Sunday, July 3, 2022

Prospect Watch: Here are eight MLB draft candidates worth watching during the College World Series

The 2022 NCAA Men’s College World Series will get underway on Friday after eight teams punched their tickets to Omaha, Nebraska, in recent weeks. Those teams are: Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Texas, Notre Dame, Stanford, Arkansas, Auburn, and Ole Miss.  The national champion will be crowned no later than Monday, June 27.

With that in mind, this week’s Prospect Watch serves the purpose of highlighting one player from each team who could have their name called next month at the Major League Baseball amateur draft. Do note that the teams are presented in alphabetical order, and that most teams had multiple candidates to choose from.

Arkansas: Cayden Wallace, 3B/OF

Wallace played a full slate at third base in 2022 after previously splitting time, both in his first season with the Razorbacks and then in the Cape Cod League, between the hot corner and the outfield corner. He hit .299/.393/.554 with 15 home runs and 17 doubles as a 20-year-old in SEC play, and he did so while improving his strikeout and walk rates. Wallace is a draft-eligible sophomore, but his performance and his heightened chances of sticking at third base should see him come off the board within the first two rounds. Injured right-handed starter Peyton Pallette and infielder Robert Moore, the son of Royals executive Dayton Moore, should also go relatively high in the draft.

Auburn: Sonny DiChiara, 1B

DiChiara, a transfer from Samford, pummeled SEC pitching to the tune of a .320/.460/.665 slash line with 22 home runs and 17 more walks than strikeouts. For as good as his season was, he’s facing an uphill battle to be drafted in the first couple rounds. The common knocks on him are that he’s older (he’ll turn 23 before July ends) and that he’s a right-handed batter who offers limited defensive value. 

Notre Dame: Jack Brannigan, 3B/RHP

Brannigan is a two-way player who appeared in more than 50 games as a third baseman and who also stepped on the mound 11 times throughout the season. It remains to be seen which role pro teams will prefer for him, as there are pros and cons each way. He’s a talented defender who batted .296/.361/.557 with 12 home runs this season, though he did so while posting an ugly 2.55 strikeout-to-walk ratio. On the mound, Brannigan has good arm strength and he struck out 28 of the 68 batters he faced, albeit while issuing walks to another eight of them.

Oklahoma: Peyton Graham, SS

Graham bounced around the diamond during his stint in the Cape Cod League last summer. He almost exclusively played shortstop this season, hitting .336/.416/.660 with 20 home runs and 32 stolen bases (on 34 tries) along the way. Graham did strike out more than 2.5 times as often as he walked, and it’s reasonable to question how that will translate against professional pitchers. Still, some team will likely be enamored by his projectable 6-foot-4, 171-pound frame, his collection of physical gifts, and the belief that the best is yet to come. Graham could come off the board within the top 50 selections.

Ole Miss: Hayden Dunhurst, C

Dunhurst has some juice in his bat, but he’s not going to be selected on the strength of his offensive talents. (His .802 OPS ranked eighth out of 11 Rebels with at least 100 plate appearances.) Rather, it’s his catch-and-throw abilities — with an emphasis on the throw part — that should earn him a selection over the first several rounds. 

Texas A&M: Trevor Werner, 3B

Werner had made 11 pitching appearances over his first two seasons at Texas A&M, but he focused solely on playing third base this season. Perhaps predictably, he had his finest offensive showing to date, batting .252/.362/.487 with six home runs. Werner has a big frame (6-3, 220) and obvious strength. Whomever drafts him will need to work on his approach, as he struck out in more than 21 percent of his plate appearances.

Texas: Ivan Melendez, 1B

Melendez was drafted in the 16th round last summer by the Marlins, but elected to return to Texas. Big 12 pitchers sure wish he hadn’t. He hit .396/.516/.888 with 32 home runs (the most since the bat-ball coefficient restitution in 2011) and four more walks (52) than strikeouts (48) in 65 games. Melendez has big-time raw strength, to the extent that he should overcome the biases against right-right first basemen and be selected sometime in the first 100 picks. The Longhorns have a few others who may go in that range, too, including catcher Silas Ardoin, shortstop Trey Faltine, and lefty Pete Hansen. 

Stanford: Brock Jones, OF

Jones is a former football player who offers power and speed in bushels. He hit .327/.455/.665 with 20 home runs and 15 steals (on 20 attempts) this season. The catch is that Jones is prone to striking out, running a K rate north of 24 percent. A team who believes their player development staff can help maximize Jones’ abundant athleticism could pop him as early as sometime late in the first round.

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