Keith Law’s MLB Draft 2023 Rankings: Early list is loaded with college players

My first draft ranking of the year has 30 names, because that’s nominally the number of picks in the first round, although this year it’s just 28 picks because the Mets’ and Dodgers’ first picks are 10 spots later as a penalty for (trying too hard to win) exceeding the luxury tax threshold. Seattle holds picks Nos. 29 and 30, the first for Julio Rodríguez winning the AL Rookie of the Year award, the second as the first pick in Competitive Balance Round A; combined with pick No. 22, the Mariners are well-positioned to have an incredible draft haul.

It’s an incredible draft class, the best probably since 2011, loaded with college position players and a nice batch of college arms, along with three high school position players who would have been in the mix to go first overall in 2022 (and one of them could still do that this year). This ranking is very early, so it’s going to change a lot before we get to the draft itself. I’m writing this two weeks into the college season, with most high school players barely underway if at all. We haven’t seen colleges start their conference schedules or seen how any pitchers hold their stuff through the season, especially guys who showed up with some extra velo. I’ll revise this a few times over the course of the spring, and I expect to see a lot of movement as the year progresses.

  1. Wyatt Langford, OF, Florida

This is going to be the debate all spring — the toolsier Langford or the more famous Dylan Crews. Langford shows as much power as Crews and both were high-contact, high-average hitters all of last year, while Langford is a 70 runner underway and shows more explosiveness. He’s only played the outfield corners, however, with Michael Robertson in center for the Gators, so moving him to center in pro ball will be based on an assumption that his speed will carry him.

  1. Dylan Crews, OF, LSU

Crews was probably heading for a second-round pick in 2020 after a slow start was cut short by the pandemic, after which he pulled his name out of the draft, because why would you want someone to offer you a whole lot of money that you can turn down without any negative ramifications? Anyway, Crews has hit since the moment he started playing for the Tigers, with a .365/.470/.683 career line through Sunday’s games and just a 16 percent strikeout rate. He’s got a great swing and everyone believes he’ll hit in pro ball, but he’s the opposite of Langford in the field, a center fielder scouts think will move to a corner by the time he sees the majors. These guys are likely to be 1-2 or 2-1 on just about every team’s list.

  1. Jacob Gonzalez, SS, Ole Miss

Gonzalez is the safest of the players in the next tier, a high-contact shortstop with a good eye at the plate who rarely chases out of the zone but has no plus tools. He hit more homers in his sophomore year than in his freshman year, going from 12 to 18, but his average dropped to .273 thanks to a huge drop in his BABIP. It looks fluky and I think he’s the highest-floor guy in this group.

  1. Brayden Taylor, 3B, TCU

Taylor’s swing is … uh … haberdasher-made for hitting, I guess. It’s simple and direct and he hits the ball fairly hard with a lot of line drives and enough power to project him as an above-average regular at third. He’s helped himself with solid showings on the Cape and is off to a strong start this year as TCU has played some of the best competition so far of any major program, with a series against Florida State and games against Vanderbilt and Arkansas already.

Chase Dollander (Bob Levey / Getty Images)
  1. Chase Dollander, RHP, Tennessee

Dollander came into the season as the top college starter, as he sits 95-96, touching 99, with good life up on the pitch and plus control. His slider was a 65 or 70 last year, 83-86 mph with high spin rates and very sharp, short break, but he hasn’t had it in two starts this year, with the pitch flat and barely breaking much of the time. Both homers he’s allowed this year came on sliders that might as well have been sitting on tees for the hitters. He has a decent changeup but barely uses it. He’s a top-10 pick if the slider comes back, but there are too many other college starters right now for him to stay here if he can’t regain it.

  1. Walker Jenkins, OF, South Brunswick (N.C.) High

A power-hitting high school outfielder from outside of Wilmington, North Carolina, Jenkins is probably the leader right now to be the first high school player off the board thanks to the potential for big hit/power upside in a center or right fielder. The one tool he really lacks is speed, as he’s probably a soft 50 or even a 45, which might push him to the corner.

