The Division I college baseball season kicks off in full force today around the country. With Major League Baseball still imposing a lockout on its players, there is an opportunity to catch some of the future stars of the sport playing in what often times is a very entertaining atmosphere. In recent years, the Yankees have focused their draft efforts on up-the-middle, advanced hit tool type players. If you choose to go looking for some college games to watch over the next few days, here are a few players who fit the Yankees recent draft profiles and could be on their radar come draft time in July.
Shortstop Zach Neto is coming off an electric season for Campbell University, where he was the Big South Conference player of the year while hitting .405/.488/.746 with 12 home runs. He followed up that campaign with an impressive .304/.439/.587 run in the Cape Cod League where he helped Brewster to a league championship.
Much like Trey Sweeney last season, phrases like “exceptional hand-eye coordination” are in Neto’s draft reports. There is also a lot of discussion about how he will likely have to adjust his high leg kick against advanced pitching. Another pre-draft comparison to Sweeney is that some scouts have questioned his ability to stay at shortstop in the long-term. This is not a consensus, as many evaluators and coaches think he can remain at shortstop moving forward. Neto started games at all four infield positions last year and fits the profile of a player that the Yankees have targeted in recent years. In college he has been a two-way player at times, hitting 93 mph on the mound in a limited pitching workload.
Infielder Cade Doughty from Louisiana State University (LSU) is another strong bat who is likely on the Yankees radar. He has been playing in what is widely considered the best conference in the country and excelling, hitting .308/.368/.546 last season with 13 home runs and 11 doubles. His 12 percent strikeout rate against strong pitching competition is a trait that the Yankees have valued over the last several years. What could likely affect his standing with the Yankees is where he plays positionally — Doughty has played the majority of his games at third base so far in college, but MLB.com list him as a second baseman and he is likely to play there more this spring. If the Yankees view him as an up the middle option, then his high contact, and decent in-game power appears to be right up the team's alley.
While Doughty’s long term up-the-middle profile is not fully established, one college player that evaluators think is a surefire bet to play up the middle is Jordan Sprinkle from UC Santa Barbara. After being lightly recruited out of high school, he broke out in a big way in 2021 as hit .353/.402/.536 with 25 stolen bases in 31 attempts. He continued his strong play for the Team USA Collegiate National Team over the summer, statistically outperforming some higher profile members of the team. With plus grades from scouts for his running and fielding, another strong offensive season for Sprinkle could raise his stock enough that he is off the board by the time the Yankees draft with the 25th overall pick.
ICYMI, top 100 Collegiate Juniors (3rd Year) dropped yesterday (link to list: https://t.co/7PsJQLI0O8). @UCSB_Baseball infielder Jordan Sprinkle (Palm Desert HS) checks in at #13. Compact frame w/ strong lower half, can impact game on both sides. @PGCollegeball@PDAztecsports pic.twitter.com/DUlgMpaZYv— Perfect Game California (@California_PG) January 14, 2022
Sprinkle will likely find himself heavily scouted this season as he plays in the same conference as Brooks Lee, who is projected to be a top-10, if not top-five pick in the draft. The two elite talents will provide a baseline against each other and certainly be destination viewing for scouts when they oppose each other on the field.
Continuing up the middle, center fielder Jared McKenzie from Baylor University has put up strong offensive numbers over his first two seasons in the Big-12 and enters the season with his career batting average of .389 as the school all-time record. This past year for the Bears he hit .383/.453/.626, with 10 home runs.
In addition to displaying a strong hit tool, the left-handed swinging McKenzie fits the Yankees’ recent draft profile of selecting lefty hitters. Since 2019, the Yankees have selected left-handed hitters Trey Sweeney, Austin Wells, Trevor Hauver, Josh Smith and Jake Sanford all in the top three rounds of the draft.
McKenzie would likely be higher on most draft rankings if not for a tough summer playing in the Cape Cod League. McKenzie struggled in the wood bat league over the summer, posting just a .561 OPS and striking out at a much higher rate than he had ever displayed before. The Cape Cod numbers would be more concerning if McKenzie was playing in a small conference, but the Big-12 boasts several strong pitching staffs and saw multiple pitchers go in the top two rounds of last year's MLB draft, giving scouts a baseline of what he can do against quality competition.
These are just a few of the names playing at the Division-1 level who have the feel of what the Yankees have been looking for in recent years. There are many other players at the JUCO and high-school levels that will be heavily scouted by the Yankees this year as well, including three sons of former major leaguers. Jackson Holliday (son of Matt), Justin Crawford (son of Carl), and Cam Collier (son of Lou) are three particular names that stand out in the crowd for their ability.
There is a lot of amateur baseball to be played between now and the MLB Draft in July. During that time players will see their stock rise and fall as they scouts put them under the evaluation microscope. Enjoy the games and if you come across any of these players, and keep in mind that there are a few that mirror what the Yankees have been looking for in recent years and could be on a stage, donning the pinstripes come July.