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2017 MLB Draft: Who to watch for in the NCAA Tournament

The road to Omaha begins, and for many in this tournament, the last chance to impress MLB scouts.

College World Series - Arizona v Coastal Carolina - Game Three Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Baseball scouts will be all over the country this weekend watching the NCAA Regionals. Except for the Stanford region that began play yesterday, all regionals will be in action starting today. For Chicago White Sox fans, this is an excellent opportunity to watch the best prospects before the MLB Draft on June 12th.

Not every region is equal in future talent on the field. Below is a guide on which players to watch by region.

Corvallis Regional

All Eyes On: Luke Heimlich, SP, Oregon State

Coming in as the nation's number one seed, the Oregon State Beavers are led by starting pitcher, Luke Heimlich. The southpaw finished 2017 with an incredible 0.81 ERA in 111 innings pitched while striking out 120 and walking just 21. Heimlich won't wow you with his pure stuff (fastball sits 89-91 mph), but he has excellent command and changes speed along with eye level well to keep batters off balance.
Jim’s Take: Luke is having a great year on maybe the best team in the tournament. .081 ERA. low 90's but excellent command and control of the zone. A man among boys.

Others to watch:

Oregon State: KJ Harrison, C/1B

Nebraska: Scott Schreiber, OF

Clemson Regional

All Eyes On: Jeren Kendall, OF, Vanderbilt

Kyle Wright will grab the headlines as he is the projected number one pick in the upcoming draft, but more scouts will be paying attention to his teammate, Jeren Kendall. Wright doesn't figure to slide further than pick four to Tampa, whereas Kendall can be selected as high as six to Oakland, or fall to the mid-teens. The speedy outfielder must perform better than he did in the ACC Tournament (0-for-5, 2 K's) if Vanderbilt hopes to advance in one of the toughest regionals.

Others to watch:

Clemson: Seth Beer, OF/1B. Might as well get a head start on next year's draft.

Clemson: Chase Pinder, OF

St. John: Jesse Berardi, SS

Long Beach Regional

All Eyes On: Griffin Canning, SP, UCLA

For all the hype college starting pitchers are receiving this year, Griffin Canning doesn't get much attention. Canning is a strikeout artist punching out 134 batters in 111.1 IP while throwing three shutouts this year. The Bruins are a #3 seed, but if Canning can deliver in game one, UCLA has a chance to reach the Super Regionals.

Others to watch:

Texas: Morgan Cooper, SP

Long Beach State: David Banuelos, C

Stanford Regional

All Eyes On: Colton Hock, RP, Stanford

If Tristen Beck were healthy, he would be why scouts travel to Palo Alto to watch this regional. Alas, he's been out all year with an injury. His teammates, Colton Hock, presents ballclubs with a power arm out of the bullpen who touches 95-96 mph with his fastball and at 6'5" 225 pounds, has the size if a team wanted to stretch him out as a starter, they could.

Others to watch:

Cal State Fullerton: Connor Seabold, SP

Lubbock Regional

All Eyes On: J.J. Matijevic, Arizona

Jim Osborn has been pointing out J.J. Matijevic as a target for the White Sox since winter. Matijevic had a great 2017, hitting .389/.440/.689 with 10 HR 64 RBI and tied leading the nation in doubles with 29. He anchors the Wildcats offense that is trying to get back to the College World Series after losing to Coastal Carolina.
Jim’s Take: I noted JJ last fall. How has he done this spring? Well, he was the Pac 12 Player of the Week in April. Over the course of four games, Matijevic was 9-for-16 at the plate, drove in 11 runs, and scored six of his own. Six of those 11 RBI all came in one game.

Others to watch:

Sam Houston State: Bryce Johnson, OF

Arizona: Jared Oliva, OF

Tallahassee Regional

All Eyes On: Keegan Thompson, SP, Auburn

Impressing his freshman season in 2014 with a 2.01 ERA in 12 starts, Keegan Thompson performed well in his sophomore year before missing all of 2016 due to Tommy John surgery. This year, he has led the Auburn Tigers pitching staff in 14 starts with 85.1 IP 66 K 16 BB and a 2.43 ERA. He'll need to have his best stuff if the Tigers hope to advance as Auburn started the year 19-5, but since are 16-19.

