Sure, there’s always fanfare over the top picks in the draft who are coming from highly rated baseball institutions. We’ve read the headlines and the predictions. We get it.
Often times overlooked are the players from smaller programs who either aren’t given as much spotlight or just grossly overlooked in general and fall in the draft order. And when that happens, teams can strike gold on a late round diamond in the rough.
These players may not have the biggest, flashiest name on their jersey, but don’t sleep on their abilities or what they can bring to a major league club when their name get called on draft day.
Jackson Rutledge | Rank: 12
School: San Jacinto JC (TX)
Baby Bryce Harper, anyone? Rutledge has been known to reach 99 MPH on his fastball and keep that velocity going even late into games, making him one of the best JuCo prospects to ever hit the draft and one of the top pitchers across the board. Thanks to his towering 6’8 stature, his already dominate sliders comes in at an angle that makes it nearly unhittable. Where he could stand to improve is his overall control of the ball and command over his fastball, which unlike its velocity, has little to no movement and can fall flat in later innings. Rutledge is currently committed to Kentucky, but I’d be surprised if he makes it there unless he’s determined to come back to the draft in one to two years and try to go first overall.
Hunter Brown | Rank: 89
School: Wayne State
Don’t let Brown’s DII status distract you, he’s got a secretly wicked slider and scouts have noted how he’s shown consistent improvement over his three years in a colligate program. If he’s that responsive to change, now just imagine what a major league pitching and conditioning staff could do for him? He’s seen increases in his velocity with every passing year at Wayne State. He now boasts a four seam fastball that he can maintain between 92-96 MPH. While he struggled in his time with the Cape Cod League last summer, he’s proven resilience and if given a change to work on his change up more would be an incredibly solid Day 2 pick.
Antoine Kelly | Rank: 90
School: Wabash Valley CC (I.L.)
Kelly is a rare arm, community college or not. Standing 6’6 at nineteen years old, his raw power was able to bring him up to a 99 MPH fastball after some mechanical tweaking last year. The draft is no new rodeo to Kelly—being taken in the 13th round by the Padres last year. San Diego could make another more claim the southpaw this year, just with a much higher pick at a much higher slot price. He could use some more refining but of course he could, he’s not even in his 20’s yet. What he lacks in a second pitch and spin, he makes up for in athleticism the ability to adapt. To me, Kelly is the steal of the draft: a kid with a lot of drive, insane potential, and given to the right pitching staff, a team’s new ace.
Ivan Johnson | Rank: 133
School: Chipola College
Jose Bautista and Patrick Corbin are just two big names to come out of Chipoa, and the switching hitting second baseman could one day find himself as another alumni of MLB fame. He has nearly the same amount of power from each side of the plate, making him a valuable lefty bat for any team’s arsenal. There’s an old saying that goes, “If you can play shortstop, you’re the most athletic player on the field. From there, you can play anything.” Johnson has proven it and not lost a stitch of that athleticism by moving from a shortstop in high school to second, where Chipola needed him more. He’s strong on the defensive end and has a good arm, the only catch being his range has since suffered due to his infield shuffle.
Dalton Fowler | Rank: 150
School: Northwest Mississippi CC
Fowler’s breaking ball is his marquee pitch, something we don’t see a lot in young pitchers. His fastball still hovered in the high 80’s-low 90’s, but not everyone needs to throw pure heat to be a good pitcher. He’s still a very lanky 6’5 and has a lot of growing to do, but shows potential for adding to his game. If he can gain more control of the spin on his curveball, he’s setting himself up for a good three pitch rotation. He rescinded his commitment to play at Mississippi next season, so there’s always the possibility of his passing on whatever slot he’s drafted at, returning to Northwest Mississippi next season to hone his skills more, and coming back for a higher ranking next year.
Justin Fall | Rank: 167
School: Brookdale CC (N.J.)
Much like Todd Frazier, Fall is also from Tom’s River, New Jersey. The sophomore at Brookdale Community College has a consistent fastball in the mid-90’s and a decent slider given his lower than average arm slot. He’s currently committed to Arizona State if the draft results aren’t to his liking, where he could spend two years refining his change-up and come back to the draft slotted significantly higher. Standing at 6’6 with a strong build, Fall could still put on more strength and up his control over his cutter. Would make a great late round pickup for a team looking for raw athleticism.