The U.S. Collegiate National Team is in the midst of a five-game series with the Cuban national team, and if the early results are any indication (a combined no-hitter in the first game), this could be one of the best college squads to ever suit up for the U.S. of A.
Watching the CNT perform, it’s hard not to be struck by the vast amount of talent on the squad. Of the 26 players on the roster, six participated in the College World Series, another five were selected to Baseball America’s All-American squads, and seven will likely be selected in the first round of next year’s First-Year Player Draft.
We say seven (okay, 7.3 exactly) because that’s the average number of players that have played for the USCNT, since 2005, and gone on to be selected in the first round of the following year’s draft. Those 73 players are listed below, with #1 overall picks in bold:
2005: Ian Kennedy, Kyle McCulloch, Chris Perez, Max Scherzer, Drew Stubbs
2006: Julio Borbon, David Price, Daniel Moskos, Ross Detwiler, Sean Doolittle, Nick Schmidt, Todd Frazier, Casey Weathers, J.P. Arencibia, Andrew Brackman
2007: Pedro Alvarez, Ryan Flaherty, Logan Forsythe, Justin Smoak, Brett Wallace
2008: Kentrail Davis, Kyle Gibson, Mike Leake, Mike Minor, Stephen Strasburg
2009: Bryce Brentz, Michael Choice, Christian Colon, Yasmani Grandal, Drew Pomeranz, Asher Wojciechowski
2010: Tyler Anderson, Matt Barnes, Jackie Bradley Jr., Gerrit Cole, Sean Gilmartin, Sonny Gray, Mikie Mahtook, George Springer
2011: Mark Appel, Brian Johnson, Kevin Gausman, Deven Marrero, Tyler Naquin, Marcus Stroman, Michael Wacha
2012: Kris Bryant, Jonathan Crawford, Marco Gonzalez, Michael Lorenzen, D.J. Peterson, Ryne Stanek
2013: Luke Weaver, Trea Turner, Michael Conforto, Matt Chapman, Tyler Beede, Carlos Rodon, Brandon Finnegan, Bradley Zimmer, Erick Fedde, Kyle Schwarber
2014: Taylor Ward, Tyler Jay, Kyle Funkhouser, Dillon Tate, D.J. Stewart, Carson Fulmer, Walker Buehler, Dansby Swanson, Alex Bregman, James Kaprielian, Christin Stewart
As you can see, the USCNT roster doesn’t just provide quantity, but also quality. Among these 73 players there are two Cy Young awards, 600 victories, 161 saves, 639 home runs, 2,145 RBI, 325 stolen bases and 12 All-Star game appearances. And that’s with 22 first-rounders from the last three drafts yet to appear in the big-leagues.
So why should we care about this tenuous link from the USCNT and the first round of the draft?
There are many reasons, but the only one we care about here, is that it’s a good indicator for how many members of this year’s squad will be drafted in the 2016 draft. So, let’s see if we can figure out which seven players are most likely to be drafted in the first round next year.
The 2015 USCNT roster is as follows:
Catcher: Chris Okey, Matt Thiass, J.J. Schwarz
Infield: Garrett Hampson, Bryson Brigman, Ryan Howard, Bobby Dalbec, K.J. Harrison
Outfield: Corey Ray, Buddy Reed, Nick Banks, Anfernee Grier
Right-Handed Pitcher: Daulton Jeffries, Zack Burdi, Stephen Nogosek, Mike Shawaryn, Robert Tyler, Ryan Hendrix, Tommy DeJuneas, Tanner Houck, Zach Jackson, Logan Shore, Bailey Clark
Left-Handed Pitcher: Anthony Kay, A.J. Puk, Brendan McKay
Of those 26, six are freshman, which means Brendan McKay, K.J. Harrison, Tanner Houck, Tommy DeJuneas, J.J. Schwarz and Bryson Brigman won’t be draft-eligible until 2017.
That leaves 20 players.
Anyone who’s been paying attention to college baseball for the past year knows that the most recognizable names from that bunch are Chris Okey, Garrett Hampson, Bobby Dalbec, Corey Ray, Buddy Reed, Nick Banks, Zack Burdi, Mike Shawaryn, Robert Tyler, Logan Shore and A.J. Puk. Just for kicks, though, let’s break down the chances of each of the remaining 20 getting popped in the first round, ranked in order of most-likely to least-likely.
