It’s January, yes, and baseball, as most know it, doesn’t start for two and a half months. Spring training doesn’t start for big-league club for another 3 1/2 weeks. But college baseball gets under way in less than a month, and here is what’s on my watch list for the first few months.
First, be ware in case you are planning to join me on the trail — the weather will wash out games — sometimes they get banged a day or more in advance, others the games won’t officially be postponed until an hour before the game starts. Many games will start, yet not go the distance or get washed out after a few innings… the inconsistency, however, reigns much more on the prep level than college level, so there’s that. The preps in the Northwest do not start until March, so this is the college edition of the Watch List.
Here we go:
The University of Washington opens up on the road at Baylor the weekend of February 19, but their home opener is Friday March 4. Conference play opens Friday March 18 at Husky Ballpark versus Arizona. The Pac-12 boasts several of the top 30 or 40 teams in the country, including UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State and California. Tons of MLB Draft prospects will don the fields several times per week, so keep the Pac-12 Networks handy and hit up the ballparks.
I’m telling you now, though, the Pac-12 schedule works out very well for those interested in seeing some top prospects. Many of the conference’s best prospects come to Seattle to play the Huskies, as does Gonzaga.
Bobby Dalbec, 3B — Arizona @ Husky Ballpark: March 18-20
Dalbec boasts big raw power and carries a potential first-round grade into the season, but the industry questions whether or not he’ll make enough contact to support the power and his days as a third baseman may be short-lived. He’s 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds and while he moves fine and the arm is plus, he appears to lack to lateral reactions of a pro fielder at the hot corner. If he has to move to right field or even first base, his draft stock will sink some. Dalbec batted .319/.410/.601 in 2015, including 15 home runs and a 32-60 BB/K ratio.
Matt Krook, LHP and Stephen Nogosek, RHP — Oregon @ Husky Ballpark: March 24-26
Krook was a first-round pick out of high school and brought to Eugene what multiple scouts called the best left-handed curveball they’ve ever seen from a prep kid. He made just eight appearances in 2014, his freshman year at Oregon, then missed all of 2015 after requiring Tommy John surgery. He did pitch in the Cape Cod League, making six short starts and showing the baseball world his recovery went well.
When he’s right, the southpaw sits 91-94 mph from a natural high three-quarters arm slot, and visits the mid-90s on occasion. The curveball has two-plane break with depth, and is a potential plus-plus offering with hard downward bite, inducing swings and misses and a lot of statue impressions from batters.
Krook is a potential first-round pick again and if he picks up where he left off his freshman year — his eight appearances all were in a starting role and he was terrific, whiffing 60 to 19 walks and 22 hits in 45 1/3 innings. Some are concerned with his delivery and how healthy he can remain long term, so we’ll have to wait and see how the Ducks’ staff handles him, especially early in the season in the colder weather.
Nogosek is a pure reliever with tremendous arm speed and a high-effort delivery, but he does a good job of using his lower half and creating deception. He’s up to 95 mph and uses a mid-80s slider, getting some swings and misses when he commands it.
Gage Burland, RHP — Gonzaga @ Husky Ballpark: March 28-29 (Burland unlikely to pitch, he’ll be a weekend arm, likely Friday or Saturday).
Burland, a 6–fot-2, 205 pounder, lives in the low-90s with his fastball, touching 95 and doing it all with minimal effort. The heater has armside run and Burland does a good job keeping his front shoulder closed and creating deception.
He’s athletic and if Gonzaga permanently abbreviates the arm action and speeds up his delivery, Burland is a big-league arm with a chance to go in the Top 60.
And yes, I know Gonzaga is not in the Pac-12. But Washington is.
Ian Hamilton, RHP — Washington State @ Husky Ballpark: May 13-15
Hamilton, out of Skyview HS in Vancouver, was up to 91 mph as a prep arm and played the outfield. At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, there’s not a lot of projection left, but out of the bullpen the past two years his velocity occasionally jumped into the 92-95 mph range with a four-seam fastball with late life. Hamilton has a shot to go in the Top 100 with a strong 2016, particularly if his control and command jump a grade.
Gio Brusa, OF — Pacific @ Husky Ballpark: March 11-13
Brusa is a big, physical player, drafted in the 23rd round a year ago by the St. Louis Cardinals. He’s a switch hitter, but scouts very much believe his bat-to-ball skills play better from the left side. He’ll likely move to first base in pro ball.
Alex Schick, RHP and Daulton Jefferies, RHP — California
Schick is a projectable right-hander, standing 6-foot-7 with a lean frame, though he’s put on 25-plus pounds since arriving in Berkeley. He pitched out of the bullpen almost exclusively a year ago, but if he proves himself in the weekend rotation Schick could jump up draft boards, based on raw stuff and physical projection.
