College baseball preview: Top 30 incoming freshmen

We all saw the impact freshmen had last year in college baseball. With players like LSU’s Alex Bregman and North Carolina’s Skye Bolt leading their teams to Omaha, and the pitching duo of Cal State Fullerton’s Thomas Eshelman and Justin Garza dominating opponents, the class was loaded with talent and the first round of the 2015 MLB draft will be well represented by college players.

With the season starting February 14, it’s time to start looking at this year’s freshman crop. Are these the best 30 freshmen in the country? That’s impossible to say right now. These are 30 players I watched closely during their senior high school seasons and will continue to do so over the next three to four years. Not in any particular order:

Phil Bickford could put up big numbers as a freshman for Cal State Fullerton.
Phil Bickford could put up big numbers as a freshman for Cal State Fullerton.

Phil Bickford, RHP, Cal State Fullerton

The 6’-4” right-hander was one of the top stories from last year. He wasn’t on many radars to start the season, but ended up being one of the top prep arms available and was selected at 10 overall by the Toronto Blue Jays. With a lively fastball that touched 97 mph, and the ability to command both sides of the plate, Bickford dominated his peers. Over 84.2 innings, he had 146 K/11 BB and allowed just 38 hits. He threw a first-pitch strike to 226 of the 254 batters he faced. In his last high school game, he tossed a one-hit shutout, striking out 18 to no walks. His secondary pitches still need refining, but with his size and stuff, he has the potential to go higher than he did when the 2016 MLB draft comes around. He will team with sophomores Thomas Eshelman (1.48 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 83 K/3 BB over 115.2 IP) and Justin Garza (2.03 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 95 K/17 BB over 115 IP) to form a ridiculous trio for the next couple of years.

Chris Okey, C, Clemson

A very good defensive catcher with a strong arm and excellent footwork behind the plate, Okey is a polished player who is a two-time, gold-medal winner for U18 Team USA. At 6’-1” and 190 pounds, he makes consistent contact from the right side and has a very good approach at the plate. Over 29 games as a senior, he hit .417 for Eustis HS (FL) with six doubles, four home runs, 29 RBI and drew 17 walks to eight strikeouts for a .528 OBP/.679 SLG. He is also an excellent athlete with good speed, having gone a perfect 16-for-16 in stolen base attempts last season. Okey is a leader on and off the field and could put up big numbers as a freshman for the Tigers.

Connor Jones, RHP, Virginia

The 6’-3”, athletic right-hander made it known early on that he planned on honoring his commitment to Virginia so teams wouldn’t waste a high draft pick on him. He features a plus fastball that sits in the low 90s with heavy sinking action to go along with a slider that looks plus at times. His change-up is still developing, but with a couple of years refining it in college, he should be a big name in the 2016 MLB draft. He was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Virginia, playing for Great Bridge HS.

Ryan Boldt, OF, Nebraska

Boldt was a big name heading into the 2013 MLB draft. He was considered first-round talent, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury sliding into a base during the second game of his senior season and, although it wasn’t a serious injury, his draft status was up in the air. When he slipped to round 22 to the Boston Red Sox, it was all but certain he would be honoring his commitment to Nebraska as the money just wasn’t there under the new CBA rules to sign him. A 6’-1”, 195 pound right-hander, Boldt is more of a line-drive hitter with excellent bat speed and a strong approach at the plate, although power could develop due to his frame. He also has plus speed and should be a top of the order hitter. He has the arm, instincts and wheels to stick in center field. He was a key member of  gold-medal winning 2013 U18 Team USA and seems to play his best on the highest stages.

Andy McGuire, INF, Texas

Like Boldt, injury concerns may have caused McGuire to slip during the draft. He underwent hip surgery after his junior season and didn’t seem 100 percent during his senior season. The 6’-1”, 190 pound right-hander shows good potential at the plate where his bat speed allows him to make consistent contact and drive the ball to all fields. Isn’t going to steal many bases but has the footwork and range to handle second base or the hot corner where his bat will have added pressure. An intelligent player who is an alumni of Team USA Baseball, he has three years in Austin to prove the scouts wrong.

Matthew Krook, LHP, Oregon

Krook, a 6’-4”, 200 pound southpaw, was selected by the Miami Marlins at 35 in the Competitive Balanced Lottery Round A. He opted to honor his commitment to Oregon, putting his professional dream on hold for three years. A kid who gained steam leading up to the draft, his fastball has touched 94 mph, and he adds a curveball and change-up that both project to at least average pitches down the road. He does have command issues, but his size, mechanics and the fact that there is still room for projection, had scouts drooling all year. Three years at Oregon should make him one of the top arms available in the 2016 MLB draft.

Brett Morales, RHP, Florida

Still relatively new to pitching, the 6’-2”, 210 pound right-hander had a dominant season for King HS in Florida. Over 85 innings as a senior, he had 127 K/21 BB. He features a low-90s fastball with lively movement and his change-up looks plus at times with late fade and deception. His curveball is also a pitch that has plus potential, sitting in the mid 70s with good bite. He has good command of his stuff and just needs a little refining to put it all together. He is a good athlete who repeats his delivery well so the potential is there.