Banks should be the first college outfielder selected in 2016, assuming he continues to rake like he did in his first two seasons at Texas A&M. After posting an impressive .327/.386/.427 line as a freshman, Banks upped all of his numbers and finished with a .364/.450/.536 slash in 2015. Banks gets above-average grades across the board, although his best tools are his bat and his arm strength. He showed good pop, slugging eight homers last season, and power should be a big part of his game as a pro. Expect to see him produce more steals than the 16 that he’s logged in two seasons as well. Like a lot of other names on this list, Banks does have some work to do, namely cutting down his strikeouts (58 in 2015). First-round chances: 100%
Shawaryn has been the very model of dominance and consistency during his first two seasons at UMD. He already holds the career record for victories, after notching 11 as a freshman and 13 last season. He set career-highs in most numbers last season, including ERA (1.71), innings pitched (116) and strikeouts (138). Through 33 career starts, Shawaryn has posted strong peripheral numbers, including a 9.1 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and 7.5 H/9. He’s been incredibly stingy with the longball too, surrendering just nine in 208.1 innings. Shawaryn has the stuff that first-round picks are made of, including a low-to-mid-90s fastball, an above-average breaking ball and above-average command. Barring an injury, there’s no way he isn’t selected in the first-round. First-round chances: 99%
Puk made headlines in 2015, but not all for good reasons. After being arrested for criminal trespass in April, Puk buckled down and showed premium stuff while carving his way through SEC hitters. He finished the season with nine wins, a 3.96 ERA and 99 strikeouts in just 72.2 innings. He did it with a fastball that approached triple-digits and an above-average slider. If Puk can continue to pitch like he did in 2015, while putting maturity concerns on the back-burner, he should have on problem working his way to the front of the first round. First-round chances: 95%
Ray is one of the most exciting players in the 2016 draft class, and he’s arguably the top outfield prospect in a crowded, deep crop of college outfielders. Speed is the name of the game for Ray, who swiped 34 bases and legged out five triples in 2015. He showed he’s got plenty of pop in his bat too, slugging 11 homers. For the second consecutive season he hit .325, although his OBP took a hit thanks to 60 strikeouts, signifying an issue we’ll be sure to monitor during his draft year. Ray has all the tools to be an above-average defender in centerfield, increasing his value, and all but cementing his place in the first round next year. First-round chances: 95%
At first glance, Shore doesn’t seem like he’d be that dominating. At 6-2 and 215 pounds, he has good size, but his fastball rarely peaks above 92-mph and his breaking ball grades out as a future 55, at best. So how is it possible that he’s won 17 games in two years starting for the Gators, while holding down a sub-2.40 ERA? For starters, Shore has a lethal changeup that projects to be one of the best from the 2016 draft class. He also has near pinpoint command of his pitches. His career walk-rate of 1.9 BB/9 is one of the best among draft-eligible pitchers. Despite having inferior stuff, Shore has assumed control as the ace of a loaded Gators rotation that has other potential first-round pitchers in A.J. Puk and Dane Dunning. First-round chances: 85%
Reed didn’t stand out too much on a loaded Gators’ squad in 2015, but with several players departing in this year’s draft, all eyes will be on him in 2016. After a slow start to the season, Reed ditched his contact lenses in favor of prescription lenses and his bat took off. He finished with a .305/.367/.433 line, but showed above-average ability in every aspect of the game. He showed good gap power, rapping 14 doubles and four homers. He showed good speed, legging out five triples and stealing 18 bases. And he showed great ability on defense and one of the strongest outfield arms in the 2016 draft class. If he can continue to improve at the plate, and cut down on some strikeouts (56 in 2015), he should be a sure-fire first-rounder come next June. First-round chances: 85%
Tyler came to Georgia with huge expectations, after turning down a sizable offer from the Baltimore Orioles. He debuted to impressive results, posting a 2.68 ERA in 12 starts as a freshman, and looked poised to lead the Bulldogs’ rotation in 2015. He made just a handful of starts, however, as he was limited by an elbow injury sustained in his third start of the year. He returned towards the end of the year, but was still working off the rust, as evidenced by his final 5.32 ERA. He did, however, show the same impressive array of pitches that made him so dangerous as a freshman, including a mid-to-high-90s fastball. Tyler is a wild-card headed into 2016. He has the stuff to warrant the #1 overall selection, but if he’s hit by inconsistency or another injury, he could slide out of the first round altogether. First-round chances: 80%
