Jackson Holliday, SS, Stillwater HS (OK): Holliday is one of a few top prospects with big-league bloodlines working in his favor. His father Matt made seven All-Star Games over a 15-year career, and his uncle Josh is the head coach at Oklahoma State (where he’s committed to play in the unlikely event he attends college). Holliday hasn’t coasted on his name or his connections; he spent the past year getting himself into better shape, and improving his offensive game. He’s no longer pulling off pitches as frequently as he had in the past, and he’s more open to using the whole field. His explosiveness allows him to smoke almost anything thrown over the plate, and he can run and throw well, too.
Druw Jones, CF, Wesleyan HS (GA): Jones, whose father Andruw is a borderline Hall of Famer, was in the running for the top spot entering the spring. He’s since emerged as the industry’s preferred choice. It’s not hard to understand why. He’s a good to great defender at a premium position who could finish his development arc with five plus or better tools, including both components of his bat. Indeed, he has the kind of projectable frame and handspeed that should allow him to add muscle and power as he matures. Jones might end up losing a little speed as a result, but he’s believed to have the instincts and innate feel for the position that should enable his game to remain lush with secondary value. There’s legitimate All-Star potential here.
Kumar Rocker, RHP, Tri-City Valleycats: Rocker, who previously suffered from overexposure, was absent from most of this year’s cycle. He resurfaced recently in the Frontier League, running his fastball up to 99 mph and overwhelming indy-league hitters with a 70-grade slider. Heraclitus said that no man steps in the same river twice, for neither he nor the river are the same. Even if Rocker was the same — and he’s not, if only in age — the river has changed. The industry was already skeptical about him because of his lagging changeup and the potential command and durability concerns created by his mechanical deficiencies; now, there’s also the matter of last summer’s post-draft physical that caused the Mets to bail. We have to write that it does feel silly to obsess over what could go wrong with Rocker’s arm in a draft where almost every other top pitcher already has an elbow zipper.
Termarr Johnson, 2B, Mays HS (GA): Johnson was the top player on CBS Sports’ board entering the spring, and a few evaluators argued he should’ve remained there. He still has a hit tool that one veteran scout graded as an 80 — meaning, in layman’s terms, as good as it gets — and surprising power. The downfall for Johnson is (and was always going to be) his defensive value. He’s likely just a second baseman, and there’s always reluctance in taking high school second basemen for obvious reasons; they have less margin of error than shortstops or other up-the-middle players as it pertains to moving down the defensive spectrum. Oh well. Johnson is going to hit, and hit a lot, and he’s going to do it while displaying one of the best feels for the game in the class.
Elijah Green, OF, IMG Academy (FL): Green is a fascinating and polarizing prospect, a walking example of bimodal distribution who seems to inspire forecasts invoking only his left- and right-tail outcomes. To hear most scouts tell it, he’s either going to make several All-Star Games, or he’s going to wash out before becoming arbitration eligible. His boosters point to his near-elite power and speed combination, as well as his potential to play center field despite being listed at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds. (This is where we note, to little surprise, that his father Eric played in the NFL.) Conversely, Green’s critics say that his game needs a lot of refinement for him to max out his tools, and that his extreme swing-and-miss tendencies will cause him to deviate, from being a red-hot chili pepper to not, more frequently than John Frusciante.
Jacob Berry, 3B/OF, LSU: Berry has changed locations twice in the past year. First, he followed coach Jay Johnson from Arizona to LSU; next, he started playing the outfield to ease concerns about his defensive value. It didn’t work. Scouts contend that he lacks the hands and the feet to be a tolerable defender anywhere on the diamond. (One even compared Berry to Seth Beer, who was held as a conscientious objector to defense when he was drafted 28th overall in 2018 out of Clemson.) That wouldn’t matter too much if Berry’s offensive upside was considered ironclad, but multiple evaluators warned that his underlying exit-velocity data suggests his power potential has been overstated.
