Prep Baseball Report

College Crosscheck, Week 6: Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Dallas Baptist & Sam Houston State

By. David Seifert
Director of College Scouting


Week Six on the Scouting Trail was a road trip to Texas with numerous options to see top teams and prospects. I ultimately choose two games of the SEC matchup Mississippi State at Texas A&M and the Friday night C-USA bout of Dallas Baptist at Sam Houston State. Ryan Johnson (DBU), Walker Janek (SHS) and Braden Montgomery (Texas A&M) all performed brilliantly.

Dallas Baptist

Ryan Johnson, RHP- Every time I evaluate players I’m hoping to see their best. From the absolute dominance by Hagen Smith in Week Two to Christian Moore showing-out in Week Five, RJ did similar in Week Six. He overpowered Sam Houston State with 15 strikeouts and just one walk in a 110-pitch complete game. The 6-foot-6, 215-pound righty reminds me of Mark Fidrych (Detroit Tigers, 1970s) from my childhood as “The Bird'' worked feverishly fast, paced behind the mound, and filled the strike zone with a live fastball and a devil of a slider. Now Johnson doesn’t talk to the ball or pat the dirt on the mound like Fidrych, but he does pace intensely like a tiger at the zoo and presents a much different look to the hitter. With funk to his slinging arm action and a max effort delivery, he has a quick slide step and push-through instead of a traditional leg lift. He works super quick and disrupts hitters' timing. His electric heater just eats up hitters, especially when he follows it up with a slider or three. It touched 97 mph and mostly sat in the 93-95 range with plus life. Surprisingly, with such a high level of effort, Johnson is able to locate his heater on the edges of the plate, rarely missing in the middle of the zone. His low-80s slider was double-plus at times with explosive, late sweep under left-handed hitters bats for sword swings throughout the night. The Bearkats’ batters knew it was coming, but could not do anything with it. His cutter was also a plus pitch in the upper-80s. Even though Johnson doesn’t throw a changeup to slow left-handed hitter’s bats, he really doesn’t need one with his current repertoire. His ability to locate his power fastball to his arm side and both his cutter and slider to his glove side proved difficult to combat. At one point Johnson retired 16 in a row and had 12 strikeouts through seven innings on just 80 pitches. To date this season Johnson has walked just five and struck out 64 in 42 innings. He ranks in the 97th percentile of all D1 college pitchers with 70.4% of his pitches for strikes, while his chase rate (total pitches swung at outside the zone / total pitches thrown outside the zone) of 35% ranks in the 100th percentile. For reference, the D1 average is 21.6%. He will be an interesting case study as a college starting pitcher who traditionally projects as a late-inning reliever at the pro level, due to his max effort delivery. However, many thought the same regarding Max Scherzer who fell out of the top ten overall in the 2006 draft due to similar concerns. Johnson will not be picked in the top half of the first round, but after watching this outing, a starting role in pro ball is not out of the question. Regardless of the predictions of a future role, Johnson has three plus to better pitches and will be considered for selection on Day One this summer.

Ryan Johnson (3/22/24)

Luke Heefner, SS- Slowly creeping up draft lists after showing a strong ability to play shortstop, Heefner is also on point in the batter’s box. The left-handed hitter showed a compact swing and stayed within himself at the plate. His raw power is below average and Heefner knows it’s not his role to get big in search of the long ball. His other tools are at least average with just enough arm strength to remain at shortstop at the next level. He also has the intangible tool with a high baseball IQ and a grinder mentality. Currently slashing .321/.421/.469 with six stolen bases, Heefner will likely be considered in the later rounds of Day Two.

Luke Heefner (3/22/24)

