Pictured is Cal Poly SS Brooks Lee, Photo via ConcreteOski
The final dogpile has taken place in Omaha. Another amazing college baseball season has concluded, meaning it’s time to look forward to the MLB Draft. The stars who shined at schools all across the country will now eagerly wait in hopes of hearing commissioner Rob Manfred call their names on stage in Los Angeles.
Here are five of the top college prospects for the upcoming draft. I’m not acting like any of these guys are diamonds in the rough or under-the-radar guys. Most, if not all, of these players, barring a crazy slide, will be drafted in the first round. Regardless, it’s still nice to get a preview of some potential superstars.
Brooks Lee – SS, Cal Poly
MLB Pipeline Tool Grades:
First up is the top college prospect, switch-hitting shortstop Brooks Lee. Lee has just recently wrapped up two insane seasons at Cal Poly. In 2021, he racked up 76 hits, 40 of them being for extra bases. He slashed .342/.384/.626 with a 1.010 OPS and was named a First-Team All-American by D1Baseball. He didn’t slow down while playing summer baseball in the Cape Cod League, finishing with a .405/.432/.667 slash line and a 1.099 OPS in 21 games of action. In 2022, Lee once again lit it up from the plate, slashing .357/.462/.664, good for a 1.125 OPS. He led the Big West conference in hits, runs, RBIs, total bases, walks, SLG, and OPS while being second in batting average and OBP.
As his college stats indicate, Lee is incredible at the plate and projects to be a plus hitter, if not better. He showed some power during his time at Cal Poly, hitting 15 home runs his sophomore year. That fringe power came both left- and right-handed and should translate into his professional career. With continued development, Lee could become an above-average power threat, but it is unlikely that it is ever his calling card. Defensively, Lee captains an infield very well. Although he does not project as an elite defender, he is smooth and athletic on the field with above-average arm strength. He can play shortstop just fine and also has the potential to move to third base. Overall, Lee compares well to Chase Utley – an excellent hitter and adequate defender with respectable power.
A common destination for Lee in mock drafts is the Pittsburgh Pirates at number 4. This makes sense, as Pirates GM Ben Cherington has taken college hitters in the first round in both of his drafts, including catcher Henry Davis first overall out of Louisville in 2021. Davis was signed for under slot value, so the Pirates could look to do the same with Lee at pick 4. Additionally, you can’t rule out the Orioles taking Lee first overall. Mike Axisa of CBS Sports reports that Lee is one of the five players Baltimore is considering with its first-round selection. Having taken college bats in the first round of each of the last three drafts, it would not be surprising to see the Orioles continue that trend by taking Lee.
Kevin Parada – C, Georgia Tech
MLB Pipeline Tool Grades:
The top college backstop in this year’s draft is Kevin Parada from Georgia Tech. Parada was highly regarded by MLB scouts coming out of high school in 2020 but was firm in his commitment to Georgia Tech. His freshman season in 2021 saw him slash .318/.379/.550 in 52 games, earning him D1 Baseball Freshman All-American honors. He saw limited action in the Cape Cod League last summer, putting up a disappointing slash line of .250/.344/.321 in 9 games. However, he looked impressive during his time with the U.S. Collegiate Baseball National Team. He came back with a vengeance in 2022, putting up an insane slash line of .361/.453/.709 with a 1.162 OPS in 60 games. He racked up 93 hits with a whopping 26 home runs. That success at the plate earned Parada a spot on D1Baseball’s All-American First-Team and solidified his status as an elite prospect in this year’s class.
Parada showcased his amazing plate presence in his two college seasons, consistently barreling balls, spreading hits all across the field, and flashing the ability to hit home runs to all fields. He projects to be a plus hitter with plus – and potentially even double-plus – power. Parada still needs to develop as a backstop, as his defensive stats were lackluster in college. In his two years as a Yellow Jacket, Parada threw out base-stealers at a 20.4% clip (19 of 93). That’s just bad. There’s no other way to explain it. The silver lining is that Parada improved his caught-stealing percentage from 13% to 29% between his freshman and sophomore years. That should give scouts hope that further improvement is possible, but Parada’s average pitch receiving and below-average arm strength will both have to improve if he wishes to be a viable defensive option in the pros. A good pro comparison for Parada is Jonah Heim – a catcher with power to all fields but below-average defense.
One possible destination for Kevin Parada is the Miami Marlins at pick 6. The Marlins currently lack an elite power bat at the top of their farm system and would find one of the best in Parada. However, the Marlins have only taken two college bats in the last ten drafts and could potentially be worried about Parada’s defensive woes. As mentioned before, he needs a lot more development behind the dish, which could potentially scare Miami and other teams at the top of the draft away. Should Parada slide into the middle of the first round, the Angels could scoop him up at pick 13. The Halos also lack an elite power bat at the top of their farm system, and their top-rated catcher is not expected to be in the majors until 2025.
Jacob Berry – 3B, LSU
MLB Pipeline Tool Grades:
The Queen Creek, Arizona native and switch-hitting infielder began his college career at the University of Arizona. He brought even more heat to the desert, slashing .352/.439/.676 with a 1.115 OPS and 17 home runs in 63 games. In the 2021 offseason, he caught the Jay Train to Baton Rouge, following former Arizona head coach Jay Johnson to LSU. Berry’s lone season on the bayou was very impressive. He produced a .370/.464/.630 slash line with a 1.094 OPS and 15 home runs in 53 games, earning him Second-Team All-SEC honors at third base.