Jefferies is the more polished of the two and had a solid 2015 in 13 starts, and showed off his stuff early last season versus Duke’s Michael Matuella, at the time a potential Top-5 pick. Jefferies sits 91-94 mph and will get up to 96 in most starts. He also offers a hard slider at 87-88 mph and a low-80s changeup. He also flashes a curveball in the 76-81 mph range and has been known to vary the speed of the pitch.
To see either arm you’ll have to go leave the Seattle area this spring, but both are worth watching if you get the chance.
Hever Bueno, RHP and Colby Woodmansee, SS — Arizona State
I saw Woodmansee last March in Tempe and he was the best all-around player on the field in a series versus powerhouse Oregon State. He’s a shortstop now, though he may lack the ideal quickness to stay there. He may be ideal for the leap to center field where his instincts and arm strength fit perfectly, but third base may be more likely. At the plate, Woodmansee displays average power and an improving ability to adjust to breaking balls. He’s aggressive, and could serve himself well to use his strike zone judgment more, stay patient and draw more walks — just 20 in 265 plate appearances in 2015.
Bueno is a power arm in need of significantly improved control and command, often living up in the zone with a 91-92 mph fastball — he’s touched 94. His curveball sits in the low-to-mid 80s and flashes average. If he’s to start games he’ll need his changeup, of which we didn’t see much in 2015.
Luke Persico, 2B/OF — UCLA @ Husky Ballpark: April 15-17
Persico has played second base, shortstop and the outfield in high school and college and may profile best at second or center field, perhaps lacking the arm strength and footwork for an ideal fit at short.
I disliked the swing coming out of Hart High School but he does generate some leverage and could develop average power, which is why he’s as intriguing as he is.
He’ll need to get stronger, as his 6-foot-2, 175-pound frame suggests, and his game will need to take quite the jump in 2016. Persico batted .285/.357/.386 with 19 extra-base hits (three home runs) and a 27-47 BB/K ratio last season.
Cal Quantrill, RHP, Chris Viall, RHP and Tommy Edman, 2B — Stanford @ Husky Ballpark: May 20-22
Quantrill enters the season a projected first-round pick, perhaps pitching his way into the Top 10. He had Tommy John last spring, or we might be talking about a potential No. 1 pick, and I guess that isn’t entirely out of the realm of plausibility yet, though he’s not likely to see the mound until mid-April or so.
Quantrill is up to 95 mph with his fastball, setting up the best changeup in the class and a potential average slider. He’s thrown a curveball in the past, but may have scrapped it.
And yes, he’s the son of former big-league right-hander Paul Quantrill.
Viall was up to 97 over the offseason and brings projection to the table. A big year and he could creep into the first few rounds with that kind of arm strength. Edman batted .296/.383/.377 with 15 extra-base hits a year ago, but separates himself, at least from a production standpoint, from Perisco and others like him by making a lot of contact. Edman struck out just 16 times in 259 plate appearances in 2015, drawing 27 bases on balls. He’s not a burner but has terrific feet and does the job at second base.
Trever Morrison, SS — Oregon State
Morrison is among my favorite all-time amateur prospects; he’s a 65 runner with the arm and actions to stick at short and be solid there, all the physical tools to handle center if a change is necessary, and bats left-handed with good hand-eye coordination, small-ball skills and some strength.
Having seen him last March at Arizona State — perhaps the only player on the field that seemed to be more talented than Woodmansee or OSU CF Jeff Hendrix — Morrison appears to have greatly benefited from his time at Oregon State, particularly physically.
I don’t love the swing for pro ball, but it’s short and as he learns how to create loft he’ll easily reach the gaps to take advantage of his speed, and even hit some long balls. I’d grab this kid very quickly after Round 1 for under-slot and never look back, but he’s currently projected as a third-round pick, about six rounds higher than he would have been taken in 2013 had he shown a willingness to sign. Instead, he passed after being taken by Boston in Round 38, and went to play for the Pac-12s elite program and, most importantly, the best staff.
Morrison and his Beavers mates do not return to Seattle this year, but making the drive to Beaverton to see him is a no-brainer.
Washington is without Top 100 type prospects for 2016 after losing the likes Braden Bishop and Austin Rei last June, but I’m a fan of infielder A.J. Graffanino, catcher Chris Baker and right-hander Alex Hardy. Oregon State lost prospects such as Andrew Moore (Mariners, No. 72 overall).
A year ago, Pac-12 players littered the first three rounds of the draft, per usual:
Schools with players in Top 104 selections:
Jason A. Churchill
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