Okey was drafted in the 31st-round back in 2013, but chose to honor his commitment to Clemson. A right-handed hitter, Okey has blossomed into a power-hitting catcher with solid defensive skills. He slugged 12 home runs in 2015 for the Tigers, and his .315 average was a career-high, despite a 27-to-49 BB-to-K mark. Behind the plate, he shows good arm strength that produces pop-times under 2.00 with regularity. He only threw out 20% of basestealers last year, but he should produce better numbers than that at the pro level. First-round chances: 75%
Hampson has yet to hit higher than .308 during his time at LBSU, but he’s already earning rave reviews as one of the top pure hitters in the 2016 draft class. We see some comparisons to 2015 first-rounder Kevin Newman. Both players are patient slap-hitters with very little power, who offer average defense in the field. One advantage Hampson has over Newman is speed, both in the field and on the basepaths. We expect Hampson to have a tremendous year at the plate for Long Beach State, and with the weakness at the shortstop position, at least compared to 2015, he should be one of the first middle-infielders off the board. First-round chances: 70%
Matt Thiass, C, Virginia
Most draft fans aren’t familiar with the name, but by draft day next year they will be. Thiass broke out in a big way in 2015. After appearing in only 26 games as a freshman, Thiass exploded offensively and became arguably the top threat in a Cavaliers’ lineup that claimed their first ever CWS title. He won the team triple-crown, leading UVA in average (.323), home runs (ten) and RBI (64). And just for good measure, he posted an impressive 33-to-27 BB-to-K mark. Behind the plate, Thiass was also a star, throwing out 43% of runners attempting to steal. Thiass was drafted one round after Okey in the 2013 draft. First-round chances: 50%
Ryan Howard, SS, Missouri
Howard has carried over the momentum he generated during his sophomore season into play this summer. A two-way standout in high school, Howard emerged as the Tigers’ best hitter in 2015. His .308 average led the team and he also rapped 13 doubles, slugged five homers and drove in 39 runs. Howard projects as a slightly-above-average hitter at the plate, mostly due to his impressive batting eye that kept his strikeout numbers very low this past season. He doesn’t offer much present power, but he could be a 10-15 home run hitter at the pro level. In the field, Howard shows an impressive skill-set. He didn’t win any defensive honors, but he looked better at shortstop than All-SEC Defensive team honoree Alex Bregman. With a strong junior campaign, Howard could find himself in first-round consideration. First-round chances: 50%
Dalbec played third-fiddle to Kevin Newman and Scott Kingery for Arizona in 2015, but he was without a doubt, the only legitimate power-hitter in the Wildcats’s lineup. Just a year after posting a .266/.333/.355 line, Dalbec hit .319 and slugged 15 home runs. To put that in perspective, the rest of the Wildcat roster combined for just 16 home runs. Unfortunately, his production came with a cost, in the form of 60 strikeouts. His K rate of 28% led the squad by a large margin. He did draw a team-high 32 walks, but without Newman and Kingery hitting ahead of him, one has to wonder if Dalbec is due for some regression in 2016. Another obstacle is his lack of a position. His arm strength profiles at third base, but he isn’t exactly fleet of foot. He’ll likely end up at first base or in an outfield corner long term, reducing his value. First-round chances: 45%
Daulton Jefferies, RHP, California
With his diminutive size (6-0/180) and his low-90s fastball, Jefferies would have been right at home among the top arms of the 2015 draft class. Instead, he’ll be one of the most talked about starters in the Pac-12 in 2016. Jefferies dazzled as a freshman, leading the Golden Bears in innings pitched. His finest hour came in a complete-game against USC, in which he struck out six and walked none. In 2015, he spearheaded Cal’s run to the NCAA super-regionals, finishing the season with a 2.92 ERA and a team-high 74 strikeouts. Jefferies doesn’t have elite stuff, but he knows how to pitch and has good command of all his offerings, as evidenced by his 7.0 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 marks. First-round chances: 40%
Anfernee Grier, OF, Auburn
Grier is the forgotten figure among the crop of USCNT outfielders, but his ceiling is just as high. A highly-recruited athlete and son of minor-leaguer Antron Grier, the Tigers’ outfielder put on a show in 2015. He paced Auburn in most offensive categories, including average (.323), doubles (22), triples (three) and runs scored (41). Grier is still incredibly raw, and unless he shows marked improvement in certain areas, including plate discipline (61 K in 254 AB) and baserunning (5 CS in 16 SBA), he’ll likely end up on the outside of the first round looking in. Still, his offensive potential is vast. First-round chances: 35%
