NCAA College Baseball begins this week and the MLB Draft cycle is in full swing. This year I tackle a preseason Top 100 and below breakdown the players into different tiers. The specific rank of a player within each tier isn’t as important as what tier that player is in, but for fans who like to break it down, I present a complete Top 100 here.
Future Performance Grade (FPG): Similar, but not equivalent to Fangraph’s Future Value, FPG incorporates video and in-person scouting along with metrics along with risk in profile and injury status/history. There are players with 70-grade ceiling, but with a risk calculator (with demographic history, prior injuries, and hitting profile all playing a part).
How I evaluate hitters: I look at three critical factors.
First, do they make contact? Making contact is about more than just not striking out. Hitters that consistently put the bat on the ball have a better chance of hitting for a high batting average. We can define this using a hitter’s contact rate (number of swings and misses/total swings). In order to help strikeouts, hitters that don’t swing at pitches outside the strike zone are, likewise, in a position to help prevent strikeouts.
Do they chase bad pitches? A hitter’s chase rate (number of swings at pitches outside the zone/total swings) quantifies this hitting quality.
Do they hit for power? Hitting is more than just bat-to-ball skills and not striking out. Power definitely matters and these three have it. We can define power using several metrics, but Max Exit Velocity (Max EV) is a useful tool. It is limited and I’ll acknowledge my limitation in not having complete access to a comprehensive list of metrics such as those provided by Synergy. The ones that I have are those that are sent to me by scouts or have been publicly released. A better way to look at Max EV is to filter out swings outside of a certain launch angle window (such as between 10-20 degrees).
How I evaluate pitchers: This is far, far more nuanced, but it focuses on pitching repertoire (stuff) and command far more than results. I try to gain as much information about the way pitchers throw each pitch and their biomechanics. Topics like a pitch’s “shape”, velocity, movement patterns are more important than sequencing or whether they rack up strikeouts (though that still matters). Like with other metrics, I have to do a tremendous amount of digging. I’m thankful for those with access to this information who will send me a correction. I appreciate the ability to continue to learn.
“The best of the best of the best, sir”
– Will Smith, Men in Black
Tier 60 is an impressive group of three prospects that I have the utmost confidence in projecting. All three hitters, DeLauter, Johnson, and Lee combine all three critical factors in their hitting profile.
- Chase DeLauter, CF, James Madison, Age at draft 20.6 yrs
Report: Chase DeLauter (CDL) combines multiple elements that teams gravitate towards in the draft. His mechanics, athleticism, batted ball data, and success in the outfield all point to a player who should go high. He mashed at James Madison, but with JMU being a small school, it’s his work in the Cape Cod League that has scouts excited. CDL put up a .298/.397/.589 line with nine home runs and only a 12.3 K%. While he may be a plus rightfielder, there is enough support for DeLauter in the outfield that I believe a team drafting him high runs him out in centerfield.
In brief: DeLauter has picture perfect batting metrics and absolutely showed out on the Cape Cod League. He looks like an above-average hit/plus power centerfielder.
- Termarr Johnson, 2B/SS, Age at draft: 18
Report: Termarr has a plus hit/plus power profile. Currently, he plays shortstop, but I can buy the reports from scouts that suggest he’s a candidate to move to second or third base. While I have Termarr as a top 5 prospect in this class, I know some organizations may knock him for the positional projection. He may be a bat-forward second baseman from the high school class, but that’s a profile that has done well when reaching the pro ranks. Johnson features upper echelon swing metrics courtesy of Diamond Kinetics (97th percentile or better in all the metrics available). His impact speed and ability to drive the ball to all fields points to a plus power profile. In 2021, Termarr played 43 games (127 PA), he logged a .366/.480/.703 line with eight home runs. Brian Recca of Prospects Live and SF Draft Talk dove even further. Here’s Brian’s work to approximate Termarr’s contact rate. “I decided to go through Johnson’s box scores since June to check in on his swing and miss numbers. In 66 plate appearances, Johnson swung 113 times and whiffed just 20 times, which comes out to a sub 18% whiff rate (total whiffs / total swings). That’s very good, and it comes with in-game power and on-base ability.” Brian identified an 82% contact rate. I’m working to see what his complete contact rate is from scouts.
In brief: Teams may knock Termarr Johnson for positions, but I can’t find a single high school bat in recent memory that I have more confidence will hit at the next level.
- Brooks Lee, SS/3B, Cal Poly, Age at draft 21.3
Report: Lee is a switch-hitter for Cal Poly who combines all the factors in a profile of a player who should stay on the infield. He sports some of the highest exit velocities in the NCAA and struck out only 13.4% of the time last season. His summer included a .405/.432/.667 run in the Cape Cod League. The consensus appears that Lee will wind up at third base, which tempers expectations, but only to a degree. If a team felt he could stick at SS it would be very easy to project him first overall.
In brief: Brooks Lee is a complete package of defense, contact, and power all while switch-hitting. He’s had an impressive run and could be the first player overall in teh draft this July.
“Pretty good, pretty, pretty, pretty good”
– Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm
There is very little separation between the Tier 60 group and Tier 55, but players in the Tier 55 group often have more risk built into their profile. These are elite players who have the potential to be all-stars.