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

The 6’-6”, 210 pound left-hander shows a lot of promise as both a hitter and pitcher but the mound is where most believe he has the highest upside. His fastball can touch 94 mph with late sink and there is still room for more in the tank as he fills out. He shows a good feel for a change-up and his curveball is still developing. At the plate, he has tremendous power but is still raw in a lot of areas. With his size and power arm from the left side, he will be watched closely over the next three years.

Kyle Serrano, RHP, Tennessee

With his dad being the head coach at Tennessee, it was likely he would be honoring his commitment there. When he fell out of the first round, it was all but guaranteed. While he may not have the size (6’-1”, 190 pounds) of an ideal frontline starter, his stuff is electric. His fastball sits in the low 90s with late life, his change-up is already flashing plus and his curveball is headed in the same direction. He has great mound presence and there is still room in the tank for more.

Corey Ray takes his bat and athleticism to Louisville.
Corey Ray takes his bat and athleticism to Louisville.

Corey Ray, OF, Louisville

A Chicago kid, Ray is a 5’-11”, 190 pound left-hander who is a quick-twitch athlete with very good speed, as well as excellent bat speed. His short, compact swing allows him to make consistent contact and drive the ball to all fields and more power should come as he matures. He has a strong arm and, both his speed and instincts allow him to play all three outfield spots. He was an absolute beast down the stretch, hitting .513 over his final 13 games with four doubles, five triples, three home runs, 19 RBI and 16 stolen bases for Simeon Academy.

Jacob Heyward, OF/1B, Miami

Younger brother of Jason Heyward, Jacob was selected by the Atlanta Braves in round 38 but opted to forgo the draft and attend the University of Miami. Not nearly as big as his older brother, the 6’-0”, 180 pound right-hander does have pop in his bat and hit nine home runs as a senior for Eagle’s Landing HS in Georgia. He is still raw in many areas but is a good athlete who can adjust quicker than most. He has above-average speed (6.8/60) and his arm is strong enough to hold down a corner outfield spot.

Stephen Wrenn, OF, Georgia

One of my favorite players from last season, Wrenn is a 6’-2”, 180 pound right-hander with tools across the board. He hit .519/.649/.833 with 16 doubles, five home runs and stole 29 bases as a senior last season for Walton HS in Georgia. His plus speed (6.4/60) and strong arm (85 mph from outfield) should allow him to hold down center field and he is a threat on the base paths due to his speed and instincts. He has an advanced approach at the plate and more power could come as he fills out.

J.B. Woodman, OF, Mississippi

A great athlete who also starred on the football field, the 6’-2”, 190 pound left-handed hitter has plus speed (6.63/60) and a strong arm (91 mph) in the outfield. He projects to a top of the order hitter and has an advanced approach at the plate. His bat speed allows him to drive the ball to all fields and he can wreak havoc on the base paths once he gets on. Due to his speed and instincts. Chose Ole Miss over Florida and Air Force.

Cavan Biggio, INF, Notre Dame

The son of Craig Biggio, Cavan is a 6’-2”, 180 pound left-handed hitter who was considered one of the best hitters in the prep class. He has excellent bat speed and an advanced approach at the plate. He doesn’t have a lot of speed, but he should hit for decent power and has the defensive skills to remain at second base. A very high IQ having grown up around the game.

Jeremy Martinez, C, USC

Martinez is an extremely polished player who is a two-time, gold-medal winner as a member of U18 Team USA Baseball. There are questions about whether he will stick behind the plate and, if he can’t, some question where he will play. He hasn’t shown much power at the plate but does make consistent contact and has an advanced approach. He is a very smart player with a high baseball IQ who gets the most out of his abilities.

Jordan Sheffield, RHP, Vanderbilt

Once considered a potential first round pick, Tommy John surgery all but sealed him honoring his commitment to Vanderbilt. A 6’-1”, 185 pound right-hander with a fast, electric arm, Sheffield touched 98 mph with his fastball before the injury. He also had one of the best curveballs in his class and the change-up is still developing. He has a loose delivery and is very aggressive on the mound, attacking hitters inside and out. With three years in one of the top programs in the country, Sheffield will have plenty of time to regain his command and velocity.

Christian Pelaez, LHP, LSU

A 6’-0”, 175 pound southpaw with a smooth, easy delivery, Pelaez relies on his pitching savvy and ability to mix up his pitches rather than overpowering hitters. He features a classic three-pitch mix: fastball, curveball and change-up with his fastball sitting in the 88-91 mph range.

Wil Crowe, RHP, South Carolina

A big right-hander at 6’-3” and 225 pounds, Crowe’s fastball sits in the 92-95 mph range and there is still room for more velocity as he matures. He also features solid secondaries in a curveball and change-up, both in the mid 70s. He has good command of his pitches and mixes them well. He was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Tennessee playing for Pigeon Forge HS. He finished his senior season 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 and should be a workhorse pitcher for the Gamecocks.

