Even though we are in the heart of the 2014 MLB draft season, it’s never too early to start looking ahead to next year. Being a Chicago Cubs fan, I’m already looking at possibilities for 2015 as the team appears to be headed for another top-five pick. There are some intriguing arms in the college ranks, and here are ten players I will be watching closely over the next 12 months:
Michael Matuella, RHP, Duke
The 6’-6”, 225 pound right-hander has been the talk of the 2015 MLB draft and is considered the early favorite to go first overall due to his size and four-pitch arsenal. He suffered a lat sprain in his first start of the season and missed a month. When he came back, he was on a limited pitch count but the reins have since been released and he has been dazzling. His fastball can touch 97 mph and he has been sitting 93-96 mph. He adds two potential plus off-speed pitches in a 79-82 mph, 12-6 curveball with great depth and an 83-86 mph slider with tight spin. His change-up sits 87-89 and is a decent offering already. Over 25.1 innings this year, he has 34 K/7 BB and is holding opponents to a .128 batting average. He is still considered a bit raw as he has added a couple of pitches this year and he works primarily off his fastball right now, but the upside is ridiculous once he puts it all together.
Nathan Kirby, LHP, Virginia
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After posting a 6.06 ERA, 1.72 WHIP and 37 K/13 BB over 32.2 innings as a freshman, Kirby dominated the New England Collegiate Baseball League, striking out 81 over 54 innings with a 2.32 ERA. The 6’-3”, 185 pound southpaw has a plus curveball and his fastball sits in the low/mid-90s with great movement. His change-up is solid and just getting better, and he has a lot of projection with his size and clean mechanics. This year, he has been dominant as the Friday night starter for the number-one ranked team in the nation. On April 4, he tossed a no-hitter, striking out 18 to one walk against Pittsburgh. Through 10 starts, he is 8-1 with a 1.36 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and 73 K/15 BB over 66.1 innings, holding opponents to a .159 batting average. He has some of the best swing-and-miss stuff in the 2015 MLB draft and should be near the top of everyone’s draft boards. And I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t mind rooting for a Kirby on the Cubs.
Walker Buehler, RHP, Vanderbilt
Buehler has been electric this season, showing a four-pitch mix headlined by a 92-94 mph fastball with late life, and a curveball with depth and late bite. He adds a change-up and slider and commands all of them well. At 6’-1” and 170 pounds, he has a lot of upside due to his smooth, effortless delivery and athleticism. Over his last six starts, he has a 1.57 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 49 K/12 BB over 34.1 innings for a 12.86 K/9 ratio. He should be the Friday night starter next year and will be constantly tested in the SEC.
James Kaprielian, RHP, UCLA
At 6’-4” and 200 pounds, Kaprielian has the size you want in a frontline starter. He also has the stuff as his fastball sits 91-94 mph and his slider sits 81-84 mph with sharp bite. His change-up is coming fast, rounding out a classic three-pitch mix. 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. He then went to the Cape Cod League and had 38 K/6 BB over 26 innings, wowing scouts with his stuff and command. Through 10 starts this year, he has a 2.12 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 68 K/21 BB over 68 innings. Kap was just named to the 2014 Team USA Collegiate National Team.
Riley Ferrell, RHP, TCU
The 6’-1”, 200 pound right-hander turned heads when he was sitting 95-98 mph with Collegiate Team USA over the summer. His secondary stuff is still developing and the progress of those offerings will decide his starter/reliever role. For now, he is a dominant arm out of the pen for TCU, posting a 0.79 ERA, 0.62 WHIP and 38 K/6 BB over 22.2 innings this year. His 15.1 K/9 ratio shows the kind of power he has, as well as command. With an electric fastball, and continued work on his secondary stuff, Ferrell will be a big name next year if he gets in the rotation.
Kyle Funkhouser, RHP, Louisville
At 6’-3” and 225 pounds, Funkhouser has good size and his fastball sits 92-94 mph and can touch 97 mph. His slider is a solid offering and his change-up is still developing but there is still upside due to his size and easy delivery. Command has been an issue for him this year but the deception in his delivery makes it hard for hitters to pick up his stuff as he is holding opponents to a .211 batting average. Through 10 starts, he is 7-2 with a 2.51 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 58 K/36 BB over 64.2 innings. With improved work on his command, he should be in first-round talks next year.
Kyle Cody, RHP, Kentucky
At 6’-7” and 245 pounds, Cody is an intimidating figure on the mound, and he can touch 97 mph with his fastball. His secondary offerings are still developing but his raw stuff, live arm and size make for some tantalizing upside. As a freshman, he had 47 K/20 BB over 57.2 innings. This year, as a spot-starter/reliever, he has a 2.45 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 11 K/4 BB over 22 innings, showing improved command of his stuff. With continued work on his secondary offerings, he should be a huge name next year.
Ryan Burr, RHP, Arizona State
After just three starts this season, Burr initiated a move to be the closer again for the Sun Devils. He likes the role and gets impatient resting five days between starts. At 6’-4” and 225 pounds, he has a great pitcher’s body and can touch 97 mph with his fastball. He adds a slurve that shows plus potential and wipes out hitters when it’s on. Over 33.1 innings this year, he has a 2.97 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 37 K/25 BB and is holding opponents to a .151 batting average. He had 20 strikeouts over 9.2 innings for Collegiate Team USA over the summer, allowing just two hits. With his size, power arm and developing secondary stuff, his upside is high but his stock will suffer a bit if he decides to remain a closer.
Thomas Eshelman, RHP, Cal State Fullerton
Eshelman has made 26 starts at Cal State Fullerton. He is 17-4 with a 1.70 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and has allowed juts two home runs over 185 innings. He also has 139 strikeouts and has issued just six walks for a mind-boggling 23.2 K/BB ratio. For perspective’s sake, the MLB single-season record for a starter is 11 K/BB by Bret Saberhagen in 1994 when he had 143 K/13 BB over 177.1 innings. The 6’-1”, 180 pound right-hander isn’t a power arm as his fastball sits 86-89 mph, but he knows how to mix his pitches and locates his stuff better than anyone. He adds a curveball and change-up — both solid offerings — and works both sides of the plate like an artist. Extremely efficient, he can toss a complete game throwing under 100 pitches. Not as much upside as others on this list but, like Aaron Nola of LSU this year, not many can toss a game quite like Eshelman.
Cole Irvin, LHP, Oregon
Irvin had Tommy John surgery on February 3 and will miss the entire 2014 season. His upside is high but will obviously depend on his rehab. 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 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. Irvin is a big-game pitcher; he is an alumni of Team USA Baseball and he has played in countless tournaments/events during his decorated career at Servite HS in California.
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