The annual MLB First-Year Player Draft begins Monday, June 8 with the selections of the first 75 picks. By the end of Wednesday, however, all 40 rounds will be in the books.
Last year’s draft saw 16 college players come off the board in the first round including six of the first 10 picks: LHP Carlos Rodon (No. 3), C Kyle Schwarber (4), RHP Aaron Nola (7), LHP Kyle Freeland (8), RHP Jeff Hoffman (9) and OF Michael Conforto (10). Of those players, Rodon is already making a name for himself as a member of the White Sox’ starting rotation, while Schwarber, Nola and Conforto are within striking distance of the major leagues, with each player currently thriving at the Double-A level.
But which college players are likely to hear their names called on Monday. Here’s an in-depth look at six of them, as well as a short list of other notables prospects to look out for on Day one of the draft.
1. Dansby Swanson, SS, Vanderbilt (Jr.)
2015 Stats: 295 PA, .350/.442/.658, 14 HR, 21 2B, 6 3B, 60 RBI, 15 SB, 41 BB, 42 K
A 38th-round draft pick by the Rockies out of high school back in 2012, Swanson is widely considered the top college prospect in this year’s class - and arguably its top overall prospect. After missing a majority of his freshman year at Vanderbilt due to injuries, Swanson made up for the lost time with an outstanding sophomore campaign in which he batted .333 with 27 doubles and 22 stolen bases in 72 games. He also was instrumental in guiding the Commodores to their first national title and drastically improved his draft stock by taking home Most Outstanding Player honors at the College World Series. Swanson has done everything in his power this season to prove he’s worthy of No. 1 overall consideration, as he’s set career-highs in most offensive categories while making a seamless transition from second base to shortstop.
Swanson, a right-handed hitter, projects for a plus hit tool at the next level thanks to his quick swing and knack for making hard contact. His swing is quiet, with a slight load with his front side and good use of his hands that enables him to handle velocity but also wait back on secondary pitches. Swanson has good strength to his 6-foot, 195-pound frame, but he incorporates very little of his lower half into his swing, unless it’s something he can turn on the inside part of the plate. That said, his power should still translate to a high number of doubles and triples as a professional. Meanwhile, Swanson’s speed gives him a second plus tool to go along with his bat, as he’s an intelligent baserunner who’s always looking to take an extra base.
Swanson spent his first two years at Vanderbilt (and also during the corresponding summers for those years) as the team’s everyday second baseman before moving to shortstop full time in 2015. Suffice it to say he’s passed all tests on the left side of the infield, showing smooth, fluid defensive actions, plus athleticism and above-average range. If all goes as planned, Swanson should develop into a top-of-the-order shortstop with his combination of natural hitting ability, on-base skills and plus speed.
2. Alex Bregman, SS, Louisiana State (Jr.)
2015 Stats: 291 PA, .318/.414/.548, 9 HR, 22 2B, 3 3B, 47 RBI, 35 SB, 36 BB, 20 K
Bregman opted not to sign with the Red Sox in 2012 as a 29th-round pick out of high school after spending most of his senior year of high school on the shelf with an injured finger. Instead, he went to college and became arguably the best pure hitter in the draft class while leading LSU to a host of NCAA tournament appearances.
Bregman, despite having good strength for his size, likely won’t offer much over-the-fence pop (plenty of doubles, though) as a professional, but he’s a safe bet to hit for average and reach base at a high clip. The right-handed hitter employs a short, compact swing with no wasted movement, using his strong wrists and forearms to make consistently hard contact from line to line. Meanwhile, Bregman’s 87/66 (BB+HBP)/K ratio over the last three seasons speaks to his incredibly advanced plate discipline, as there might not be a tougher out in college baseball.
Enough great things can’t be said about Bregman’s makeup and baseball instincts; it’s part of what makes him such a special player and a big reason he’s viewed as a high-probability big leaguer. Some question whether he’ll be able to remain at shortstop, with detractors pointing to his size and slightly above-average speed being better suited for second base. But here’s the thing - all of Bregman’s tools play up defensively because the instincts and baseball IQ are that good. Plus, I also love his aggressive approach to playing shortstop, as it really highlights his athleticism, body control and sense of creativity at the position. The team that drafts Bregman is going to be very pleased with the final product.