Sam Houston State

Walker Janek, C- Janek’s 1-for-3 with a walk box score on Friday night doesn’t read as brilliantly as Johnson’s 15 punchies, but it was a great example of why I’d rather not be a stay-at-home scout who watches videos and reads numbers. The data won’t tell you about Janek’s approach and how he early ID’d each and every pitch. He wasn't fooled and he didn’t tame down his “A” swing. He just simply competed to win every at-bat. The Bearkat star was locked in throughout the night, even if a lone hit was what the box showed. One of the top mid-major prospects in the country this year, Janek initially put himself on the national radar with his performance at Round Rock last February. He’s now knocking on the door of the first round for the 2024 MLB Draft after recently beginning a power-hitting spree on top of his just-ended 27-game hitting streak that included the final four games of last season. In the batter’s box, Janek was fully focused from pitch one. His lineout to second base during his first at-bat on a full count cutter made this obvious. Not too many college hitters can square up a plus cutter, especially with a full count in the first inning and nobody on base. After popping out his second at-bat, Janek worked the lone walk of the evening issued by Johnson, laying off a couple outer edge breakers for balls three and four. With his hitting streak on the line and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Janek stepped up with an RBI double to right center field. It got the Bearkats on the scoreboard and kept his hit streak alive. After a slow start to this season, Janek has been on fire over the past couple of weeks. Now batting north of .400 he’s also showing premium power with five homers over the past two weeks and a total of six this season. His 110 max EV so far this spring is considered average on the pro scale. Long regarded as a polished defender with plus arm strength and strong pitch-framing skills, Janek is a sure bet to stay behind the plate at the pro level. He boasts strong hands, agile feet and natural receiving skills with arm strength that plays plus with its accuracy and a quick release. His 1.97 POP with an accurate throw that tailed perfectly to the first base side of second base at the waist for a quick tag out and a caught stealing in Friday’s game was just one example of his proficiency behind the dish. He also lifted the low, 50/50 pitch extremely well and received and presented pitches to his backhand side to the umpire for a good look. He did not funnel the glove side pitch back towards the plate and may have lost a borderline strike or two on that side of the plate, but overall his receiving was strong and likely to further improve with normal development. Janek also runs well, evidenced by seven stolen bases in the Cape and ten last spring. Intangible-wise, he is also highly confident and plays with a chip on his shoulder in a way that brings out his best. Scouts believe he has the necessary skills and tools to play third base and he’s also played one game of second base for the Bearkats this spring. College catchers with power, arm strength, receiving skills and a chance to hit fly off the board on draft day. If Janek continues his strong season at the plate, expect him to be considered towards the back end of the first round.

Walker Janek (3/22/24)

Texas A&M

Chris Cortez, RHR- Although the power righthander did not pitch this weekend for the Aggies, he may have finally figured out how to harness his stuff this spring. After walking 40 in 41.2 innings last season, he has now walked just ten in 19.2 innings this spring. It’s still not an ideal walk rate, but it is much improved and a sign of progress. Cortez already had one of the best arms in the country with his fastball averaging 97 mph this season. His 86-87 slider, although still scattered with command, has a 51.5% (96th percentile) whiff rate. That’s top-of-the-scale raw stuff that will likely have 4th to 5th-round value this summer.

Braden Montgomery, OF- The 6-foot-2, 220-pound, five-tool outfielder continues to build upon his stellar freshman year at Stanford, hitting for power (18 HR, .302 ISO) and batting average (.294). His power did come with some swing-and-miss as he struck out 73 times against just 14 walks and a 26.6% strikeout rate. However, during his sophomore season in 2023, he walked 51 times and struck out 64, lowering his strikeout rate to just over 20%, while raising both his average to .336 and slugging to .611. Transferring to Texas A&M for his junior year, the switch-hitter is in the middle of legend status in College Station with 12 home runs and 39 RBI just 24 games into this season. Continuing to develop from both sides of the plate, his right-handed swing has improved tremendously, now covering the holes it had in previous seasons. He is quicker and shorter to the ball, controls the zone much better, yet still retains his plus bat speed and raw power. His 114 max exit velocity so far this spring is a 60/65 grade on the pro scale.

Braden Montgomery (3/22/24)

Montgomery had a huge game in Saturday’s 6-1 series win. If I hadn’t seen enough of his hitting ability during Thursday’s opening series game when he singled twice in four at-bats from the right side, Montgomery put on a show on Saturday. In the first inning, Jurrangelo Cijntje, pitching from the right side, challenged Montgomery (batting left-handed) with an elevated 96 mph fastball to the outer third. Montgomery went to the opposite field for a 402’ off the scoreboard with an exit velocity of 107 mph. He was challenged again by Cijntje his next at-bat, this time on a 96 mph offering to the inner edge of the plate, and he turned it around for a 371’ pull side bomb.

Montgomery is well on his way to matching his home run production at Stanford (18 as a freshman, 17 as a sophomore), while drastically improving his strikeout rate which currently sits at 16% after two seasons over 20% for the Cardinal. His other tools include a plus-plus arm, strong defense, and plus running speed when underway. Defensively, don’t believe the analytics which label him as below average. He is better than average as he does things that do not appear in the box score. He is aggressive on his routes to the ball and limits runners going first to third or home to second with his accurate, bazooka of a throwing arm. Montgomery is a no-doubt first-round talent who will likely be selected in the top ten picks overall this summer.

