By Todd Johnson
Now that the college baseball season is fully underway, I spent part of Sunday morning checking box scores and game reports from several colleges in both Division I and Division II baseball. For some prospects, it was a rough weekend.
It was sad to see TCU’s Luken Baker take one to the face in the field and have to leave the game. He should be fine. In fact, on Sunday, he came back and was jammed on one pitch but still managed to hit it 400+ feet for a HR. Connecticut curveball specialist Tim Cate struggled in his debut as he gave up 4 earned runs in 5.2 IP. Missouri State shortstop Jeremy Eierman was almost invisible going 2-17 for the weekend. Mississippi State lefty Konnor Pilkington did OK as he gave up 2 earned in 4, but whiffed 6.
Other top players soared. Seth Beer was…Seth Beer. The Clemson outfielder went 3 for 8 with a HR, a double, and 1 RBI. Kentucky’s athletic outfielder, Tristan Pompey, went 8 for 17 (.471) with a HR and 3 driven in for the weekend. And Griffin Conine of Duke went 4 for 8 in his first three games with a dinger and 3 runs plated. In addition, Stanford’s Tristan Beck returned to the mound and looked very good for the Cardinal going 5 innings and striking out six while allowing four hits but no runs. I really like him, too, despite him missing all of 2017 with a bad back.
In following the draft, most years I focused just on who the Cubs might be able to take with their first pick or in a compensation around. This year, I originally felt a little burned out covering that. As a result, I am not into doing the big profiles throughout the spring. However, I unintentionally started focusing in on players the Cubs might able to get with their second round pick at #63 and their two compensation picks in the late 70s/early 80s. With those three picks, the Cubs should come away with a nice haul of talent that should help refurbish the farm system.
For some strange reason, I started looking at several Division II Schools around the country to see if I could find any sleepers. I found a few that will bear watching over the course of the season. It still might be too early to cover all of them it, but it’s not too early to cover some of them.
What seems to be happening in my ever widening expanse to cover possible prospects for the draft is that I am starting to focus more in on programs than on individual players. Some of these are Division I programs and some are Division II schools.
Since day one of my draft coverage, I have been stuck on 3B Alec Bohm and OF Greyson Jenista. Both who, right now, could be around at #24. Both also got off to a great start on opening day as each hit a home run. For now, I am sticking with Bohm as the player the Cubs should take at #24. Despite his lack of defensive prowess, that bat is too special. For the weekend, he hit .545 with 7 RBI in 3 games. Jenista did well, too, hitting .417 with 4 runs driven in. Those two will be fun to watch all year.
This school has been a pitching factory the past few years. Next year, the program makes the jump from Division II to Division I. Currently, the arm that I am interested in is Junior Justin Montgomery. At 6’5”, the slender right-hander is trending upward after a great summer in the Cape Cod League. He throws in the low to mid 90s and is developing his secondaries nicely. He got in 33 innings last summer with a 3.00 ERA with 33 Ks and 13 BBs. What I like most is that he improving and developing from year to year and experience to experience. In his first start this year, he went 4, gave up an unearned run on 3 hits and struck out 8. While he is not going to be a first round pick, he definitely should be around for rounds 2-4.
This Division II school has three great pitching prospects. One is David LeBron who is extremely athletic and has K/9 rate of 10.80 in 3 starts so far. Cole Aker, who transferred from North Carolina, has a 2.63 ERA so far in 2 starts while reliever Mark Moclair has whiffed 20 out of the pen in 12 IP for 15.00 K/9 rate.
Logan Gilbert is one of the top draft prospects and the Cubs will have no shot at taking him as he will be long gone by the time number 24 rolls around. Junior Jack Perkins, not to be confused with HS prospect Jack Perkins, was dominant in his Saturday debut going 7.1 IP with 10 Ks.
In addition to Pompey, the giant right-handed starter Sean Hjelle went 6 innings and gave up 1 run as he struck out 3 and walked two while only giving up two hits. It was a nice debut. However, Hjelle was overshadowed by another tall pitcher. 6’7” righty Justin Lewis whiffed 9 in 6 and gave up 2 hits on opening night but did not allow a run. The Wildcats look pretty good.
RHP Cole Sands (Carson’s brother) was dominant in his debut with 9 Ks in 5 innings. 2017 Cubs’ draftee Andrew Karp pitched in relief and struck out 2 in 1.1 innings.
Tracking these players and schools should be exciting every weekend. It will be fun to watch them develop over the next three months.