Cade Horton, RHP, Oklahoma: Horton, a draft-eligible sophomore who missed the 2021 season because of Tommy John surgery, put himself into first-round consideration with a phenomenal run during the College World Series that culminated with a Finals record 13 strikeouts. His arsenal is all about power, including a high-spin fastball that can touch into the upper-90s and a slider that was clocked as high as 90 during that aforementioned start. Horton has a limited track record (he threw just over 50 regular-season innings for the Sooners), and scouts still have lingering doubts about whether he’ll be a starter for the long haul.
Brooks Lee, SS, Cal Poly: Lee might have the best feel for the game of any prospect in the draft. (If not, then that distinction goes to Termarr Johnson.) He’s a coach’s son and a switch-hitter who should be good from both sides (especially the left). He struck out in fewer than 10 percent of his plate appearances this season, all the while showing a good feel for the zone and for quality contact. Defensively, he’s not the most athletic individual, and his arm is in the average-to-tick-above range. That combination usually makes scouts cast doubt on someone’s ability to remain at the six, though Lee’s aforementioned wherewithal and the recent optimization of defensive positioning has them open to the idea that he at least starts his big-league career at shortstop.
Gavin Cross, OF, Virginia Tech: The Hokies had not had a player selected in the first round since Joe Saunders in 2002. Cross, who is projected to become an above-average hitter and a fine right fielder, ended the decades-long drought. He trended in the right direction this season in all the pertinent areas. At the plate, he improved upon his strikeout and walk rates while increasing his power output; in the field, he slid to center and fared better than expected for someone who is slated to play right field as a professional. There’s not much chrome to his game, but his offensive skill set should make him a welcomed addition
Gabriel Hughes, RHP, Gonzaga: Hughes is a big, physical power pitcher who this season improved his velocity (he can touch into the upper-90s) and his control and who has a good slider. There is some relief risk here should his past wildness return (he had previously walked a batter every other inning in his collegiate career) or if he can’t improve his changeup. The pitch has decent action, but he’s too prone to getting underneath the ball, as opposed to working through it, for evaluators to have confidence in its effectiveness.
Kevin Parada, C, Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets had produced three first-round catchers since 1993: Jason Varitek, Matt Wieters, and Joey Bart. Parada became the fourth. He’s always hit despite an unusual pre-swing stance that sees him lift his front elbow to his nose and drape the bat the length of his spine, his barrel dangling down around belt-level until he begins his operation. That remained true this season, as he homered 26 times and nearly posted a 1-to-1 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 60 games. Parada’s ball-tracking data, predictably, supports the notion that he could develop into a middle-of-the-order hitter with the potential for more pop than country radio. He’s not as promising behind the dish, but he’s improved enough there for scouts to see him as a tolerable option to begin his career.
Jace Jung, 2B, Texas Tech: Jung’s surname is pronounced like “young,” as in, Jace is the younger brother of Josh, a third-base prospect with the Rangers who was the No. 8 pick in the 2019 draft. Jace came off the board in the same neighborhood thanks to an impressive combination of offensive skills. He has an excellent feel for the strike zone and for making contact, a combination that allowed him to walk 17 more times (59) than he struck out (42). Scouts believe he has plus raw strength, though they’re skeptical it’ll play as such in-game because of his hit-over-slug mindset. Whatever his philosophy, he’ll go as far as his bat will take him; he’s a below-average fielder, even at the keystone, who’ll need to be positioned well to avoid giving back runs with his glove.
Zach Neto, SS, Campbell: Neto is a well-rounded player who found the Big South to be a Little Challenge. You can choose your own most impressive statistic: is it that he nearly homered more times (15) than he struck out (19); is it that he did record as many stolen bases as strikeouts; or is it that he had a walk-to-strikeout ratio exceeding 2.0? Neto hits the ball hard and at a good angle, and he receives compliments for his general knowhow. If there are blemishes to his game, it’s that he faced weak competition and that he’s unlikely to become more than a second-division shortstop.