Ryan Prager, LHP- The junior left-hander entered the Mississippi State series with just three walks against 41 strikeouts on the season and proceeded to build upon those totals with four strikeouts in the first inning. He then breezed through the second before surrendering a pair of unearned runs in the third, both runs scoring on bloop singles to the outfield. Prager went on to strike out eight and walk one over 6.1 innings of work. There isn’t much secret to Prager’s success. He’s a high-pitchability southpaw who combines bat-missing stuff with elite strike-throwing ability. He attacks early, gets ahead in the count and works quickly with a large shoulder tilt delivery. All is repeated with a consistent 6-foot-6 to 6-foot-7 release height on all of his pitches. He relies mostly on a high-ride 90-91 mph fastball and a bat-missing 82-83 slider, but can also subtract with a quality, low-spinning changeup (1400s rpm) at 82-84. He went over bats with his heater and under them with his breaker. His 73.1% overall strike rate of all pitches thrown is in the 99th percentile in D1 baseball, while his slider is 79% which is the 100th percentile. His chase % which measures the total number of pitches that are thrown outside the strike zone and swung at, divided by the total number of pitches thrown outside the zone also sets the ceiling in D1 college baseball at 38%. Currently, Prager is regarded as a third-round prospect. With continued good health and any uptick in velocity, he could sneak into the later picks of round two.

Mississippi State

Jurrangelo Cijntje, BHP- A week after an electric performance against LSU, the switch-pitcher was roughed up by a lone Aggie – Braden Montgomery. Cijntje’s fastball was down a couple of ticks from the 98 mph he bumped against the Tigers, but he still touched 96 from the right side and 92 from the left. From both sides, he pitches with a loose, three-quarter release point and good angle. His right-handed slider drew some swing/miss at 87-88 with 2500 rpm spin, while his left-handed version spun quicker (2600s), but offered less action at 81-82 mph on the limited number that he threw. From the right side, his upper-80s changeup was average to a tick above at times. He sequenced well at times and kept the Aggie lineup in check, other than Montgomery, until the sixth when he ran out of gas and was removed after 99 pitches. Cijntje has taken a big step forward from last spring when he walked 34 in 50 innings. He is now 4-1, 3.62 on the season with 45 strikeouts and 17 walks in 32.1 innings, and if he can continue to reduce that walk rate he will continue to move up draft lists. While his frame (5-foot-11, 175-pounds) might bring some question marks for the next level, his athleticism and two-handed arsenal likely give him late Day One consideration this summer.

Jurrangelo Cijntje (3/23/24)

Hunter Hines, 1B- With a slow start to his 2024 season, Hines is now heating up in SEC play. After homering in game one of the Texas A&M series, the left-handed slugger was at it again in game two, reaching base five times including another home run. It’s easy power to all fields, but it is not light tower raw power that his 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame may suggest. His maximum exit velocity this season is 111 mph. As a point of reference, the average on the Major League scale is 110-111. Limited to first base defensively, it’s all about hitting with power for him and prospects of his type. Expect Hines' name to be considered starting around the 5th round.

Dakota Jordan, OF- “Baby Bo” is a name given to him by veteran scouts who remember two sport All-Star/All-Pro, Bo Jackson. At 6-foot, 220-pounds, and with amazing athleticism, the right-handed hitting outfielder produces top-of-the-scale bat speed. His massive raw power has produced a 118 mph in-game exit velocity this season which translates to 80-grade. This is Aaron Judge territory for raw power. After a stellar freshman campaign that saw him hit .307 with 10 home runs, Jordan also struck out at a 25% clip. There is length to his swing with oodles of bat speed, but without major adjustments, it doesn’t look like he is going to make enough consistent contact to be considered in the first round this summer as a sophomore draft-eligible. He has greatly improved his power production with an ISO increase from .268 to .435, but his strikeout rate still hovers around 25%. He does have good enough balance, but loads/strides late, and there is too much up/down head movement in his swing. He also did not seem to identify pitches very well and he especially struggles with off-speed and outer third plate coverage. On a brighter note, Jordan is a plus defender in the big field with plus range. He also showed plus raw arm strength with developing accuracy. Overall, Jordan boasts top-of-the-first-round tools to go along with his current .380/.521/.815 line of production. However, two of the main determinants of hitting success at the pro level are ISO and strikeout rate. Jordan has the desired ISO, but his swing/miss remains a high concern.

Khal Stephen, RHP- The game-two starter for the Bulldogs, Stephen transferred to Starkville from Purdue last summer after pitching extremely well in the Cape. Against the Aggies, the 6-foot-4 and 215-pound right-hander earned the W, working into the seventh inning on 104 pitches. He allowed just one run on five hits and struck out five. 87 of his 104 pitches were fastballs that averaged 93 mph and touched 95. Most were up in the zone where he simply lets it ride. Stephen also mixed in several mid-80s sliders and a handful of upper-70s curveballs and 84-86 straight changeups. Currently, 3-2 with a 4.20 ERA, Khal continues to improve. Most impressive after changing conferences from the Big Ten to the SEC, he has lowered his walk rate from 9% to 6.5%, while increasing his strikeout rate from 19.8% to 26%. While lacking a premium pitch, Stephen gets outs and he will likely be considered during the later rounds of Day Two.