MLB Draft: 3 Sleeper College Prospects
After dissecting my top three hitters and pitchers at the collegiate level, it's time to look at an underrated bunch that may sneak their way into the 1st Round.
The wait is almost over. After a long fall and grueling winter, the Division I college baseball season is less than a month away! Soon, we’ll be able to hear the pop of a catcher’s mitt or the ping of a BBCOR bat until the end of June.
Lots of regular offseason buzz surrounds perennial stars like Travis Bazzana of Oregon State, Nick Kurtz of Wake Forest, or Charlie Condon of Georgia. They are your typical top-of-the-first-round gamers.
Like always, I’ll be the one to cast a lens on some high-impact college players who could be selected toward the end of the first round, or even fall into rounds two or three. Watch out for these guys!
1. Ryan Johnson
I can’t tell if it’s his towering 6’6’’ frame, the Tyler Clippard specs, or an unconventional windup, but something attracts me to Ryan Johnson baseball-wise. Who doesn’t like a funky pitcher?
Johnson, a Junior at Dallas Baptist University, twirled a freakishly good 116-22 K/BB ratio during his sophomore campaign with the Patriots. His slider is his main pitch, using it around half the time and grading out at 60/80 via MLB.com.
In terms of velocity, the native of Red Oak, TX, can compete with the best of ‘em. The fastball will sit 93-96 and has topped out at triple digits before. Combined with his wipeout sweeper, it’s a keen recipe to keep hitters off balance.
Perhaps the biggest improvement to Johnson’s game I’ll be looking out for in 2024 is his ability to miss bats. Despite the elite stuff, Johnson only puts up average batted ball data. It’s a big reason why he’s good for the occasional blowup outing. However, even in his subpar starts, he’s usually able to eat innings thanks to a low pitch count from plus command.
If you’re looking for a fun follow this spring, Johnson fits the bill, bringing lots of energy to a hungry Dallas Baptist school that won 47 games in 2023. Johnson should be the head honcho of the Patriots pitching staff, where he looks to post a sub-4 ERA for the first time in his young career.
2. Austin Overn
Southern California outfielder Austin Overn moves at one speed. Fast.
Standing at 6’0” and weighing just 175 pounds, Overn makes up for his smaller frame with some of the best pure athleticism in the class. A former walk-on wide receiver of the Trojans football team, Overn never really focused on baseball as his sole sport until this winter. The Sophomore has tons of room to grow.
As a freshman at USC, the Tunstin, CA native achieved All-American status. The speedster swiped 16 bags, clubbed 4 HR, and posted a staggering 14 triples, the most in the country by 5.
Overn’s speed is the outlier of his game, grading out at 75/80 on MLB.com. Unsurprisingly, his wheels help him out defensively, as he can get to gapped balls the average collegiate outfielder can’t.
Despite being a Sophomore, Overn is draft-eligible in 2024 and should skyrocket up boards if he can establish consistent gap-to-gap power. With a .402 OBP% in 2023, the Freshmen proved he already carried a mature approach to the dish.
3. Cole Mathis
Another mid-major guy, Cole Mathis makes this list because he is one of the few legit two-way players in this year’s class. He’s no Caglianone, but Mathis fully broke out in 2023.
While he’s not a power five player, Mathis plays for College of Charleston in the CAA, one of the top mid-major conferences in the country. As a sophomore at Charleston, the 6’1” 210 210-pound athlete led the Cougars in ERA (3.45), and OPS (1.014) a staggering feat for an underclassman.
If that wasn’t enough, Mathis proved to scouts he could hit with the wood bat, clubbing 11 homers in the Cape Cod Baseball League in 38 games with the Cotuit Kettleers.
Most scouts believe Mathis will eventually be a pitcher-only at the professional level, but it’s a lot of fun to think of the possibilities this kid could bring to the 2024 Cougars. Following Mike Sirota, he may be the best athlete in the CAA.
Despite Mathis posting a 5.31 ERA over 20 Cape innings, he still struck out 23 compared to just five walks and showed that his fastball plays just fine.
The junior still has plenty of time to grow his game.