Model Darlings: College Hitters That Grade High

Mason McRae
10 min readJun 4, 2023

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Anybody that works with amateur data knows it has flaws. Sample sizes can be small, and even more so with batted ball data. It’s why I’d never say a model should be followed blindly. For example, the model I built doesn’t combine Wyatt Langford’s sophomore and junior batted ball data together, causing a smaller junior sample to lower his contact quality score. Because of context, we know it’s up there with Crews, Davis, etc.

With that being said, I was able to run data for every college hitter and found dozens of interesting guys and that’s the beauty of it. Players that scored high in previous years include: Dominic Fletcher, Edouard Julien, Clay Dungan, Quincy Hamilton, Trey Sweeney, and Eric Brown. The best players according to the model (minimum of 100 PA in draft year) were Dylan Crews in 2023 and Jud Fabian in 2022. I’m mostly looking at players who will go after the 6th or 7th round in this article.

Tavian Josenberger, Arkansas

Tavian’s back of the card stats are pretty boring but he checks many boxes. He swings at a lot of strikes, takes balls, doesn’t whiff in-zone, has a barrel rate above 20%, a hard hit launch at 18 degrees and pretty average EVs across the board but he’s so often on the sweet spot of the barrel that it’s solid contact quality. Most importantly, he’s a solid defender in CF in the best conference. He’s no star, but the underlying numbers are great and the 22% strikeout rate won’t be an issue at the next level with his approach. He’s an 7th-8th rounder, if not there, then in the 11th through 13th rounds.

Carson Roccaforte, Louisiana

Roccaforte isn’t just a model darling, he’s also a plus-defender in CF with really good defensive numbers. He’s a left-handed swinger with a max EV above 110 mph, a hard hit rate above 40%, a hard hit launch of 15 degrees and a zone whiff rate of roughly 10%. He really doesn’t have a weakness. He’s even better against lefties, and is better against lefty spin than righty spin. He does his damage on mistakes, but also low-balled secondaries and heaters away. He hits heaters in, he’s performed well against his limited action vs velo. I don’t see a guy of this talent level dropping very far.

Garret Forrester, Oregon State

Forrester has played 1B for most of career at Oregon State, he’s a junior with so many skills in the box. He topped his career-best with a 111.9 max EV this year. He’s had a zone whiff below 15% every season, including a sub 10% clip last year. He’s walked more than he’s been punched out in back-to-back years and walks at a 20% rate. He barely swings, and when he does it’s almost always a quality pitch to hit.

He doesn’t swing to make contact, and it’s why he rarely makes contact on balls. He’s trying to do damage and yet he still rarely whiffs. He hits about half of his batted balls hard but the amount of them he’s getting off the barrel is decreasing by the year. He’s struggled with combining hard contact with a desirable launch, but he’s doing either or very often and able to be productive. A .437 wOBA at 1B doesn’t sound great, the skillset is well rounded. It’s a Kyle Manzardo profile.

Ryley Preece, Morehead State

Preece is an older junior that can run and play CF, but his swing path is super steep. The negative is that he’s running a 20% strikeout rate despite an elite batter’s eye. It’s not a barrel accuracy issue, he’s hitting 41% of his batted balls between 10 and 30 degrees and his hard hit launch is just above 20 degrees.

He manages to hammer breakers, but as you’d expect, flat four-seamers and/or elevated ones are an issue for him. His bat speed is average and he’s easy to game plan around. He’s running an 11% chase rate over his career and is hitting the ball hard 32% of the time. His 104.3 max EV is well below-average and his eye/athleticism will have to steer him into pro ball. Morehead State’s ballpark is a little league field so he’ll get forked for that.

Alberto Rios, Stanford

Rios had barely even played for Stanford his first two years there, now he’s having one of the most productive seasons in the statcast college era. This isn’t a power-hitting corner profile, it’s more of a combination of hit and power. He can do damage, but he’s yet to hit a ball over 110 mph and his 90th percentile is just 105 mph.