Jett Williams, SS, Rockwall-Heath HS (TX): Williams, a Mississippi State commit, has more helium than most other prospects in the draft. Some evaluators have said they see him as the second-best prep hitter in the class (no small compliment given the names in the class), thanks in part to a hit tool that could reach double-plus status. Williams is listed at just 5-foot-8, but he’s strong and athletic and the combination of his effective swing and fast bat could allow him to generate average in-game power.
Dylan Lesko, RHP, Buford HS (GA): Lesko underwent Tommy John surgery in April, pushing him down a hair compared to where he would’ve ranked otherwise. Presuming he makes a full recovery, he has all the right ingredients to become an above-average starter, including the requisite size, athleticism, command, and arsenal depth. His top offering is his changeup, which one veteran scout tabbed as the best pitch he’s ever seen from a high-school arm. Lesko isn’t just smoke-and-mirrors; his fastball has been clocked into the upper-90s and he imparts good spin on the pitch thanks to a high release point. If there is a potential bugaboo with his arsenal, it’s his breaking ball. Though a Trackman darling, some evaluators worry that the pitch features too much depth, and that big-league hitters will notice the hump out of his hand and spit on it (relative to their younger counterparts).
Chase DeLauter, OF, James Madison: DeLauter, our preseason No. 2, is a polarizing prospect. All he’s done throughout his college career, including a stint in last summer’s Cape Cod League (essentially a proving ground for small-school players), is hit and hit some more. He slid down boards because he started the season off with some of his worst games, and they just so happened to come against the best pitchers he faced all year. It didn’t help matters that he later fractured his foot and missed the rest of the campaign. Mind you, he still hit .437/.576/.828 with seven more walks than strikeouts in 118 plate appearances; he still displayed a strong eye and above-average pop; and he still looked like a defensive asset in a corner. If there’s one other common gripe about DeLauter, beyond his weak quality of competition, it’s the unusual footwork he displays at the plate. His back foot tends to kick out, creating an odd scissoring aesthetic.
Justin Crawford, OF, Bishop Gorman HS (NV): Yet another draftee with a big-league father, Crawford’s father Carl played in the majors for more than a decade and made four All-Star teams along the way. Comparing the two is lazy, but there is some validity to the thought. Crawford has a feel for hitting and near-elite speed; he just needs to get stronger in order to maximize his potential.
Cam Collier, 3B, Chipola College (FL): Age-relative performance has always felt like an obvious positive indicator for future success, but it wasn’t until relatively recently that teams other than the iconoclasts heavily weighed a player’s age in their draft analysis. That development prefaces the rise of Collier, who was born weeks after the 2004 presidential election. (Or, for those who prefer matters of greater global significance, a couple of days before the release of World of Warcraft.) Collier offers more than an excuse to say, “I’m getting old,” of course. He’s shown an aptitude for making quality contact and for commanding the strike zone, and scouts believe he’ll offer more power in time. His arm is strong enough to envision him sticking at third base for the long haul, too, and it doesn’t hurt that his father Lou played in parts of eight big-league seasons.
Daniel Susac, C, Arizona: Susac’s brother Andrew was a second-round selection in 2011 who has since appeared in parts of six big-league seasons. Twosac, if you will, would appear to have fair odds of accruing more service time based on his plus or better strength and his improved defense. There are two things to know about Susac’s offensive game: one, he likes to swing the bat; two, he likes to lift the ball. The former stands out as a potential problem, as he posted an ugly 2.26 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The latter? The latter is fine and allows him to leverage his aforementioned muscle. Defensively, he has a strong arm and good reason to root for the implementation of the automated ball-strike system.
Owen Murphy, RHP/INF, Riverside-Brookfield HS (IL): Shohei Ohtani’s success has caused teams to think new thoughts about the viability of two-way players, but our guess is Murphy will store away his bat after he turns pro. (Carson Williams, Spencer Schwhellenbach, and Masyn Winn are recent two-way players who shed the label after draft day.) Murphy has a simple, mature delivery and a flat release point that enhances his low-to-mid-90s fastball when he elevates it in the zone. His dogged competitiveness and his above-average athleticism fuel our suspicion that he’ll take a step forward once he prioritizes pitching; if and when that happens, look for him to work on nurturing his changeup and on tightening and speeding up his slurvy breaker.