Cal Quantrill, RHP, Stanford

A very polished pitcher, whose father Paul Quantrill is a former major league pitcher, Cal is a 6’-3” right-hander with a lot of projection. His fastball sits in the low 90s and his change-up flashes plus potential. A bulldog on the mound, he also is very athletic, which bodes well for his projection. He was a member of the Canadian Junior National Team.

Willie Abreu, OF, Miami

A high school teammate of Chicago Cubs top prospect Albert Almora, Abreu is a 6’-2”, 190 pound left-hander with excellent bat speed and power to all fields. A very good athlete, he runs a 6.7/60 and runs good routes in the outfield, making him a good fit for a corner outfield spot where his bat will play well. A smart player, he is an alumni of Team USA Baseball and has played against some of the best competition.

Ben DeLuzio, INF, Florida State

At 6’-2” and 185 pounds, the right-hander has a lot of upside due to his size and athleticism. He has great speed (6.56/60) and his soft hands and smooth actions give him a legitimate shot to stick at shortstop. Offensively, his short, compact stroke allows him to drive the balls to all fields and he has a solid approach at the plate. Was a third round pick (80 overall) by the Marlins but decided to honor his commitment. Hit .424/.514/.641 as a senior with 25 stolen bases.

Trevin Haseltine, RHP, California

The 6’-4”, 210 pound right-hander has a lot of upside due to his size and his fastball sits in the 90-93 mph range. He adds a developing change-up, as well as a low-80s slider with good sweeping action. Had 78 K/21 BB over 54 innings as a senior for Wood HS in California. His mechanics need some refining but he has the stuff and size that scouts love. He should be an interesting prospect to follow for the next three years.

Alec Hansen, RHP, Oklahoma

The 6’-7” right-hander put his name on the map last year when he was hitting 96 mph with his fastball. Obviously, with his power arm and size, the upside is high. His secondary stuff still needs refining but he will have plenty of time to put it all together at Oklahoma. As a senior for Loveland HS, he simply overpowered his opponents with his fastball, striking out 69 over 29.1 innings for a 21.2 K/9 ratio.

Zack Collins, C/1B, Miami

At 6′-3″ and 220 pounds, the left-handed hitter has enormous power potential and also has a solid approach at the plate. His excellent bat speed allows him to drive any pitch, although his long swing could lead to a lot of swing and miss. He has the size and tools to remain at catcher, but most believe he will end up at first base at the next level. Another alumni of Team USA Baseball, he has faced the best competition and has always impressed.

Arden Pabst, C, Georgia Tech

A strong defensive catcher who has had a ton of experience catching power arms, Pabst is a 6’-1”, 210 pound right-hander who was a  teammate of 2012 first-round picks Max Fried and Lucas Giolito, as well as 2014 possible first-rounder Jack Flaherty, playing for Harvard-Westlake HS in California. Over his first 21 games, he hit .419 with eight doubles, four home runs and 21 RBI for one of the top programs in the country. He fits the mold as a true leader and is very aggressive in all areas of the game. He also has the distinction of being the only player to have hit a home run against Phil Bickford last year.

Jarrett DeHart, OF, LSU

DeHart is a 6’-2”, 205 pound left-handed hitter with above-average bat speed and the potential to be a big-time power hitter for the Tigers. He also runs a 6.7/60 and his arm has been clocked at 91 mph from the outfield. He was a regular on summer/fall circuit scene and has faced some of the best competition in the country. Very high baseball IQ.

Garrett Hampson, SS, Long Beach State

Plus speed is his best asset right now. The 6′-0″, 165 pound right-hander is an exciting player with a good approach at the plate and projects to a top of the order hitter. His short, compact swing allows him to drive the ball to all fields and wreak havoc once he gets on. Defensively, he has the range, glove and instincts to remain at a premium position. Hit .492 and stole 25 bases as a senior for Reno HS in Nevada. Also starred on the basketball court as the team’s point guard.

Cody Thomas, OF, Oklahoma

Perhaps the next great Sooner quarterback, the 6’-5”, 215 pound left-handed hitter also has big time potential on the baseball field. With tremendous power from the left side and a solid approach at the plate, he should get a lot of attention. A great athlete, he threw for 4,221 yards and 46 touchdowns over 12 games his senior year and was also the team’s punter.

Keegan Thompson, RHP/1B, Auburn

A two-time Gatorade Player of the year in the state of Alabama, the 6’-3” right-hander is a very polished pitcher who is an alumni of Team USA Baseball and seems to play his best on the highest of stages. He has a plus curveball and a fastball that sits 88-92 mph. Some feel if he can clean up his mechanics, he may be able to add velocity. Over 73 innings as a senior, he had 124 K/8 BB, allowing just 48 hits. He also excels at the plate and will split time at first base for the Tigers where his power potential is huge.

Garrett Williams, LHP, Oklahoma State

A former Little League World Series hero, the 6’-2”, 195 pound southpaw features a plus curveball and a low-90s fastball to go along with a developing change-up that should be a solid offering down the road. A very good athlete with a loose, clean delivery, he is also an alumni of Team USA Baseball. Over 48 innings as a senior, he had 81 K/27 BB and allowed just 22 hits.

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

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