Zack Burdi, RHP, Louisville
Burdi is the second member of his family to play baseball for the Cardinals, following in the footsteps of his brother Nick, who was the Twins second-round pick in the 2014 draft. With another strong campaign, Zack could find himself the highest drafted member of the Burdi clan. Like his brother, he draws scouts with his impressive fastball that touched 100-mph a few times during the 2015 season. During his sophomore campaign, Burdi emerged as an elite closer, holding down a 0.92 ERA while striking out 30 batters in 29.1 innings. After a draft that saw career-reliever Tyler Jay get selected sixth-overall, it doesn’t seem as far-fetched that Burdi could go in the first round, but with his fastball being his only true above-average offering, it’s more likely that he falls to the second round like his brother did. First-round chances: 25%
Anthony Kay, LHP, Connecticut
Kay had a tremendous freshman campaign for UConn, winning five games, saving two others and striking out 56 batters in 67 innings. He got quite a shot of confidence during his second year, when his head coach came out and called him “the best sophomore pitcher” in the history of the program. Luckily, Kay shrugged it off and continued to dominate, posting a 96-to-25 K-to-BB ratio in 100 innings while racking up eight victories for the Huskies. This season, Kay has shown off a low-90s fastball and an impressive changeup. The development of his curveball, between now and the end of his junior campaign, will be crucial to how high he goes in the draft. First-round chances: 20%
Zach Jackson, RHP, Arkansas
One year after his head coach managed the USCNT, Jackson was invited to participate on behalf of Team USA. The 6-4, 210 pound right-hander has had a strong start to his career at Arkansas. As a freshman, he held batters to a .184 average while holding down a 2.53 ERA. This past season saw him move into the closer’s role and he was even better, posting a 2.10 ERA and a K/9 rate of 13.4. Unlike his fellow closer on the USCNT, Zack Burdi, Jackson does it without elite fastball velocity, although his breaking ball is an above-average pitch. First-round chances: 15%
Stephen Nogosek, RHP, Oregon
Nogosek showed what he was made of early on in his freshman campaign, making spot starts against Oregon State (ranked #1 at the time) and Vanderbilt, and pitching brilliantly, allowing just two earned runs and striking out 13. He made just 17 appearances in 2014, but his role expanded in 2015, as he became the team’s most valuable reliever, even more so than 2015 3rd-rounder Garrett Cleavinger. He made 39 appearances on the year, posting a 2.02 ERA and whiffing 60 in just 58 innings. Nogosek doesn’t have exceptional stuff, but he should serve as a solid bridge to Team USA closer Zack Burdi, and he’ll likely get the first crack at closing next season for the Ducks. First-round chances: 5%
Ryan Hendrix, RHP, Texas A&M
Another undersized pticher, Hendrix wasn’t on most team’s radar back in 2013, although the Indians did take a flier on him in the 17th-round. He honored his commitment to Texas A&M, but didn’t see immediate opportunities. He made just 11 appearances as a freshman, and looked incredibly inconsistent, posting a 7.27 ERA. He was much better in 2015, posting a 3.66 mark in 23 outings, including five spot starts. His 10.5 K/9 mark led the Aggies and he surrendered just three home runs in 59 innings. Hendrix was stretched out in the Alaska League last summer, making nine starts among his ten appearances, and he looked really good, but there are doubts whether he’ll be able to start at the pro level. First-round chances: 0%
Bailey Clark, RHP, Duke
After pitching strictly in mop-up duty in 2014, Clark moved into the rotation in 2015 and made 13 starts for the Blue Devils, softening the blow of losing star pitcher and presumptive #1 overall pick Michael Matuella. He didn’t go particularly deep in any of those starts, amassing only 58 innings, or roughly 4.1 per start, but Clark was still incredibly valuable to the rotation. Clark’s inclusion on the USCNT roster is more of a formality, as he was a local standout in the Durham area, home of Team USA Baseball headquarters. As such, he’ll likely be selected somewhere in the middle-rounds. First-round chances: 0%
If we subscribe to the theory that just seven members of the USCNT will be selected in the first round, that leaves us with Nick Banks, Mike Shawaryn, A.J. Puk, Corey Ray, Logan Shore, Buddy Reed and Robert Tyler. If we take into account that an average of 10.5 have been selected in the first round the past two years, that allows us to toss in Chris Okey, Garrett Hampson, Matt Thiass and possibly Ryan Howard.