Others to watch:

Florida State: Dylan Busby, 3B/1B

Florida State: Taylor Walls, SS
Jim’s Take: Top of the order table setter. An exciting go-go style that’s fun to watch. In 58 games he has scored 65 runs.

Hattiesburg Regional

All Eyes On: Brent Rooker, OF, Mississippi State

Tied with J.J. Matijevic leading the nation in doubles (29), fourth in batting average (.404), third in RBI (76), and fifth in home runs (21), Mississippi State's Brent Rooker is grabbing people's attention with his bat. If he had just average defensive capabilities, Rooker would be a Top-20 pick, but he has a weak arm that limits him to first base and left field. Rooker put on a show in the opening SEC Tournament rounds starting 5-for-9 with a home run and three RBI. In the semifinal, he went cold against Florida and Arkansas going 0-for-9. If he can get hot in the regional, could propel him to Top-40 pick status.
Jim’s Take: Brent Rooker was drafted last year by the Twins in the 38th round. He passed up those big bucks to go back for another year. Good idea. He is old for the draft at 22 and a half. This year, he cut down on strikeouts and ran wild on the bases. 17 stolen bases so far, after only two last year. All of his stats are gaudy. It's the SEC, so good competition.

Others to watch:

Southern Mississippi: Dylan Burdeaux, OF

Illinois-Chicago: Jake Dahlberg, SP

Baton Rouge Regional

All Eyes On: Alex Lange, SP, LSU

LSU is one of the hottest teams in the country heading into the tournament. Their pitching staff is lead by Alex Lange, who at one point was considered a Top-10 pick, but fell on many draft boards when LSU struggled midseason. Lange finished strong with 15 starts throwing 97.1 innings. He struck out 118 batters while walking just 33 with a 2.59 ERA. He has a terrific fastball that sits at 94 mph but has reached 96 mph in games I've watched, with a plus curveball and changeup. While the stuff is most certainly major league quality, it's the lack of command that gets to Lange. That's what scouts will be looking for as he was outstanding in his last appearance in the SEC Tournament Semifinal shutting out Kentucky in seven innings only allowing six hits with no walks and striking out seven.

Others to watch:

LSU: Greg Deichmann, OF
Jim’s Take: Bats Left. Big strong kid. Plus power with a big arm. Not fast but has a Right Field profile. Middle of the order slugger.

Chapel Hill Regional

All Eyes On: J.B. Bukauskas, SP, North Carolina

A name to watch in next week's draft, J.B. Bukauskas could go high as pick four to the Tampa Bay Rays, or drop out of the Top 10 altogether. His pitch arsenal is tremendous, with a fastball that sits 95-96 mph and at the ACC Tournament, touched 100 mph. He pairs that electric heater with a devastating slider that has scouts dreaming of a future starting pitcher that can lead a rotation. The issue is his size (6'0"), and he didn't pitch all that well in the ACC Tournament that could result in him dropping in the draft. If he can toss an excellent performance in the opening games, that could be the boost to make sure he stays in the Top 5.

Others to watch:

North Carolina: Logan Warmoth, SS

North Carolina: Brian Miller, OF
Jim’s Take: Another top of the order player. Has good speed that he uses well. Bats left and looks to stay in center field. An important player on a very good team. High OBP.

Houston Regional

All Eyes On: Corbin Martin, SP, Texas A&M

Terrific in the Cape Cod League, Corbin Martin struggled to begin 2017 and was demoted to the bullpen. That changed on April 1st, where had a good performance against LSU throwing 8 IP 4 H 3 ER 2 BB 5 K in a 4-3 victory for the Aggies. Since, Martin has appeared to right the ship and had his best performance in the SEC Tournament against Arkansas, pitching 8 IP 8 H 2 ER 1 BB 12 K. His heater sits 95 mph with an above average curve. If he has indeed corrected his command issues, Martin might be a late first round selection. If not, he could fall to the end of second round. This regional start is big for Martin's draft stock.