3. Andrew Benintendi, CF, Arkansas (Soph.)
2015 Stats: 266 PA, .390/.491/.723, 18 HR, 13 2B, 54 RBI, 22 SB, 42 BB, 30 K
A highly decorated prep player in both basketball and baseball - and a 31st-round draft pick of the Reds in 2013 - Benintendi hit just .276/.368/.333 over 225 at-bats in 2014 for Arkansas as a true freshman, though he did steal 17 bases and drew more walks than strikeouts. He opted not to play in a summer prospect league and therefore wasn’t seen by scouts, which is why he was mostly an afterthought headed into the spring. Jump forward several months and the 20-year-old is now considered a lock to come off the board in the first round after an absolutely monster sophomore campaign in which he was named SEC Player of the Year ahead of both Swanson and Bregman.
The left-handed hitting Benintendi has the potential for an above-average hit tool at maturity, while his terrific approach and plate discipline could lead to high on-base percentages as a top-of-the-order hitter. Benintendi might not look like a masher at 5’10”, 180 pounds, but he has big-time upper-body strength and quick-twitch muscles that produce booming contact to all fields, and he turns on inner-half velocity about as well as anyone in college baseball. Lastly, Benintendi should have no problems sticking in center field with his speed, instincts and athleticism, and his offensive profile gives whoever drafts him even more incentive to keep him at the position.
4. Carson Fulmer, RHP, Vanderbilt (Jr.)
2015 Stats: 16 GS, 3 CG/2 SHO, 107.2 IP, 1.92 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 0.59 HR/9, 3.43 BB/9, 12.29 K/9
Fulmer was already viewed as a first-round pick coming into the spring, but after joining Vanderbilt’s starting rotation halfway through the 2014 season, there were questions about how he would hold up in the role over the course of an entire season. The right-hander has proven he’s the real deal this spring as Vanderbilt’s ace, emerging as one of the top pitchers in the draft class behind a 12-2 record, 1.92 ERA and 147 strikeouts in 107 2/3 innings (16 starts). Between Fulmer’s time in the rotation and bullpen over the last three seasons, he’s combined to post a 2.04 ERA and 1.10 WHIP with a 10.5 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9.
Fulmer’s fast-paced delivery speaks to his outstanding athleticism and strength, the combination of which allows him to consistently repeat both his mechanics and arm slot. There’s clearly some effort to the delivery, but he’s never been hurt and has consistently worked deep into games as a starter. Fulmer’s arm speed is off the charts, too, as his 93-97 mph fastball absolutely explodes out of his hand and gets on hitters quickly. Fulmer’s power, downer curveball in the low 80s serves as his out pitch, and he’s adept at burying it out of the zone as well as throwing it for strikes, even when behind in the count. Lastly, Fulmer’s changeup has progressed nicely since moving into the rotation. He throws it in the mid- to upper-80s with average sinking action, and he has enough feel to work it to either side of the plate.
Fulmer has the potential to make an immediate impact for the team that drafts him, as he could conceivably contribute out of the big league bullpen before the end of the 2015 season. However, it’s no secret that the 21-year-old’s maximum value lies in his long-term potential as a starter. There will always be concerns about Fulmer’s size and delivery, but he’s passed every test as an amateur and offers no reason to doubt his overall impact potential at the next level.
5. Dillon Tate, RHP, UC Santa Barbara (Jr.)
2015 Stats: 14 GS, 2 CG, 103.1 IP, 2.26 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 0.26 HR/9, 2.44 BB/9, 9.67 K/9
Tate put himself on the draft radar last summer playing for the Team USA Collegiate National League, as the wiry right-hander showcased mid- to upper-90s velocity out of the bullpen in addition to a nasty, plus slider. He was expected to pitch out of the bullpen this spring for UC Santa Barbara, but Tate’s coaches, much to the joy of scouts, decided to insert him into the team’s starting rotation. The 21-year-old right-hander promptly responded to the challenge by emerging as one of the best college pitchers in the country, leading many to believe he might even be the No. 1 overall pick.
At 6’2”, 185 pounds, Tate is an athletic right-hander with an incredibly loose arm, although there is some effort to his delivery. His fastball consistently registers in the mid-90s and reaches as high as 97-99 in his starts, while his somewhat lower arm slot causes the pitch to jump on opposing hitters. Tate’s slider is, without a doubt, one of the top breaking balls in this year’s draft class. The right-hander throws the pitch in the mid-80s with excellent depth and late, sharp biting action that consistently induces whiffs from right-handed hitters. That Tate lacks experience as a starter makes his changeup all the more impressive, as he exhibits an advanced feel for the pitch with the confidence to throw it in a variety of counts.
