5 College Players Skyrocketing Up MLB Draft Boards in 2013
With the 2013 First-Year Player Draft scheduled for June 6-8, college players will have the next six weeks to boost their stock with the hope of having their name called on Day 1.
But as is the case every year, any number of things can happen between now and then. For instance, a prospect who’s expected to go in the first round could suffer an injury and, as a result, fail to receive the exposure that would have otherwise solidified them as a top pick. At the same time, the weeks leading up to the draft also offers the less-heralded, under-the-radar draft prospects a final chance to make a lasting impression.
Here’s a look at five college players who continue to skyrocket up the draft board.
Jonathan Gray, RHP, Oklahoma
2013 Stats: 68.3 IP, 1.19 ERA, .164 BAA, 81/13 K/BB (9 GS)
Regarded as a likely Day 2 selection headed into the spring, Gray has emerged as the leading candidate to best Mark Appel as the No. 1 overall pick.
At 6’4”, 240 pounds, Gray has a physically strong and mature frame and is in the best shape of his young career since arriving at Oklahoma. The epitome of a power pitcher, the right-hander’s fastball features near-elite velocity in the mid-to-upper 90s with late life and considerable arm-side run. Furthermore, it’s become customary for Gray to top out at 100-102 mph in a given start.
His slider still can be inconsistent at times, but it’s vastly improved relative to previous seasons and serves as his best secondary offering in the mid-to-upper 80s with tight spin and a late, sharp bite. More importantly, Gray has grown more comfortable utilizing it early in counts, while his ability to bury it out of the zone when ahead in the count is impressive. Rounding out his power arsenal is a steadily improving changeup that flashes at least above-average potential, though it still lags well behind his other offerings.
While Appel may represent the safe pick at No. 1, Gray’s tremendous upside is undeniable and could make things interesting come June 6.
Hunter Renfroe, OF, Mississippi State
2013 Stats: .429/.494/.865, 27 XBH (13 HR), 8 SB, 19/17 K/BB (34 G)
No college position player has improved their stock as much as Renfroe. A 6’1”, 219-pound outfielder, he’s always showcased loud tools but lacked the baseball skills associated with a potential high-end draft pick. As a sophomore in 2012, he struggled to the tune of a .702 OPS with 51 strikeouts in 61 games.
However, the 21-year-old finally turned the developmental corner this season, as he’s blossomed into one of the more well-rounded, everyday players in the draft class.
Headed into the weekend, Renfroe leads all Division I hitters with an .865 slugging percentage and is tied for second with 13 home runs. More importantly, at least compared to his overwhelming struggles in 2012, Renfroe’s .429 batting average is the fifth highest in the country.
Due to the lack of impact bats in this year's class, Renfroe’s stock should continue to rise over the next six weeks. A right-handed hitter, his physical strength, bat speed and extension after contact result in plus raw power that fuels his projection as a big league right fielder. Meanwhile, his defensive profile is also a fit at the position, as he’s an above-average runner with a strong, accurate arm.
The biggest question with Renfroe is whether his hit tool will translate as a professional. While he’s clearly made enormous strides since last season, he still comes up empty on too many pitches. However, as a high-ceiling college player, he still has plenty of room to develop.
Colin Moran, 3B, North Carolina
2013 Stats: .396/.510/.644, 18 XBH (9 HR), 61 RBI, 8/35 K/BB (38 G)
Although he was regarded as a likely first-rounder heading into the spring, Moran has emerged as the best pure hitter in the draft class, as well as a potential top-10 pick.
The 6’3” left-handed hitter has quieted many of his doubters this spring by showcasing improved power frequency, which is made even more attractive by his outstanding plate discipline. Furthermore, his hit tool projects to be a plus as a professional, as he employs a patient approach with a legitimate feel for using the entire field.
The only concern with Moran is whether he’ll be able to stick at third base. Overall, he’s a solid-average defender at the hot corner with good hands and above-average arm strength. While a move to the outfield has been discussed periodically over the last year, it’s doubtful that will happen due to his lack of speed and range. A more likely scenario would involve a move across the infield to first base. Alhough, at the same time, that would also lower his ceiling and place additional pressure on the development of his bat.
Hunter Dozier, SS/3B, Stephen F. Austin
2013 Stats: .431/.522/.808, 29 XBH (10 HR), 32 RBI, 10 SB, 22/25 K/BB (34 G)
At 6’4”, 210 pounds, Dozier showcases a combination of athleticism and tools that’s rare for a player his size. However, despite what his gaudy statistics suggest, he’s still a raw overall prospect who requires a decent amount of projection.
As a right-handed hitter, Dozier’s biggest asset is his plus bat speed, which, at least at the moment, helps him overcome a lengthy swing to barrel the ball with consistency. While it’s worked well for him this season—clearly—it will need to be cleaned up as a professional in order to handle advanced velocity. Meanwhile, his power should transfer at the next level, largely due to the leverage in his swing and impressive strength.
Although he currently mans shortstop, it’s likely that Dozier will lose a step or two as he matures physically. Therefore, it’s more realistic that he’ll settle in at third base, where his soft hands, solid-average range and plus arm should make him an above-average defender.
A.J. Vanegas, RHP, Stanford
2013 Stats: 8 IP, 3.38 ERA, .294 BAA, 10/2 K/BB (7 G)
Regarded as a potential first-rounder out of high school in 2010, Vanegas ultimately fell to the seventh round due concerns about signability. As a result, the right-hander honored his commitment to Stanford and now finds himself back in the Day 1 discussion.
At 6’3”, 215 pounds, the 20-year-old possesses a durable frame but lacks physical projection. Regardless, the right-hander’s fastball will sit comfortably in the mid-90s and, when he’s fully healthy and at his best, will top out around 98 mph. And while his slider is a raw and inconsistent offering, it flashes plus potential with sharp, swing-and-miss break. He’s also made progress with a cutter, though he’s still developing a feel for the pitch.
Due to Stanford’s loaded starting rotation and Vanegas’s fringy command profile, he’s worked mostly as a reliever over the last three seasons. However, if a team believes he can be a starter at the next level—and there are plenty who will—then there’s a decent chance he’ll be drafted earlier than expected.