Draftable juniors ready for big campaigns
Excitement always fills the air when it comes to the junior class.
It’s the year where several players parlay special seasons into draft statuses, while others drop in stock and decide to return for their senior seasons.
For several of the nation’s top juniors, the overtures they’ll experience this summer may be too much to turn down, making this season even more important from a production standpoint. It may be their last hurrah at the collegiate level.
This year’s junior class is filled with elite players, but no one stands above Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon, who has had a marvelous career both in the field and at the plate for the Owls.
UCLA also has been a big winner with the junior class with starting pitchers Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer again expected to have dominant campaigns.
There are also outfielders Jackie Bradley Jr. and George Springer. Bradley would love to lead South Carolina to back-to-back national titles, while Springer wishes to guide Connecticut to Omaha for the first time since 1979.
This junior class will be one to remember.
Anthony Rendon, Rice
He’s the best college position player in several seasons and will be the top pick in the MLB draft this summer barring a surprise. Rendon has crushed the ball his first two seasons and hopes to put an exclamation point on his collegiate career with a great junior campaign. As a sophomore last season, Rendon batted .394 with 12 doubles, a triple, 26 homers and 85 RBIs. He also slugged .801 and had a .530 on-base percentage. Could Rendon somehow do even better than last season this year?
Gerrit Cole, UCLA
Cole made headlines three years ago when he spurned more than a million dollars from the Yankees to attend college. He has made his time at UCLA worthwhile in his first two seasons and expects to have an even better junior campaign. Cole went 11-4 last season with a 3.37 ERA in 123 innings. He also struck out 153 and walked 52 and limited teams to a .205 average. Cole will be a preseason All-American and is expected to be the top pitcher taken in the MLB draft.
Taylor Jungmann, Texas
The Longhorns have national title aspirations this season with pitchers Cole Green and Jungmann leading the way. Jungmann has had a fruitful career with the ‘Horns and is expected to be one of the first pitchers taken in the MLB draft. Jungmann’s junior campaign was especially impressive, where he went 8-3 with a 2.03 ERA in 120 innings. He also struck out 129 and walked 41 and limited teams to a .209 average. Jungmann also had a 2.00 ERA as a freshman two seasons ago. Expect another great campaign from the righty.
Zack MacPhee, Arizona State
The Sun Devils likely won’t get to play in the NCAA postseason this year unless an appeal is successful, but that won’t keep MacPhee from having a productive campaign. MacPhee’s progress the past two seasons has been impressive. MacPhee finished his freshman season with just a .270 average, but he made huge strides as a sophomore last season. MacPhee earned All-American honors with a .389 average, eight doubles, 14 triples, nine homers and 64 RBIs. He also slugged .664 and had a .486 on-base percentage.
Danny Hultzen, Virginia
Hultzen has had a fantastic career for the Cavaliers, but he would love nothing more than to lead them back to Omaha in what could be his final season after falling just short last year with a super regional loss to Oklahoma. Hultzen only had 57 at-bats last season, but he was the team’s premier starting pitcher. He went 11-1 with a 2.78 ERA in 106 2/3 innings. He also struck out 123 and walked 24 and limited teams to a .193 average.
Trevor Bauer, UCLA
Cole may have the most star power on the UCLA pitching staff, but it’s tough to beat Bauer’s attitude and toughness. The talented right-handed pitcher had a fantastic sophomore campaign for the Bruins, going 12-3 with a 3.02 ERA in 131 1/3 innings. He also struck out 165 and walked 41 and limited teams to a .244 average. Like Cole, Bauer is expected to be one of the first pitchers taken in the MLB draft. Bauer and Cole give UCLA the nation’s best one-two punch on the weekend.
John Stilson, Texas A&M
The Aggies stumbled on a jewel when they enticed Stilson to leave junior college early for a chance to play Division I baseball. Stilson made immediate contributions as a reliever last season, but he likely will move to the Aggies’ weekend rotation this season. Stilson cemented himself among the elite last season by notching 10 saves and compiling a 0.80 ERA in 79 innings and 33 appearances. He also struck out 114 and walked 23 and limited teams to a .181 average.
Jackie Bradley Jr., South Carolina
The Gamecocks have a true All-American player in Bradley Jr. The talented outfielder is expected to be one of the top position players in the MLB draft this summer, and his contributions his first two seasons helped the program build toward a national title. Bradley was consistent at a sophomore last season, hitting .368 with 12 doubles, a triple, 13 homers and 60 RBIs. He also slugged .587 and had a .473 on-base percentage. Look for Bradley to have his most productive campaign this season.
Sonny Gray, Vanderbilt
The Commodores will have one of the nation’s better weekend rotations this season with Gray and others leading the way. Gray has had a fruitful campaign at Vandy and is expected to parlay a solid junior season into an even better first-round draft status. Gray finished his sophomore campaign with a 10-5 record and a 3.48 ERA in 108 2/3 innings. He also struck out 113 and walked 48 and limited teams to a .246 average.
George Springer, Connecticut
Springer is a huge reason the Huskies are expected to be the first northern school to take a significant step forward in a few seasons. The talented outfielder has had a solid career, but he joined the nation’s elite players with a solid sophomore campaign last season. Springer, a top draft prospect, batted .337 with 16 doubles, four triples, 18 homers and 62 RBIs. He also slugged .658 and had a .491 on-base percentage. Can Springer and others lead the Huskies to the College World Series?