the left side, and his strong arm and athleticism would play well in a corner outfield spot. As a senior, he went 7-0 with a 0.76 ERA and 70 strikeouts over 36 innings. He also hit .382 with 13 doubles, eight home runs, 41 RBI with a 1.177 OPS over 40 games.

Taylore Cherry, RHP, North Carolina

Cherry wasn’t even drafted, that’s how strong his commitment to UNC was. The 6’-9”, 260-pound right-hander has a very high ceiling based on his size and fastball that can touch 96 mph with sink. He mixes in a curveball and change-up that both project to above-average with his change-up showing plus potential at times. Went 6-1 as a junior with a 1.38 ERA and 94 strikeouts over 56 innings, earning him Gatorade Player of the year honors in Ohio. Three years of refining his overall game could put Cherry into the first round of the 2015 draft.


Nathan Kirby’s devastating curveball will be welcomed at Virginia. (

Nathan Kirby, LHP, Virginia

Kirby, a 6’-1” left-hander, decided not to participate in the medical and drug programs required by Major League Baseball. That decision made him ineligible for the draft, showing how strong his commitment to Virginia was. He features an 89-92 mph fastball with late life, as well as a knee-buckling curveball that will be a plus pitch at the next level. He went 9-1 as a senior with a 1.24 ERA and 90 K/25 BB over 56.2 innings, earning him Gatorade Player of the year honors in Virginia. A smart pitcher with great command, he should make an immediate impact for the Cavaliers.

Clate Schmidt, RHP, Clemson

Schmidt had one of the best fastballs in his class, often hitting 96 mph on radar guns. The 6’-1”, 175-pound right-hander also features a low-70s curveball that projects to a plus pitch. His change-up is still developing and he will also mix in a cutter and a knuckleball from time to time. He went 3-1 as a senior with a 1.69 ERA and 33 K/9 BB over 29 innings. He also hit .406 as a shortstop and could be a two-way player for Clemson. His delivery has some effort to it and he could end up in the bullpen at the next level where his fastball/curveball combo would make him a lethal weapon. An extremely hard worker and great athlete, Schmidt should make a major impact for the Tigers.

Alec Rash, RHP, Missouri

Rash, a 6’-5”, 200-pound right-hander, was the highest drafted player on this list. The Phillies selected him in the second-round (95th overall) despite being fully aware of his strong commitment to Missouri. The Phillies’ loss is Missouri’s gain as he should make an immediate impact on the mound. His fastball has great movement and sits in the low-to-mid 90s. He also features a power slider that could be a plus/plus pitch at the next level. He adds a mid-80s change-up and has good control of all three. He went 5-2 his senior season with a 0.90 ERA and 97 strikeouts.

Carson Fulmer, RHP, Vanderbilt

As a senior, Fulmer went 9-0 with a 0.27 ERA and 161 K/19 BB over 77 innings. He had double-digit strikeouts in 12 of his 13 games and also threw two no-hitters. At 6’-1” and 200 pounds, he is a strong pitcher who can dial his fastball up to 96 mph. His slider has sharp bite and he uses it as his out pitch. His change-up is still developing but shows good deception on it. He is a polished pitcher with great mound presence who some believe would be better suited out of the bullpen as his size doesn’t project well for a starter.

Jameis Winston, OF, Florida State

Winston was the top quarterback prospect in the country and made good on his commitment to Florida State to play the position there. He also happens to be pretty good at baseball. At 6’-4” and 210 pounds, he is raw in many areas but he runs a 6.59/60 and can hit 92 mph on the radar gun. He is a switch-hitter who gets more power from the right side and his defense is good enough to hold down a corner outfield spot. He seems more dedicated to football at this point but his potential on the baseball field is intriguing. With more refining, he could be something special.

Ryan Burr, RHP, Arizona State

At 6’-4” and 215 pounds, Burr has a lot of projection as a top-of-the-order starter. The right-hander can dial his fastball up to 94 mph and he adds a hard biting curveball in the 75-77 mph range. His change-up is still developing but looks to be a solid offering, and he has command of all three. As a junior, he went 5-1 with a 1.85 ERA and 95 K/34 BB over 53 innings. As a senior, he went 5-2 with a 3.09 ERA and 75 K/25 BB over 45.1 innings. Could have a big year as a freshman for the Sun Devils.

Matthew Crownover, LHP, Clemson

Crownover, a 6’-1” left-hander, had Tommy John surgery in March of 2012 and might not make much of an impact his freshman year for the Tigers. He was considered one of the best prep pitchers in his class and had one of the best change-ups in the draft. His fastball sits in the 89-91mph range with good movement and he also adds a low 70s curveball. He has a very good understanding of how to pitch and also has very great command of his pitches.

Skye Bolt, OF, North Carolina

A switch-hitter, Bolt is an extremely athletic player whose speed and arm should allow him to stick at centerfield. At the plate, he uses a quick, smooth swing to take advantage of his excellent bat speed. He is more of a line-drive hitter now, but his size suggests more power will come. He runs a 6.61/60 and, mixed with his size, arm and ability at the plate, should be a top draft pick in 2015. An exciting player with a great name to boot.

Others of note: Blake Hickman (Iowa), Mikey White (Alabama), Jake Cosart (Duke), David Thompson (Miami)

Follow me on Twitter @DanMKirby for draft updates and prospect news.

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