  1. Arjun Nimmala, SS, Strawberry Crest (Fla.) High

Nimmala has benefited from the early start to the high school season in Florida and all of the scouts and execs who are in the state anyway for spring training, and after adding some muscle this winter he’s showing 70 power along with the same easy swing and feel to hit he’d shown before. He’s a shortstop now with a 60 arm but is a fringe-average runner and might end up at third base.

  1. Max Clark, OF, Franklin (Ind.) High

Clark rounds out the group of three high school hitters atop this year’s draft class, with the biggest tools of the trio but perhaps the most questions about the present hit tool. He’s got incredible hand acceleration and 30/30 upside with his plus speed. He has a big move down and back to load his hands, a little like the hitch in Hunter Pence’s swing, although from there it’s all good. He’s close to a lock to stay in center and if the swing doesn’t get in the way of contact he has the highest ceiling of this group.

  1. Paul Skenes, RHP, LSU

LSU worked that transfer portal this winter, landing Skenes from Air Force, where he may not have faced SEC-caliber competition but he did have to pitch at 6,000 feet above sea level. He’s been 94-100 mph, sitting 97-98, with a short arm stroke that hides the ball until very close to release. His slider and changeup aren’t as advanced, probably 55s but both inconsistent, with the changeup needing more separation from the fastball and the slider just too variable in shape from pitch to pitch.

  1. Hurston Waldrep, RHP, Florida

Another big transfer into the SEC, Waldrep came to the Gators from Southern Miss, boasting one of the best changeups in the entire draft class. It comes in at 86-88 mph, gets close to the hitter’s bat, and just dies, usually taking the hitter with it. He sits 94-96 and has touched 99, letting the changeup help make the four-seamer more effective, while he barely uses his curve or slider since they’re nowhere near as effective as the changeup, and all three offspeed pitches break mostly north-south. That changeup could carry him a long way.

  1. Enrique Bradfield, Jr., OF, Vanderbilt

Bradfield’s an 80 runner and plus defender in center, but the hit tool and potential impact have always been something of a question, so his slow start this year hasn’t helped matters — his last extra-base hit came on June 5, as he has none this year and had none on the Cape last summer. He’s still a clear first-rounder but there’s going to be more scrutiny on his bat this spring.

  1. Rhett Lowder, RHP, Wake Forest

What I said about Waldrep’s changeup? Well, this is the competition. Waldrep’s has more action, but Lowder’s has more deception, and they’re both incredibly effective – Lowder has thrown his three pitches in almost equal proportions in two starts this year, and even last year he threw more non-fastballs than fastballs by a slim margin. He’s 92-95 mph and has a short mid-80s slider that’s probably average but plays up because hitters are always looking changeup.

  1. Will Sanders, RHP, South Carolina

Sanders is 92-96 mph with a plus slider that has power and gets chases below the zone, along with an above-average changeup that gives him the mix to start. The fastball’s light for its velocity, and he doesn’t have the command of a Lowder or Dollander, but he should go in this second tier of college arms that starts with Lowder.

  1. Jacob Wilson, SS, Grand Canyon

The son of former Pirate and Cardinal infielder Jack Wilson, Jacob was one of the toughest hitters to strike out in all of Division I last year, with just 7 punchouts in 275 plate appearances for Grand Canyon University, although he doesn’t face much high-end pitching playing in the WAC. He’s a no-doubt shortstop with a chance to hit for average but probably grade 40/45 power, a very safe bet once the first few college bats are off the board.

  1. Kyle Teel, C, Virginia

If a team believes strongly in Teel as a long-term catcher, he should be a top 10 pick, or close to it — Kevin Parada was less of a defender with more stick and he went 11th in last year’s draft. Teel is an excellent athlete with a strong arm, and has a good swing with excellent hand acceleration, but he had some bad BABIP luck last year and hit just .276/.402/.439, a drop from his strong freshman season in 2021. He projects to hit for average with more doubles and triples power thanks to his 55 speed.