Cole Young, SS, North Allegheny HS (PA): Young is a well-rounded player who lacks both a carrying tool and an obvious flaw. He minds the zone and he has doubles power at the plate (though his exit velocities hint at untapped strength), and in the field he displays good footwork and an above-average arm. He’s unlikely to become a star-level contributor, the way some of his prep peers in this class might, but that shouldn’t prevent him from becoming a solid contributor.
Cooper Hjerpe, LHP, Oregon State: A player’s draft stock is often subject to forces beyond their own talent and will. A decade ago, Hjerpe would’ve been classified as a reliever, and perhaps even a left-handed specialist, based on his unorthodox release point and his heater-heavy arsenal; these days, he’s viewed as a fairly safe starting pitching prospect. Ain’t it funny how times change? Anyway, he throws from a sidearm slot after stepping slightly closed, creating some crossfire effect in the process. Stuff-wise, he relies on a low-to-mid-90s fastball that downright bumfuzzles hitters thanks to the marriage between its rise and his flat vertical approach angle. His top secondary pitch, a sweeping slider, plays well off the heat while his changeup has shown enough promise to think he’ll be able to neutralize righties. Hjerpe (that’s “jerp-ee,” for those wondering) pounds the zone and he should be able to ascend the ladder quickly.
Brandon Barriera, LHP, American Heritage HS (FL): Barriera has a fast arm and multiple high-quality secondary pitches, but some scouts are uneasy with regards to his size (he’s listed at 5-foot-11) and fastball. He generates good velocity on his heater, yet the shape of the offering plays into the zone and may cause it to be less effective than the sum of its parts. That combination has led some to conclude that his relief risk is higher than it may appear at first glance.
Mikey Romero, SS, Orange Lutheran HS (CA): Romero is a left-handed hitting shortstop who is committed to LSU. He has a good feel for making contact and should remain at the position over the long haul. The big question for him is if and by how much he’ll improve his power production as he matures.
Spencer Jones, OF, Vanderbilt: Jones has gotten a few Aaron Judge comps (but as a lefty hitter) this spring and obviously that would be the best-case scenario. He’s huge (6-foot-7) with enormous power, and he’s a great athlete. Jones is a boom or bust kid with big upside, but also some things in his swing that need to be cleaned up.
Noah Schultz, LHP, Oswego East HS (IL): Schultz is a big lefty, listed at 6-foot-9, who has a promising three-pitch mix. He releases the ball from a low-three-quarters slot, creating a tough angle for hitters. Schultz is committed to Vanderbilt.
Eric Brown, SS, Coastal Carolina: Brown is a divisive prospect, with evaluators split on whether or not he’s worthy of a first-round pick. Those who like Brown overlook an unusual pre-swing setup, in which he extends and elevates his arms and then points his barrel toward the third baseman as he begins his load, and are instead able to focus on his production and compelling combination of contact, power, and plate discipline. He hit .282/.375/.436 at the Cape Cod League last summer and .330/.460/.544 this spring, all with supporting ball-tracking metrics. Brown’s boosters also see him sticking at short, making him a well-rounded player.
Drew Gilbert, OF, Tennessee: The Astros used their first first-round pick in years on Tennessee outfielder Drew Gilbert. He’s a high-energy outfielder who should stick in center field. Scouts had reservations about his bat, meaning he could end up being a fourth-outfielder type if his offense falls on the low end of his projections.
Xavier Isaac, 1B, East Forsyth HS (NC): Isaac is a massive first baseman with excellent raw power. He doesn’t have an extensive track record against high-quality competition, however, making him a risky prospect given that he’s not capable of playing another defensive position.
Reggie Crawford, LHP, 1B, UConn: The Giants closed out the first-round by taking two-way player Reggie Crawford. He missed the season due to elbow surgery, but had some big-time stuff as a left-handed pitcher for UConn. Crawford isn’t as well-regarded as a hitter, though the Giants are seemingly willing to give him a look as one, too.
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