Prep Baseball Report

2024 MLB Draft: Second Half & Post Season Risers

David Seifert
Director of College Scouting


Our Mid Season Risers included several of the obvious stars like Charlie Condon, Hagen Smith and Braden Montgomery. All three were already highly ranked prospects who did not suddenly rise from outside the top 30 to inside the top ten, but they did elevate themselves significantly in terms of signing bonus dollars based upon their strong first half performances. We also identified prospects like Christian Moore, James Tibbs and Trey Yesavage who also started off strong and put their resumes squarely into first round consideration. All three are now likely locks as top 30 overall picks.

It’s also a fact that prospects do rise in the postseason. How about Will Bednar (Mississippi State) in the 2021 CWS championship game vs Vanderbilt with six scoreless, hitless innings. His final line for the 2021 CWS – 1.47 ERA, 26 strikeouts, .084 batting average allowed in 18.1 innings. Bednar was selected 14th overall by the Giants. Just 17 months post-op from Tommy John Oklahoma’s Cade Horton spinning magic at the 2022 CWS is another example. After red-shirting as a freshman, Horton was a draft-eligible sophomore who had not pitched a single inning in college. Making a gradual return to the mound in the spring of 2022, Horton turned just 53 total innings into a seventh overall selection by the Cubs which was boosted significantly during the Sooners’ postseason run. And again last June at the 2023 CWS when Ty Floyd (LSU) rocketed upward with draft helium after a 17 strikeout vs one walk performance in eight innings against Florida in game one of the championship series. Previous to the CWS, Floyd was a Day Two talent who was then selected 38th overall by the Reds.

There have been additional risers over the past several weeks. Two pitchers in particular who missed some time with injuries successfully returned to the mound during regionals. Duke’s Jonathan Santucci tossed two innings after missing roughly a month due to a rib injury. He sat 94-96 with his fastball and 89-90 on his changeup, while his best pitch was an 83-85 mph slider. He allowed just one hit with four strikeouts. Santucci has missed plenty of time over his career with injuries, so moving the needle upwards a vast amount wasn’t the result, but powering through two successful innings provided some assurance of his current health to interested clubs.

Another arm from the Carolinas who solidified his draft value was ECU’s Trey Yesavage. The ace right-hander showed his special makeup after missing the American Athletic Conference Tourney start with a collapsed lung. The Pirate Warrior dominated for 7.1 innings on 112 pitches against Wake Forest. He allowed just one hit and one run while striking out six. Yesavage finished the season 11-1 with a 2.02 ERA and 145 strikeouts in 93.1 innings and will likely be selected in the top half of the first round.

Further down the draft list, but by all means a prospect, Lipscomb’s Hayden Frank looked like his healthy self during his last start of the season. The left-hander and preseason mid-Day Two prospect rehabbed from an arm injury most of the season. He managed five starts that ended with five innings of one hit, one walk and eight strikeouts against Eastern Kentucky during the ASUN Conference Tourney. His lively 89-91 mph fastball, 75-76 curve and low-80s changeup all have a 90th+ percentile chase rate this season.

It wasn’t a return to good health, but it was a return to great performance and hints of a professional future for Virginia’s Jay Woolfolk. Similar to former Cavalier and 2021 postseason hero Griff McGarry, Woolfolk dazzled with some late season magic against Mississippi State during the Charlottesville Regional. He struck out seven in eight innings, allowing just two runs and one walk. He located four pitches for strikes and kept the Bulldogs off-balance all evening. More on Woolfolk’s night here from Shotgun Spratling on what Cavaliers head coach Brian O’Connor described as “one of the best outings we’ve ever had in my 21 years at Virginia.”

Woolfolk followed up his career-best regional start with another gem for a W in the clinching game of the Super Regional, working 6.1 innings, walking two and striking out seven over 102 pitches.

In addition to those above who returned to the diamond with success late in the year, here are some Smooth Risers. Their excellence continued season-long for a gradual rise throughout the regular season and into the postseason.

Another riser from the Charlottesville Regional, Khal Stephen (Mississippi State) faced the minimum through the first three innings, finishing with 4.1 innings and 79 of his 99 pitches for strikes. His two starts in the postseason totaled 13 innings with two walks and 14 strikeouts. Luke Holman (LSU) solidified his status as a top 40 overall pick with 12.2 innings and 18 strikeouts in the postseason. Holman finished the season with 127 strikeouts in 91.2 innings and held opponents to just a .174 batting average.

Tigers’ teammate Gage Jump tossed 14.1 innings while allowing just one walk with 14 strikeouts in two postseason starts. Largely due to improved control (22 BB in 83 IP for a 6.5% BB rate), the power lefthander has elevated himself from a fourth round prospect to likely late in the second round.

Ryan Prager (Texas A&M) tossed an Immaculate inning against Texas during regionals. His slow and steady rise throughout the season with a full return to health and ultra-consistent outings each week (other than Week Five vs Florida and Super Regionals vs Oregon) has solidified his status as a likely late Day One to early Day Two pick.

