SEC stocked with pro prospects

Zunino leads a Gators squad loaded with draft prospects. Ron Chenoy/US Presswire

While there is strong competition from the Pac-12, and the Big 12 certainly deserves mention, the SEC remains the top conference in college baseball in terms of producing prospects for the draft. Using, as a gauge, Keith Law's most recent prospect rankings -- which stretches to 100 players -- the SEC stands at the top as they have many times in recent years.

The SEC has 11 players on the top 100, while the Pac-12 comes in at eight -- both boasting multiple prospects that are likely to be considered in round one. A year ago, the SEC had nine players selected in the top 100, while the Pac-12, then the Pac-10, shared second-place honors with the ACC with eight of the top 100 picks apiece.

The Florida Gators appear to be the loaded team this year, led by catcher and top college position player Mike Zunino, No. 4 overall on Law's list, joined by left-hander Brian Johnson (28), shortstop Nolan Fontana (44), and left-handed reliever Stephen Rodriguez (71). Outfielder/first baseman Preston Tucker and right-handers Hudson Randall and Austin Maddox are potential Top 200 picks.

Louisiana State's Kevin Gausman is currently the top ranked pitcher in the class and some sleepers from the SEC include Ole Miss infielder Alex Yarbrough (90), Arkansas infielder Matt Reynolds and Auburn outfielder Ryan Tella.

Zunino's struggles in SEC play continued this past weekend as the slugger collected just two hits in 10 at-bats, though he made them count, doubling and hitting home run No. 13 -- his fourth versus SEC opponents. While clubs aren't going to tip their hand, it doesn't appear these struggles will hurt Zunino's draft stock much, if at all.

It's difficult to see a scenario where he even gets past Seattle at No. 3, and it seems the only way that occurs is if prep outfielder Byron Buxton falls beyond the first two picks. Zunino enters the final week of the regular season batting .321/.381/.637 with 35 extra-base hits.

• Leading the Pac-12 is Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, who has a legit shot to be the top overall pick by the Houston Astros. He mowed down Washington State over the weekend, striking out 10 and yielding just two runs on six hits. He walked one and improved to 8-1 on the year with a 2.68 ERA and 95-21 K/BB ratio in 94 frames.

One senior scout said Friday night that Appel was as good as he's ever seen him, showing above-average to plus stuff across the board, and doing it in front of a truck load of decision makers and influential talent evaluators. "He pitched tonight like he should be [No.] 1," the scout added.

• Gausman was top notch, too, fanning 11 against one base on balls in a complete-game win over Vanderbilt. The draft-eligible sophomore also is 8-1 and boasts a 2.95 ERA and 112-21 K/BB ratio in 91 2/3 innings.

• Zunino faced Mississippi State right-hander Chris Stratton Friday and went 1-for-3 with a double and two strikeouts. Stratton, who ranks No. 22 on the Top 100, was solid over seven innings even though he didn't have his best stuff. His defense hurt him -- two unearned runs -- but he struck out six and sports a shiny 2.22 ERA in 89 1/3 innings, as well as a 107-19 K/BB count.

• Oklahoma State's Andrew Heaney -- not to be outdone -- tossed another complete game, yielding one earned run on three hits. He needed just 101 pitches to skate by Alcorn State, 74 of which were strikes. He struck out 11 and did not walk a batter and while he's not as projectable as Appel, Gausman, Stratton and San Francisco's Kyle Zimmer, he's performed well in a big conference and he's sitting low-90s with a changeup and slider that project as big-league offerings.

Jeff Gelalich, UCLA's right fielder, has displayed solid-average tools across the board, including this weekend in Seattle. He can throw, has enough range to stick in right field and make an impact and he homered twice -- once off a fastball middle-in and once off a breaking ball on which he drifted out early but kept his hands back and drove the ball out to right field.

• Stanford's Stephen Piscotty went 5-for-10 over the weekend, reaching base five times Saturday and improving to .344/.432/.513 on the season. He's struck out but 14 times in 46 games and is showing scouts he can handle left field, his likely position in pro ball, after previously playing primarily third base.

• One arm that didn't help his cause over the weekend was Eddie Butler from Radford. The right-hander has a chance to be a Day One pick, but struggled versus Campbell on Friday, allowing 10 hits and five earned runs in five innings, striking out just two of 26 batters faced.