While Major League Baseball and its players association remain bogged down in their efforts to reach a labor agreement, that doesn’t mean the sport itself remains dormant.
For example, you still have all the prospect rankings – both individual and organizationally – and the latest was revealed Friday when ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel ranked the Pittsburgh Pirates as the third-best farm system in baseball, behind No. 1 Baltimore Orioles and runner-up Tampa Bay Rays. McDaniel’s rankings show the Bucs leading all of the major leagues in the number of prospects (21) with a future value (FV) grade above 40, with 40 roughly equating to that of a bench player in the big leagues.
Prospect rankings aren’t the only aspect of baseball in the news. Friday marks the start of the 2022 college baseball season, and that should give fans of the sport something to occupy their attention while the labor impasse drags on.
I’m no aficionado of college baseball; about the only time I’ll watch a game is during the College World Series, or if a truly dominant player (read: pitcher) is performing during a regular season televised matchup. For example, I tuned in a couple of times last spring to watch Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter – each touted as a possible No. 1 pick by the Pirates – pitch for Vanderbilt.
Given that the Pirates hold the No. 4 pick in this year’s draft, perhaps it’s worth checking out some of the top college players heading into the season.
If you are so inclined, Baseball America has posted its annual streaming guide to let readers know which TV streaming platforms carry college games. It’s a robust list, so check it out if you have access to the site. The article notes that Southeastern Conference games are available on one of the ESPN channels – primarily the SEC Network – or online at SEC Network+. ESPN+, meanwhile, will broadcast a number of conference games, including the Atlantic 10, the Sun Belt and the WAC.
College fans won’t have to wait long for marquee matchup, as No. 3 Vanderbilt – which lost to Mississippi State in the 2021 CWS – takes on No. 7 Oklahoma State in a three-game set this weekend in Nashville.
Baseball America also has a list of what it considers the be the top 100 draft prospects for 2022, and a number of those players are now toiling in the college ranks. The publication ranks two high school players from Georgia – outfielder Druw Jones (son of former big leaguer Andruw Jones) and shortstop Termarr Johnson – at the top of the list, but two college players rank No. 3-4.
They are Cal Poly shortstop Brooks Lee and Texas Tech infielder Jace Jung. Lee hit .342 with a .910 OPS, 10 homers and 27 doubles at Cal Poly last year. He followed that up by hitting .405 with an OPS of over 1.000 in the Cape Cod Summer League. According to Baseball America, Lee is sure-handed, but his limited range could have him ultimately ticketed for third base or second base.
Jung, the younger brother of Texas Rangers’ 2019 first-round pick Josh Jung, has played mostly second and third base during his first two years at Texas Tech. His bat is his calling card; he slugged 21 home runs and had an OPS of 1.159 last season.
The next-highest college-ranked draft prospect at No. 6 is James Madison outfielder Chase DeLauter, whom the publication also tabbed as college baseball’s “best kept secret.” The 6-4, 235-pound left-handed hitter hit .385/1.145 in a shortened spring season but followed that up with a solid performance in the Cape Cod league that saw him draw more walks (21) than strikeouts (18).
After high school pitcher Dylan Lesko, who is No. 7 on the list, three college players round out the Top 10 in LSU corner infielder Jacob Berry and outfielders Brock Jones of Stanford and Gavin Cross of Virginia Tech.
Berry had an outstanding freshman year at Arizona last year with 17 home runs and 19 doubles but transferred to LSU when his coach – Jay Johnson – left to take the job in Baton Rouge. A switch hitter, Berry shows power to all fields from both side of the plate, according to Baseball America, but his defensive skills are modest. The new universal DH rule could open up a spot in the lineup for his bat with minimal seasoning in the minors.
Jones, a left-handed hitter, was a late bloomer, as BA ranked him as the No. 478 prospect in its 2019 Top 500 list. After a so-so freshman year, Jones posted an OPS of 1.089 last season, and his 18 home runs led the Pac-12. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Cross enjoyed a breakout season a year ago as a redshirt freshman, hitting .345/1.036 for the Hokies and looks to be one of the better bats in college baseball.
So, while there may not be any MLB baseball coming around the corner, there is still a chance to get your baseball fix.