His barrel accuracy is really good. His LA standard deviation is tight, he hits plenty of balls between 10 and 35 degrees. He whiffs at just 19% of pitches and chases 16%. His whiff rate on breakers is almost better than the college average against all pitches and he’s running a .563 xDamage rate against them. He’s the type of player to walk 100 times in an 162-game season with 20 bombs. Good profile.

Anthony Sherwin, Bucknell

Sherwin checks all of the boxes a small school hitter could. He has one of the lowest chase rates of any qualified hitter in the country, he doesn’t swing and miss much, especially in the zone. He walks at an equal rate he strikes out. He hit the ball hard, but not extremely hard. Roughly half of his batted balls were hit hard, and he had a 16 degree hard hit launch.

His max EV is just 106 mph though, he’s only an above-average runner. He’s a 2B long-term, he hasn’t been good very long and he hasn’t performed with wood bats. It’s a solid profile for slot on day 3 though.

Hayden Schott, Columbia

Schott can hammer the ball, but he doesn’t walk and whiffs a lot which really puts a ton of stress on his ability to damage when he does make contact. Schott is less of a now and more of a future. This isn’t ideal for a 23-year-old but he has 70-grade raw power from the left side. He’s a corner guy with a 113.6 max EV and a 19 degree hard hit launch. His 90th percentile EV is 108 mph, his average is 92 mph.

He loves to swing and chases 28% of pitches out of the zone. The good thing is he’s managed to drop his zone whiff rate down to 16% and I think he has enough bat-to-ball skills present already that an approach tweak could help him with walking more, chasing less, and doing the most damage on the fewest swings. The Astros drafted a SS like this last year in Zach Dezenzo from Ohio State.

Joe Vetrano, Boston College

Vetrano hit one of the hardest batted balls in the college statcast era this year 119.0 mph. Unfortunately, that’s really the only good part of his profile. It’s 80-grade raw power, yes, 80-grade. He has the fourth highest 90th percentile in a single-season since 2019, the others are Jac Caglianone, Kemp Alderman, and Dakota Jordan (Shoutout to the insane EVs getting hit in 2023, suspicious?).

His biggest issue is that his contact quality is extremely inconsistent and he’s always been a low BABIP guy. Despite his outlier raw power, he’s hitting just 45% of his balls above 95 mph and 16% of those between 10–30 degrees. These are decent relative to college hitters, but not for a guy who won’t walk a lot in pro ball and already strikes out often. He’ll need to damage balls more often. He whiffs a lot against fastballs w/ velo and breakers. I think it’s a flashy profile but this isn’t a Kemp, Ivan, Sonny, etc type of profile.

Ryan McDonald, South Dakota State

McDonald has played just about every position excluding manager. He’s settled in at catcher this year while mixing in some RF and 1B. In a small sample he’s managed to hit multiple balls over 110 mph. He also ran a .595 wOBA this season in just 174 PA. He has fringy bat-to-ball skills, has a great approach and swings just 29% of the time helping him walk nearly 20% of his at-bats. He either hammers a breaker into the gap or swings through it. It’s a rollercoaster ride of a profile that I’d throw $2K at because why not.

Jared Wegner, Arkansas

My model values defensive value heavily, so scoring really high as a LF says a lot and it makes sense with Wegner. He has a chase rate below 15%, a zone whiff below 20%, a 90th percentile EV above 110 mph and a max EV of 115.4 mph. He hammers breakers, is average against fastballs with velo. He’ll turn 24-years-old just after the draft though, and the model isn’t accounting for that. He’s a perfect 15th round pick for $2K, nothing more.

Logan Thomason, Eastern Kentucky

Thomason is an above-average athlete who managed to post a career-best wOBA with a .328 BABIP. This wasn’t a lack of luck though, he lifts the ball a lot and doesn’t always pull it so it’s getting hit to the bigger parts of the field. He walks a lot, doesn’t chase and makes an adequate amount of contact in the zone. He can do damage on his swings and has a 105 90th percentile EV at short which is pretty impressive. I like him on day 3.