  1. Maui Ahuna, SS, Tennessee

Ahuna just made his debut for the Vols on Tuesday night after sitting out the first two weekends while waiting for the NCAA to clear his transfer from Kansas. He’s a high-probability shortstop with an aggressive approach, showing good feel for contact even on some stuff just out of the zone but not a ton of patience. He collapses his back side when trying to hit for power, so he’s better suited to making hard contact even at the expense of some home runs.

  1. Bryce Eldridge, 1B/RHP, Madison (Va.) High

I guess we’re going to have a two-way prospect every year from now to forever, thanks to a certain member of the Angels, with Eldridge the top such player this year. (Florida’s Jac Caglionne, a LHP with big velocity and even more raw power as a hitter, is the guy for 2024.) Eldridge has easy power from the left side, but also shows some feel to hit, keeping his hands inside the ball well for contact rather than just trying to dead-pull everything. On the mound, he’s got a very easy delivery and repeats his arm stroke well for a 6-7 guy, with a slider that projects to plus (can we call it the Eldridge Horror?) and a chance for a 55 fastball/50 changeup as well. He’s not the best high school pitching prospect in the class, but he offers some floor here because he’s also a first-round talent as a hitter.

Cooper Pratt (Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today)
  1. Cooper Pratt, SS, Magnolia Heights (Miss.) High

Pratt offers projection with a solid foundation of bat-to-ball skills with average-ish power already, projecting to 55/60 in both the hit and power tools. He has a plus arm and moves well at shortstop, although he’s not a runner and as he fills out he could move to third base. He doesn’t expand the zone much for a teenager, even against good competition over the summer and fall last year.

  1. Jake Gelof, 3B, Virginia

The younger brother of A’s No. 2 prospect Zack Gelof, Jake was among the Division I leaders in homers for most of 2022 before tailing off at the end of the spring, still finishing with a .377/.477/.764 line with 21 homers for the Cavs. He has more power with less projection to the hit tool, and there’s some concern he’ll end up at first base.

  1. Yohandy Morales, 3B, Miami

Morales punches out too much to be in the top tier of college bats but does offer a power/hit upside that’s enough to put him into the middle of the first round, especially given his high probability to stay at third base. A strong performance in the ACC with more contact will help his cause a ton.

  1. Colin Houck, SS, Parkview (Ga.) High

Houck is a star quarterback as well as a star shortstop, committed to Mississippi State for baseball, but there’s no way a swing this good should end up in Starkville. Houck has one of the prettiest, most effortless swings in the draft class, and he’s got a decent idea at the plate, vulnerable mostly to fastballs at or above the top of the zone. It’s above-average raw power already and could end up at 70 when he fills out, although he can overrotate and get under the ball even though his natural swing is going to drive pitches out of the park from left all the way to right-center. He’s probably heading to third base but has the arm for it.

  1. Grayson Hitt, LHP, Alabama

Hitt could end up in the pantheon of good pitchers with terrible pitcher names along with Bob Walk, Grant Balfour, and Sebastian Yips. He’s the best southpaw in the class right now, sitting 92-94 mph with a plus slider, and this year he’s ramped up his use of a cutter that he only flashed last season, running it up to 89 and missing bats with it as well. He did have trouble with right-handed batters last year, and the cutter could be the solution, which would give him a chance to get up into the teens.

  1. Nolan Schanuel, 1B/OF, Florida Atlantic

Schanuel starts with his hands ridiculously high — like, how is that even comfortable? — but he gets ready on time and has a very quick bat that produces a lot of high-quality contact. He rarely strikes out, 7.9 percent last year and 7.3 percent so far this spring, with above-average power and some room to gain more. He’s played a little outfield and should be able to handle a corner, but the Owls continue to play him mostly at first base, which isn’t helping his cause in the draft.