What really sets Tate apart from most pitchers this year is his ability to get hitters to expand their zone, which should help him generate plenty of whiffs and turn over lineups at the next level. All in all, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Tate was the first right-handed pitcher to come off the board on Monday.
6. Tyler Jay, LHP, Illinois (Jr.)
2015 Stats: 29 G/1 GS, 14 SV, 60 1/3 IP, 0.60 ERA, 0.61 WHIP, 0.00 HR/9, 1.04 BB/9, 10.44 K/9
Jay was a known commodity in scouting circles headed into the spring, thanks largely to a dominant sophomore campaign at Illinois in which he saved 10 games with a 1.94 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 47 strikeouts in 41 2/3 innings. The 21-year-old then upped his draft status even more for the Collegiate National Team over the summer, flashing three outstanding pitches in a late-relief role. Jay’s taken his game to the next level this year for Illinois, one of the top collegiate teams in the nation, although it hasn’t been as a starter like many hoped.
The big attraction with Jay is the arm speed, and the left-hander generates it with ease thanks to a quick and athletic delivery. Jay’s fastball registers in the 94-97 mph range with tremendous late life - he’ll likely sit a few ticks slower as a starter - especially when pitching at the top of the zone. He’s one of those guys who have a knack for missing bats with the pitch, and he doesn’t shy away from challenging hitters. Jay's curveball gives him a second plus pitch, as his quick arm enables him to impart a ton of spin, giving the pitch plenty of depth and late, hard biting action. The offering should serve as his out pitch at the next level like it has as an amateur. Rounding out Jay’s arsenal is a changeup, which he throws with excellent fade and sinking action. However, his bullpen role at Illinois led to limited use of the pitch and therefore leaves room for further growth.
Jay is the poster child for helium in this year’s class, as the full package he’s shown as a reliever has forced scouts to extrapolate and project what he might offer as a starter. The left-hander’s arm speed and arm strength are among the best in the class, and a team looking for a potential late-season bullpen boost this year could temporarily use him in that role before deploying him as a starter in 2016. Say what you want about Jay’s future role, but there’s no question that he’s one of the best pitchers in this year’s draft.
Other Potential First-Round College Pitchers:
Jon Harris, RHP, Missouri State: 14 GS, 97 1/3 IP, 1.85 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 0.09 HR/9, 3.24 BB/9, 10.45 K/9
Walker Buehler, RHP, Vanderbilt: 13 GS, 73 2/3 IP, 3.18 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 0.61 HR/9, 2.93 BB/9, 9.04 K/9
Kyle Funkhouser, RHP, Louisville: 16 GS, 105 1/3 IP, 3.25 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 0.17 HR/9, 3.67 BB/9, 8.46 K/9
James Kaprielian, RHP, UCLA: 17 G/16 GS, 106 2/3 IP, 2.02 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 0.59 HR/9, 2.78 BB/9, 9.62 K/9
Phil Bickford, RHP, Southern Nevada CC: 16 GS, 86 2/3 IP, 1.45 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 0.42 HR/9, 17.3 K/9, 2.18 BB/9
Other Potential First-Round College Hitters:
Ian Happ, OF/2B, Cincinnati: 252 PA, .369/.492/.672, 14 HR, 18 2B, 44 RBI, 12 SB, 49 BB, 49 K
Donnie Dewees, OF, North Florida: 287 PA, .422/.483/.749, 18 HR, 12 2B, 8 3B, 68 RBI, 23 SB, 30 BB, 16 K
Kevin Newman, SS, Arizona: 258 PA, .370/.426/.489, 2 HR, 19 2B, 22 SB, 20 BB, 15 K
D.J. Stewart, OF, Florida State: 285 PA, .322/.509/.580, 13 HR, 10 2B, 55 RBI, 11 SB, 69 BB, 45 K
Chris Shaw, OF/1B, Boston College: 168 PA, .319/.411/.611, 11 HR, 9 2B, 43 RBI, 20 BB, 26 K
All college stats courtesy of The Baseball Cube and reflect games through June 4.