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2019 MLB Draft Prep: The upcoming class, Part 1

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It might be early, but let’s turn our attention for a while to next year’s draft, which might be very college-heavy.

Adley Rutschman, a catcher from Oregon State, could be a high draft pick in 2019
Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Why in the world would I be writing a draft prep piece in October? After all, the draft isn’t until June, which is like three million years from now. Well after the free agency season, which is going to get far more play than the June draft. Effectively, I’m starting this now, because you’d probably learn quite a bit more from an article on a topic you’re less familiar with, than a subject you’re already quite aware of.

The 2019 draft is going to be an absolute stash of college bats. This is the second podcast I’ve heard on the June selection process. In the process of prepping for the draft, I began to remember that this is an angle of the sport I enjoy more than most people do. While most baseball people like the “event” angle of baseball, I like that the game progresses whether I’m there or not. I learn when I hear knowledgeable people talking about baseball players I know little about, and the podcast clarified options for upcoming tracking.

During the minor league season, I’m probably tracking the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the Tennessee Smokies, or similar, because I’m more likely to learn something from their games than the parent club. Before the minor league season kicks in, I learn quite a bit more from college games than spring training games, which are notoriously bad as success indicators. To the extent I am captivated by a Cactus League game, it would likely to be to find out how (for instance) Trevor Clifton is faring against high-end opposition. Knowing fully well that the regular bats might be removed by the time he enters.

Watching Kris Bryant or Kyle Schwarber isn’t that educational to me. If I’m not learning something, I’m probably doing the wrong thing. I remain more a student of the game who roots for the Cubs. The “long game” angle still resonates with me.

The more I get familiar with college baseball, the more it fills a need. I learn about up-and-coming baseball talent, in games that are important to the players, in a pair of months (February and March) when pro games are a bit of a charade.

“But, I don’t care about the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets or UCLA Bruins baseball programs.”

That’s a hurdle I am both unwilling to and uninterested in overcoming Baseball is supposed to be like pizza, not cough medicine. If you want nothing to do with an aspect of baseball, you should probably disregard it. However, that prep ball flows to college flows to the minors and then the big leagues is a bit tough to dispute. Since so few people mind the draft regarding the Cubs, that is a perfectly comfortable sub-genre of a sub-genre for me.

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Next year’s draft will be a bit of a hitters paradise. People will normally care about the top few names (though the Cubs won’t be able to select them), and they would be a pair of catchers. Shea Langoliers (Baylor) and Adley Rutschman (Oregon State) will be the bell-ringers. Joey Bart climbed to second in 2018 from catcher, and Rutschman looks very 1-1, early.

The bats are a bit more intimidating this time around than the arms. A bit of that is in the outfield. While my rosy scenario choice in 2018 was Oregon State outfielder Trevor Larnach last time around, a sinking prep class helped usher Larnach off the board at 20. If you want a bat-first outfielder (that is at least capable defensively) at 27, four names appear in the Cubs range this time around. The specifics on Michael Busch (North Carolina), Kyle Stowers (Stanford), Dominic Fletcher (Arkansas), and JJ Bleday (Vanderbilt) are discussed on the above-linked podcast.

College games in February and March matter to the players involved. They aren’t getting in two at-bats before sneaking out to a quick dinner in the valley somewhere, before getting home at a reasonable hour. College players are all-in to win games from the start.

If you haven’t watched a game in a while, college games are more representative than they used to be. No, you couldn’t switch a third baseman in a college game with an MLB third baseman. The six stateside levels of affiliated minor league ball still serve a needed developmental purpose. However, weight training and improved coaching have more third baseman more able to make a legitimate 5-3 toss better than before, whenever “before” might be for you.

In closing, I’m going to be upping the ante on the “information-sharing” aspect of my college coverage this time around. I’ll be starting earlier, as I want to have plenty of time to try to tempt you into spending 30 minutes or more per week minding a college team of your choosing.

I’ve had plenty friendly discussions with a handful of people through the “encouragement phase” of my college baseball journey. The funny thing is, putting energy into tracking a college team reveals as much excess enjoyment as you put into it, somewhat like any new activity or relationship. For those who have decided to expand their baseball universe, they get to appreciate the game they already enjoy, at a different level, while still being able to follow the Cubs as they like.

Perhaps it ends up being the alma mater. Or the school down the road. However it plays out, the game is the same. As with college football and basketball, the players are playing for the name on the front of the shirt, not the back. Players need to rely on each other, as the front office can’t trade for a reliever before the Regionals start. I enjoy baseball much more, now that I track the Cubs pipeline and the college game. The articles will also note a bit of information on the draft’s possible players of which the Cubs might be interested.

Otherwise, when my interest was solely on the Chicago Cubs only, there would be no reason to follow from “elimination/championship” to “spring training.” If they’d add a free agent, I’d look in on him. However, once baseball became a panorama, with Wrigley Field being a small but important piece, baseball is less reliant on how the Cubs are doing against a pitcher getting three pitches over for strikes.

It will be your choice to learn or not. I won’t begrudge you if you don’t. However, my cadre of people that, across the internet, enjoy baseball more because they enjoy college baseball more is all the encouragement I need. In the process of getting this submitted, I now have a source for Oklahoma State Cowboys baseball information. Which helps, for a person who’s more a fan of the game than the Cubs.