Others to watch:

Iowa: Jake Allen, 1B

Houston: Connor Wong, C

Lexington Regional

All Eyes On: Evan White, 1B, Kentucky

Kentucky's Evan White is unique. The lefty-throwing, right-handed-batting first baseman is rising draft boards for what scouts believe is a Gold Glove-caliber player. Some believe he is athletic to play in center field. Offensively, he hit .366/.439/.629 with 8 HR 38 RBI and striking out just 14.7% of the time. In a draft that is lacking quality college positional players benefits White, who with a good performance in the regional could boost his draft stock to being a Top-20 pick.

Others to watch:

Kentucky: Riley Mahan, 2B/0F

Kentucky: Zack Pop, SP

Louisville Regional

All Eyes On: Brendan McKay, SP/1B, Louisville

A lot has been written about Brendan McKay. Is he a starting pitcher, or a first baseman? For awhile, he was in several mock drafts going to be selected first overall by Minnesota. That has changed in recent weeks in light of Kyle Wright stepping up his game. McKay will get a chance to start in this regional and will either DH or play first when not pitching. It may muddy the waters if he has an outstanding performance on the mound and in the field, but it will secure a Top-5 standing.

Others to watch:

Louisville: Devin Hairston, SS

Louisville: Drew Ellis, 3B
Jim’s Take: In 2008, Drew pitched in the Little League World Series. Threw a no-hitter, and lost. He could become your classic slugging third baseman. He bats behind Brennen McKay. Pick your poison. Batting fifth, Drew has been a RBI machine.

Fort Worth Regional

All Eyes On: Adam Haseley, CF, Virginia & Pavin Smith, 1B, Virginia

The duo of Adam Haseley and Pavin Smith has Virginia again in the tournament and contender to make the College World Series. Both could be Top-15 picks next week, and an excellent regional performance could bump Haseley and Smith in the Top-10.

Others to watch:

TCU: Evan Skoug, C

Virginia: Ernie Clement, SS/OF
Jim’s Take: A very hard man to strike out. Just seven times in 244 at bats.

Good speed, top of the order.

Fayetteville Regional

All Eyes On: Jake Burger, 3B, Missouri State

The top third baseman in the upcoming draft, Jake Burger has a good offensive skillset that will entice teams outside the Top-10. Burger was one of the top home run hitters in the nation with 22 and drew more walks (41) than strikeouts (32). He has decent range with good hands and arm that can stay at the hot corner. He's a Top-20 talent that with a good performance move up to the Top-15.

Others to watch:

Arkansas: Blaine Knight, SP

Winston-Salem Regional

All Eyes On: Stuart Fairchild, OF, Wake Forest

In a region that is light on draft talent, Wake Forest's Stuart Fairchild stands out from the rest. Not quite a first round talent, Fairchild would be a good second round option for teams. He has good range in the outfield with a strong arm and offensively has enough pop in his bat to be dangerous. Fairchild hit .353/.430/.621 with 15 HR and 59 RBI. What holds him back is his strikeout to walk rate (47 K to 26 BB).

Others to watch:

Wake Forest: Gavin Sheets, 1B

Gainesville Regional

All Eyes On: Alex Faedo, SP, Florida

Before the season began, many would say that Alex Faedo would be a favorite selected first overall in the MLB Draft. While he had an excellent season, it wasn't great as he recovered from knee surgery. That dip in performance allowed pitchers Kyle Wright, Brendan McKay, and J.B. Bukauskas to leap ahead of Faedo. The odds are that Faedo will be selected in the Top-10, but if he can perform as well as he did in the SEC Tournament (6 IP 1 ER 2 BB 7 K), maybe he can convince a team to take him ahead of Bukauskas.

Others to watch:

Florida: Dalton Guthrie, SS

South Florida: Kevin Merrell, SS
Jim’s Take: Kevin bats left and can fly around the bases. His speed is rated 75. Looks to be drafted late 2nd, early 3rd round.