- Druw Jones, CF/SS(?), Wesleyan HS, Age at draft: 18.5
Report: Much like his father, Andrew Jones, Druw offers ballhawking skills in centerfield. Jones has superstar upside with a promising hit and power tools. There is work to be done with his swing, but his mechanics are more about refining than an overhaul.
- Jace Jung, 2B, Texas Tech, Age at draft: 21.7
Report: Jace Jung is a big-time hitter. His above-average hit and plus power will help Jung this spring. With Baltimore’s penchant for taking underslot deals, I even mocked Jung to the Orioles in Mock 1.0. His future is likely at second base, but it’s the bat teams are buying.
- Cam Collier, 3B, Chipola JC, Age at draft: 17.6
Report: Cam Collier has bloodlines (his father, Lou played parts of eight seasons in the big leagues) and talent. However, it was a surprise when he not only reclassified from the 2023 draft to the 2022 draft this summer, but he enrolled in junior college. It was clear Collier was betting on himself, but would he hit facing pitchers four years older than him? Would he showcase his skills instead of just treading water? So far, he is answering those questions. As of February 17th, Collier is slashing.317/.434/.634 with a 13.5% K-rate and 15.4% BB-rate. I’m monitoring his whiff rate, but at the very least he’s succeeding against advanced competition as a 17-year-old.
“Juuuuuuuuust a bit outside”
-Bob Uecker, Major League
The degree of separation between Tier 50 and the one below it (45) isn’t very steep, but each of the players in this grouping carry a higher ceiling. This is where high school pitchers will likely fall due to the degree of risk in profile, even if the overall ceiling may be much higher. In an uncertain college pitching class, only one pitcher carries an all-star profile with a low enough risk profile to make this Tier during the preseason, Bryce Hubbart. Arizona’s catcher, Daniel Susac, is a switch-hitter who enters the year on top of a strong college catching group. He bests Georgia Tech’s Kevin Parada and Mississippi State’s Logan Tanner (both 45 FPGs)
- Daniel Susac, C, Arizona, Age at draft: 21
Report: Susac has more than enough arm to hold runners at bay. In high school he had recorded peak pop times of 1.82 secs (Willson Contreras’s average was 1.92 seconds in 2021). He looks the part of a solid future backstop, but I’m far more impressed with the bat. He combines high contact, strong power, and a chase rate you can live with for the position.
- Gavin Cross, OF, Virginia Tech, Age at draft: 21.2
Report: Cross’s batted ball data doesn’t stand out, but individuals I’ve talked with think Cross is a strong candidate to be one of the ten best players in the class. He has average to above-average hit and plus power grades with a strong and accurate arm.
- Bryce Hubbart, LHP, Florida State, Age at draft: 20.9
Report: Hubbart figures to be the Saturday starter for a strong Florida State rotation. He spetn most of the 2021 season filling up the strikezone with three pitches, fastball (89-93, T 96), changeup, curveball that all play up due to the funk in his delivery. That funk adds deception and doesn’t limit his ability to throw strikes. After dominating the Cape Cod League (0.87 ERA with 13.1 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9), he worked this offseason incorporating a slider with some sweep action (lots of horizontal movement and not a lot of drop). I’m buying that the reports of that pitch looking good are true. Hubbart has the ability to be the first arm off the board, but he’s in a group of several pitchers who could claim that title.
- Dylan Lesko, RHP, Buford (HS), Age at draft: 18.7
Report: Lesko has a tremendous amount of believers that he’s the top arm (college or high school) in the class. I’m not qute ready to make that claim, but those believers have an excellent case. It’s an electric package with a fastball, curveball, and dynamic changeup. He’s a good mover with smooth, repeatable mechanics. What I’ve been hesitant on with Lesko has been his fastball “shape” (how the ball moves instead of just velocity). His shape has been more solid than excellent. Well he’s taken some significant steps forward in that department. Recent data suggests that Lesko has added significantly more “ride” to the fastball.
Plenty of good seats available
While several of these players may be options for the Chicago Cubs at pick 7, a draft is much deeper than just the elites. Make sure to check out the latest rankings as well as the upcoming Tier breakdowns. Tier 45 runs 20 prospects deep and includes the rest of the prospects with first round grades.
Johnson’s numero uno for me but yeah that’s the 1-2
No issue with that argument. I had a slightly higher risk multiplier on Termarr, just because he’s HS and hasn’t hit on Cape. But he’s very, very worthy of 1:1 ranking in my eyes.
I’d agree in general that DeLauter has done everything he can on paper by going into the CCBL and mashing. Plus traditionally the college bat with the meaty res is by far the safest in the draft. Also helps he’ll be pretty young, still 20 on draft day. I have questions about the level of comp at James Madison,
L v L issues, and probably position but none of those are so damning yet if ever
That said, I don’t buy being a HS player hurts Johnson so much here. Top HS players like him routinely see elite competition, guys who will be top NCAA players and/or draft prospects, and are seen so often for so long that there’s a ton of confidence. This might especially be the case for these pandemic years where top HS players (esp in hotbed states) likely played as much if not more ball than their NCAA peers. Also like that Johnson has most position options starting at SS, see him as a 2B, whereas DeLauter is probably a LF if/when CF doesn’t work out
I was just thinking: Robert Moore’s one of the best players in this draft. I might actually be more comfortable with him than any of the other college bats in the top of the draft convo, including DeLauter. Legit switch hitter, approach, power, defense), “3” year starter at a perennial CWS contender in the SEC, 20 on draft too…