Prep Baseball Report

College Crosscheck: Week 13- Iowa, Kansas State, West Virginia

David Seifert
Director of College Scouting

In front of plenty of scouting heat, Brody Brecht took to the mound in game two of Iowa’s series at Illinois. Our sixth-ranked prospect on our preseason Draft Board, Brecht had a slow start this spring, but has made strides with his control in the recent weeks, putting his draft train back on track to the first round. Against the Illini the 6-foot-4, 225-pound, loose-armed right-hander ran his fastball up to 99 mph, sat 95-97, and it was his upper-80s slider that again did the most damage. The double-plus offering consistently dipped and dived under bats. Per Synergy, its 58.4 Whiff rate ranks in the 99th percentile of college baseball this season. The D1 average for sliders is 33.1%.

Most impressive was the improvement made to his split. During Opening Weekend of the Scouting Trail, his splitty was a for-show-only offering, but against the Illini it played as an above average pitch on the pro scale. Slow-spinning in the 1000-1300 rpm range it did lack the hard, late dive of a conventional split-finger, but Brecht threw it with fastball arm speed and located it consistently down in the zone. Like his slider, his changeup resides in a strong tier with a 47.5 Whiff rate which ranks in the 90th percentile. On the day, Brecht powered through seven innings on 102 pitches, 60 for strikes. He scattered three hits, walked three and struck out nine. For the season he is now 4-2 with a 3.47 ERA. He has walked 43 and struck out 117 in 70 innings. Compared to last season, his walk rate has decreased from 18.4% to 14.1%, while his strikeout rate has risen from 32.9% to 38.4%. The latest projections have Brecht being selected somewhere around the 20th overall pick.

Kansas State at West Virginia

The Mountaineers hosted the Wildcats in a Big 12 matchup that featured two of the top college positional draft prospects for 2024. West Virginia’s J.J. Wetherholt did what great hitters do – he battered baseballs. With an upright and open setup the lefty swinger has an aggressive approach and finishes his swing with violence. His 460’ blast to center field with an exit velocity of 109 mph sailed over the batter’s eye and into the night sky during game two of the series. This shot was just the latest example of the twitchy strength and explosiveness that the 5-foot-10, 185 pounder packs at the plate. It’s also the type of strength and bat speed, combined with plate discipline (25 walks vs 10 strikeouts this season) that projects for success at the Major League level with wood bats.

Wetherholt added another home run during the series and finished 5-for-10 with seven RBI. He has now gone deep six times this season in 119 plate appearances after 16 round-trippers in 268 PAs last year. He continues to improve each week after missing the first half of the season with a hamstring injury and projects to be selected in the top ten overall picks.

A pair of senior starting pitchers also excelled for the Mountaineers. Right-hander Hayden Cooper got the ball in the opening game and did not disappoint, striking out six and allowing three runs in six innings. With a full arm path and loose operation he touched 95 with his two-seamer that spun in the 1900s and showed 17-19” of horizontal break. His breaker slid to the plate at 79-81 while spinning into the low 2500 rpm range. It’s a present below average pitch with decent shape and is one that has a reasonable chance to become average in the future. His third pitch was a firm changeup at 85-87. Cooper does not possess overpowering stuff, but does throw strikes with multiple pitches and is likely a late Day Three draft selection. Three-quarter slot lefty Derek Clark dazzled and deceived during his game two start with seven shutout innings of two-hit ball. Super competitive, he struck out ten while walking just two with an upper-80s fastball and a low-80s sweeping slurve. The 5-foot-8 senior is 6-1 with a 3.14 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 71.2 innings this spring.

Shortstop Kaelen Culpepper is Kansas State’s draft headliner with power reliever Tyson Neighbors projected to be selected a couple rounds behind him. Culpepper wasn’t himself at the plate, going just 2-for-8 during the series. His ample bat speed was still present, but he was pulling off the baseball and his swing path was in/out, cutting through the strike zone. His timing had to be near perfect for hard contact, and it wasn’t. Even his double to right field in game one of the series was a combination of being good and lucky as the fastball ran inside to his barrel. For the season the right handed hitter has produced a .307/.402/.525 slash line with eight home runs. He has also stolen 15 bases. Defensively, a converted third baseman, Culpepper has exceeded expectations at shortstop, showing more range and consistency than anticipated. His Synergy-calculated 11.43 Defensive Runs Saved ranks 6th among all D1 college players and his plus to double-plus arm strength has never been in question. He will likely return to the hot corner in pro ball where he should become a gold glove type of defender and hit enough for everyday value. A prospect who received some first round buzz earlier in the season, Culpepper has solidified himself as a likely early second-rounder.

Neighbors struck out two of the three batters he faced in game one to earn the save. Strong-built at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, the Wildcats’ closer showed live stuff with a high-spin (2600+ rpm) heater up to 96, a plus power curveball at 83-84 with a 2900+ spin rate and 89 mph slider/cutter (2750 rpm). It’s pro ready stuff with solid control that projects to move quickly through a minor league system and into the middle-to-back end of a Major League pen. He is one of only a small number of college pitchers who has a Whiff rate greater than the 90th percentile on three different pitch types; FB 28.3% Whiff rate/94th percentile, CB 53.1%/98th, SL 58.6%/99th. For the season Neighbors has struck out 40 in 26.1 innings to go along with seven saves and a 3.06 ERA.

Saturday starter Jackson Wentworth is another top 10 round prospect for Kansas State. Although the results weren’t his best during the longest start of his 2024 season (6.1 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 3 BB, 7 SO), his stuff was plenty good with his four-seam fastball up to 94, an 86-90 cutter, low-80s curveball and a sinking changeup. His cutter backed up often on this look and acted more as a two-seamer, but every pitch has an occasional off day. His fastball is also a bit straight and the least effective of all his offerings. However, overall the redshirt sophomore is similar to Neighbors as one who generates a Whiff rate greater than the 90th percentile with three different pitches. Of those, his changeup has been the hardest to hit for opponents. It currently boasts a miniscule .065 batting average against this season. His success is also due to a consistent 6-foot-2 to 6-foot-3 release point on all of his offerings, as well as some deception with a rock back and shoulder tilt delivery. With four pitches Wentworth has a starter’s arsenal, but will need to make some adjustments to the angle and life on his fastball in order to reach his ceiling. He projects to the 5th to 7th round.

Redshirt junior second baseman Brady Day is another Wildcat who will likely be selected this July. Last summer after his sophomore season, the Braves selected Day in the 12th round for good reason. He tracks/sees the ball well at the plate and is long through the zone with his swing path. It’s a swing built to hit for a high average, but does lack the desired power as his raw power grades out well below average. It’s not a long term starter’s tool package, but when combined with his defensive abilities, it’s one that should have multi-position utility value in pro ball. Day is likely to be selected for this draft in the same area as last summer. A final Wildcat with Day Three draft value is junior center fielder Brendan Jones. The 5-foot-10, 175-pounder is a burner with plus to better run speed and above average defensive abilities. He also shows some sneaky power to his pull side. K State’s leadoff man has stolen 34 bases this season and has been caught only twice.