Devin Burkes, Kentucky

Burkes’ numbers don’t pop off the page but he’s solid at so many different things. He’s a catcher in the SEC for starters, and he’s one of the only hitters in the country with at least 40% of his batted balls hit above 95 mph and at least 40% of his batted balls hit between 10–30 degrees. He’s hitting 25% of them with both. He’s peaked at 110 mph, he’s running a 101.6 90th percentile EV, and his plate discipline is really good. He’s swinging at 71% of strikes and just 15% of balls. He’s just okay against fastballs with heat and breakers, but he does enough damage against spin. Has a .385 wOBA this year and makes sense for slot value on day 3.

Grayson Tatrow, Abilene Christian

Tatrow is another older hitter, he’s nearly 24-years-old this summer. The power is real. His average EV was 93.8 mph, he hit 62% of his batted balls hard for an average launch angle of 21.8 degrees and he nearly had a 110 90th percentile EV. He’s patient for a slugger and has a good eye, hence a walk rate of 16%. He’s good against fastballs, including higher velos.

His issues with spin are hot/cold and he’ll absolutely hammer some but swing through plenty. He’s a decent athlete and below-average defender in the corners. The whiffs are an issue, but his power/discipline are intriguing on day 3.

Cameron Sisneros, East Tennessee State

Sisneros can really hit and his numbers may be lit in terms of how good he is. He hit more than half of his batted balls above 95 mph and 24% of those between 10–30 degrees, yet his BABIP was .382 and his wOBA was a .491. The average BABIP for a player with a wOBA above .475 this season is roughly .391.

He put 16 balls into the seats this year, walked more than struck out and finished 58th among all college hitters with 100+ PA this season. He’s a performer, but he’s also one of just two players with a zone whiff rate below 7% and a 90th percentile EV above 105 mph, the other is Nolan Schanuel. He’s hit a ball above 110 mph in his lone D1 season and might have a plus hit tool to go with average power at 1B.

Jackson Gray, Kentucky

Gray was an intriguing prospect in 2021 out of Western Kentucky, then he struggled 2022. Now at Kentucky, he’s reemerged into one of the best players in the country. He’s been productive and reached a career high in max EV at 110 mph. He’s cut his strikeout rate below the college average, brought up his zone contact rate, dropped his chase rate to 15% and he’s swinging less while doing just as much damage.

He walks, gets on base and is above-average in CF with plus speed. It’s a great profile with plenty of skills and tools. His launch angle on hard hits has dropped 4 degrees this year, down to 13 degrees, and his power may not showing in games but it’s around average and his raw is a 55. I think there’s more there, the hit is a 55, he’s 23-years-old and won’t turn 24 until the postseason so he’s not a senior citizen just yet. He’s physical and massive on top of being a good athlete.

Ryan Galanie, Wofford

Galane has a max EV above 110 mph and 90th percentile EV above 105 mph while walking more than he strikes out. He made the switch over to first this season after playing third last year. His numbers make him off to be a plus-runner but that’s just part of Wofford’s system that spits out elite baserunning numbers. He’s only average but has good instincts. He’s one of the best hitters in the country against breaking balls and his plate discipline is well above-average. He’s another great profile with plenty of skills.

Brennan Orf, Southern Illinois

Orf’s 8% chase rate this year is the 17th lowest of any player in the statcast era putting him in the 99.7 percentile. What’s more impressive is he ran a 9.1% chase rate the year prior and topped it. He’s walked more than he’s struck out in back-to-back years, 24 times more in fact. He’s an incredible hitter that makes great decisions, has an advanced approach, and knows what he’s capable of doing/not doing. He’s about as fine tuned as it gets in terms of a pure hitter and having an approach.

His batted ball data is limited, but he’s hit one as hard as 107 mph and his 90th percentile EV over his career is 102 mph. He might be a 70-grade hitter, but because he’s yet to swing at a pitch above 95 mph in his career, I’d put a 60 on it. He hit 19 home runs this year, the power is a 55. He’s transitioned into the outfield after starting out at first his freshman year. He still plays there now but his primary spot is LF.

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