  1. Roch Cholowsky, SS, Hamilton High (Chandler, Ariz.)

Son of longtime scout Dan Cholowsky, Roch is one of the best defensive players in the class, high school or college, a no-doubt shortstop with a plus arm and plus speed as well. The bat might be light right now, which is funny because two years ago everyone talked about how much he could hit rather than anything about his glove, but, whaddya know, scouting teenagers is hard. He’s projectable enough to forecast enough impact to make him a solid regular, perhaps one who hits for average without much power.

  1. Raffaelle Velazquez, C/3B, Huntington Beach (Calif.) High

Velazquez has improved his conditioning since last summer and shows great feel to hit with present power, despite a deep load where he nearly bars his arm, very rarely chasing anything out of the zone. As a left-handed hitting catcher he’ll be highly rated by scouts if he continues to show improvement behind the plate, which he did last fall and early this spring, and he benefits from a weak catching class in this draft as well.

  1. Charlee Soto, RHP, Reborn Christian Academy (Orlando)

Soto is the flavor of the week among high school arms, showing three plus pitches already in the early going down in Florida, sitting 94-96 mph with tight break on the slider and what looks like a palmball variety of changeup, although I think his feel for that pitch lags behind that of the other two. He’s still projectable at 6-5 and won’t turn 18 until Aug. 31, making him very attractive to teams that weigh that heavily in their draft models. Cleveland drafts 23rd, if you were wondering.

  1. Hunter Owen, LHP, Vanderbilt

This might be getting ahead of things a bit, but if I told you there was a 6-6, 240-pound lefty starter, who’s up to 97 with a plus CB and has a history of throwing strikes, and who pitches for Vanderbilt, you’re interested, right? That guy does often go in the first round or the supplemental, and if Owen, who has made two starts this year after making just one total in his first two years in Nashville, keeps this up and shows the kind of control he did last spring, he’ll get up into the top 25-40 picks.

  1. Nathan Dettmer, RHP, Texas A&M

Dettmer doesn’t have the prettiest delivery but he’s up to 96 mph, sitting 92-94, with an improved slider that has been an out pitch for him in the early going this year. Strikes haven’t been an issue for him, as he’s lacked that swing-and-miss offering to limit contact, so if the slider keeps going like this he’ll have a shot to go in the first 40-50 picks.

  1. Matt Shaw, SS, Maryland

Everyone agrees Shaw can hit, and everyone agrees that Shaw isn’t a shortstop — and shouldn’t even be playing there for the Terps, as he has had trouble making routine throws to first. He has to at least move to second base, and could end up in left field. It’s a really unorthodox approach at the plate where he’s over his front side very early, something like Ryan Zimmerman was in college, but it produces hard contact thanks to his strength and plus bat speed.

  1. Kevin McGonigle, SS, Monsignor Bonner High (Drexel Hill, Pa.)

McGonigle is an Auburn commit who plays in the same prep school league outside of Philadelphia that produced Nolan Jones, Mike Siani, and 2021 draft pick Lonnie White. He’s a left-handed hitter who’s hit over power and also gets over his front side very early, like Shaw, hitting very well over the summer at showcases, which is critical for someone who’ll see very little quality pitching this spring. He’s a shortstop now but likely to end up at second base.

Other notes

• Aidan Miller (Mitchell High, Florida) is out with a hand injury, and Will Gasparino (Harvard-Westlake High, California) is out with a broken hand as well. Teddy McGraw (Wake Forest) is out indefinitely and may need Tommy John surgery, which would be his second.

• Speaking of Tommy Johns, we’ve already lost three college starters to it, starting with Tanner Witt (Texas) last spring, although he could do what Connor Prielipp did last year and throw at the combine or at a workout on his own before the draft. Grant Taylor (LSU) and Jaxon Wiggins (Arkansas), both of whom were projected to go in the top two rounds, both had the procedure in February.

• There are a lot of college bats in this draft, so guys like Travis Honeyman (Boston College), Brock Wilken (Wake Forest), and Tommy Troy (Stanford), who are all good prospects and could easily end up in the first round, just didn’t make the cut this time around. Like I said, this will all change.

(Top photo of Dylan Crews courtesy of LSU Athletics)

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