Berry’s offensive numbers indicate an already amazing hitter. Future projections have him as a plus hitter – and one who keeps slugging at the professional level. Berry’s power projects to be a plus, if not a double-plus, tool. He can barrel pitches, control the strike zone, and hit for power as both a left- and right-handed hitter. Berry is not without his defensive flaws, however. His primary position at LSU was third base, where he committed 7 errors in 39 games and sported a .917 fielding percentage. Many difficult plays, and even some routine ones, were too much for Berry at the hot corner. His defense did improve towards the end of the season, specifically when it mattered most. Berry did not commit a single error in any of LSU’s four NCAA Tournament games. However, it is glaringly obvious that he will not be able to play third base at the professional level without a ton of development. His average arm strength could suffice in a corner outfield position, but first base seems like Berry’s most likely defensive home in the pros. A comparable professional player to Berry is Josh Bell – average on defense but can put the ball in play, draw walks, and hit for power as a switch-hitter.
Mike Axisa also reports that the Orioles haven’t ruled out taking Berry with the first overall pick. Given his lack of defensive value, this seems unlikely. But if the Orioles have fallen in love with Berry’s power, they might view investing in him, which should cost them well below slot value, as worth it. Another possibility is the Rockies at pick 10. Jim Callis of MLB.com reports that the Rockies want a college bat in the first round, and it’s highly unlikely that there is one Colorado likes more than Berry. Plus, it’s fun to think about him hitting absolute moonshots like this through the thin air at Coors Field. However, if Berry’s defense scares more teams off and he falls out of the top 10, look for the Detroit Tigers to select him with pick 12. They tend to pick college bats early on in the draft, and none of the power bats at the top of their farm system are expected to reach the majors until 2025.
Gavin Cross – OF, Virginia Tech
MLB Pipeline Tool Grades:
Gavin Cross has roamed the outfield in Blacksburg, Virginia for the past three years, turning heads with his incredible play. His 2020 freshman season saw him slash .369/.405/.385 in 16 games. The contact was there, and the power would soon follow. Cross slashed .345/.415/.621 with a 1.035 OPS in 2021 and .328/.411/.660 with a 1.071 OPS in 2022. He also spent the 2021 summer with the U.S. Collegiate National Team, putting together one of the most complete offensive performances of anyone on the team.
Cross was an exceptional hitter in college, as his numbers indicate. He projects to be above-average at the plate in the future. He spread hits to all fields during his time at Virginia Tech and improved his plate discipline, drawing 17 more walks and striking out 7 fewer times between 2021 and 2022. His power stands out, too. Cross showed off his pop by hitting 17 home runs in 2022. The left-hander currently projects as an above-average power bat, but his elite college exit velos bring hope that he can develop into an exceptional power hitter. Cross has good speed that makes him respectable on the basepaths and in the field. His arm strength is decent as well. While not an elite defender, he is more than capable of holding his own as a corner outfielder at the professional level. All-in-all, Cross plays similarly to Mike Yastrzemski – a solid hitter with potentially great power who is average on defense.
The Twins are seen as a likely destination for Cross, especially given their recent draft history. Over the past five drafts, they have picked four college bats between the first round and competitive balance round A. The Twins farm system is also loaded with pitchers at the top, so adding a talented position player that is good at everything makes sense. If Minnesota doesn’t bite, the Tigers could snag him, given their aforementioned love of college hitters. Should Cross slide outside of the top of the draft, look for the Athletics to snag him at pick 19. Adding Cross would do wonders for the Oakland farm system, which is devoid of outfield talent.
Cooper Hjerpe – LHP, Oregon State
MLB Pipeline Tool Grades
Oregon State southpaw Cooper Hjerpe just wrapped up his second season in the Beavers weekend rotation. As the Saturday night starter his sophomore year, Hjerpe racked up a 4.21 ERA and 1.169 WHIP while striking out 98 batters over 77 innings. As the Friday night ace this season, Hjerpe made hitters look silly all year. He started 18 games, went 11-2, and finished the year with a 2.70 ERA and 0.871 WHIP. He struck out 198 batters across 103.1 innings, good for the most strikeouts across Division I and a ridiculous 14.0 K/9. Hjerpe also walked only 23 batters all year, giving him an absolutely beautiful strikeout-to-walk ratio of 7.00.
The first thing that jumps out about Hjerpe is his sidearm delivery. Pitching from a low three-quarters arm slot, Hjerpe utilizes a slingshot-like motion that is similar to Josh Hader’s delivery. Hjerpe repeats his delivery every pitch, making it incredibly hard for opposing batters to pick up the ball out of his hand. He hammers his fastball inside to hitters to generate swing-and-miss. Hjerpe’s nasty slider features 15 inches of horizontal break, and he can locate it for a strike in any count. He also features a changeup that looks similar to his fastball out of the hand but features fading action. Hjerpe is especially dangerous given he can both throw his entire repertoire for strikes. There isn’t an exact pro comparison for Hjerpe. He features a delivery similar to Josh Hader and a repertoire and approach like that of Miles Mikolas – guys who can locate both fastballs and off-speed pitches to strike out batters and avoid walking them.
There aren’t expected to be very many pitchers picked in the early or middle parts of the first round, meaning Hjerpe is unlikely to be selected until the late first round. The Braves are a possibility at pick 20. They love first-round college pitchers, having taken three of them in the past five drafts. Additionally, most of their high-end pitching prospects are about to reach the majors. Selecting Hjerpe allows them to replenish and add depth to their farm arms. The Brewers are another likely suitor at pick 27. Ethan Small is the only pitcher in their top 10 prospects, and he is expected to be in the majors this year. Plus, it’s fun to imagine what Hjerpe can become if he goes through the Brewers pitching factory.
All of these guys have dominated the college ranks and look to do the same at the professional level. I obviously hope they all have long and successful major league careers, but I know it doesn’t always work like that. Regardless, it will be very interesting to see how each of these potential superstars fare as professional baseball players.