Another Aggie, Chris Cortez has skyrocketed on the big stage of the postseason. The power right-hander has always had big stuff with a heater that touches 100 and an invisible slider, but Cortez’ questions weren’t about stuff, they were about consistency and walk rate. He answered the bell on both, cutting his walk rate to 12.1% from 18.7% en route to a 9-3, 2.83 ERA, 29 BB, 89 SO in 57.1 innings this spring. He’s been lights out this postseason, culminating in his Super Regional relief appearance that saved the day for the Aggies.

And more from the state of Texas … Longhorns’ Lebarron Johnson, Jr. battled inconsistency much of this season, but ended his season with a loud outing against Texas A&M in the College Station Regional. His heater was up to 97 with a plus splitter and above average slider during five innings of two hit, one run baseball. He walked three and struck out eight.

Trotting along under the radar throughout the season, Oklahoma State’s Brian Holiday tossed a 131 pitch CG against Florida at the Stillwater Regional. It was just another dominating day at the park for Holiday as he allowed just two hits and one walk with ten strikeouts. His size (5-foot-11, 200 pounds) gives him a limited ceiling, but his stuff (four pitches; a 91-93 mph fastball with some carry to the mitt, above average 80-82 slider, usable 74-77 curveball and low-80s changeup) give him mid-Day Two draft value.

Out west Jacob Kmatz (Oregon State) has been a bit under the national radar this season after impressing me during Week Two of the college season at Globe Life Field. He has good stuff with a fastball up to 95, a swing/miss upper-70 curve, a mid-80s slider/cutter and a same speed changeup. During regionals against UC Irvine he went seven innings, allowed three hits and just one run with one walk and nine strikeouts. He followed up that performance with six strong innings during Super Regionals against Kentucky when he struck out eight and allowed just four hits and three runs on 101 pitches.


What about hitters? Remember when Zach Neto (Campbell) was the best player at the Tennessee regional in 2022 (yes, Kevin Parada was also there)? Neto was already a high round prospect, but he flew up draft boards even further coming out of Knoxville. He went 13th overall to the Angels and was in the Major Leagues just ten months later.

Or how about Andrew Pinckney (Alabama)? The senior outfielder was clearly one of the best, if not the best player/performer at the 2023 SEC Tourney. Based largely on this late season finish, he moved up to the 4th round and is off to a strong first half start in Double-A for the Nationals.

The hottest hitter in this year’s postseason was no doubt Gabe Swansen, (Nebraska). Including the Big Ten Conference Tournament and the Stillwater Regionals, the Husker slugger was 19-for-38 with seven home runs. His teammate Josh Caron slugged six postseason home runs. Caron is a top ten round prospect for this year’s draft.

Kansas State’s Kalean Culpepper was 7-for-12 during regionals, including hitting for the cycle. Always a Day One prospect, Culpepper has likey floated into the first round.

Cole Messina (South Carolina) was seen as more defense over offense, specifically with his ability to steal strikes/frame the borderline pitch, but Messina began to heat up at the plate against Alabama in late March. He remained en fuego during the SEC tourney before cooling a bit during regionals. The right handed hitter finished the season with 21 home runs and .325 batting average. His strikeout rate is still high at 23.4%, but catchers with .375 ISO who can also receive, don’t grow on trees. Messina will likely be selected during the middle of Day Two.

Coastal Carolina’s Sam Antonacci was 6-for-16 with two home runs during four games of the Clemson Regional. The left handed hitting infielder had homered just four times all season before getting to more of the juice he showed on a regular basis in junior college last spring.

In just one play West Virginia’s JJ Wetherholt turned around my thoughts with his ability to stick at shortstop at the next level. This 8th inning play during the Tucson Regional where Wetherholt showed a bazooka for an arm and plus range was one I had never seen him make previously.

In addition to players above who made an impact during the postseason, several more rose throughout the second half of the season. Once he returned to full health, Kentucky’s Ryan Waldschmidt was nearly unstoppable, rising from a Day Three candidate to an early Day Two and possibly even late Day One talent. Waldo was 5-for-13 during regionals, but it was steady and superior performance during SEC play that jolted his trajectory upward. The Wildcats’ leadoff hitter finished third in batting average in SEC conference only games at .405, just behind first round prospects Christian Moore and Charlie Condon.

More second half risers include San Diego’s Jakob Christian who, after a sluggish start to the season as he overcame an early injury and the transition to Division I, finished with 26 home runs. A D2 transfer from Point Loma Nazarene, Christian’s strikeout rate fell to exactly 20% by the end of the season after it was well over 20% for most of it. A personal favorite heading into the 2024 season, Walker Janek (Sam Houston State) was outstanding during my College Cross Check Week Six look and he kept getting better from there. Janek has emerged as a leader from a four-star class of college catching prospects for this year’s draft after showing plus defensive tools and finishing with a production slash of .368/.480/.714 with 17 home runs in the batter’s box.

Another season-long riser who I finally was able to see in-person during the Sun Belt Conference Tournament was Louisiana’s Kyle DeBarge. The shortstop impressed during that tourney and continued his strong play in the College Station Regional, going 5-for-18 at the plate. The 5-foot-9, 180 pounder finished the season batting .352 with 19 doubles and 21 home runs. DeBarge is a Day One talent and high likelihood Major Leaguer.