The proverbial body is still warm on LSU’s 2018 season, but thanks to one of the unique (read: frustrating to all involved) features of the college baseball calendar, the offseason begins in earnest on Monday night.
The first two rounds of the MLB Draft and compensatory selections will be held on Monday beginning at 6 p.m. CT.
LSU has two draft-eligible sophomores and five signees ranked inside the top 200 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline. Where those players are selected could go a long way toward determining if LSU returns to form next spring or spends another season short on talent.
After conversations with sources around the LSU program and Nathan Rode, the national scouting supervisor for Prep Baseball Review, here’s the buzz we’re hearing on LSU’s draft-eligible players and signees heading into the draft.
- OF Zach Watson
The Ranking: No. 65 (MLB Pipeline)
The Scout’s Take: “He still looks like a top-five round guy for me because of that explosiveness and quick-twitch athleticism and the ceiling of those tools. It’s just going to come down to if a team wants to pay enough for that to bring him out of that third year of eligibility at LSU. We’ve seen plenty of guys come back after being draft-eligible sophomores and do just fine.” – Nathan Rode
The Buzz: Even off a mediocre sophomore season, Watson is expected to be the first LSU player off the board because of his electric athleticism and lightning-quick bat. Word around LSU is Watson wants a rather large signing bonus, so it’s not impossible to see him returning for a junior season if his demands aren’t met. Draft-eligible sophomores, like high school signees, have a lot of leverage to work with.
- RHP Zack Hess
The Ranking: No. 91 (MLB Pipeline)
The Scout’s Take: “He does have those flashes of brilliance, but why not harness that and put it in the bullpen? With Hess, you could harness those moments of brilliance at the back end of the bullpen. So is he a first rounder? No. Conversation doesn’t have him in there right now. Granted it is a very deep class, so that’s not a knock on him, but I see him in that (round) two-to-five range for a team that likes him and wants to move him relatively quickly through the system as a reliever.” – Nathan Rode
The Buzz: These things are fluid by nature, but the expectation around LSU is that Hess will return for his junior season if he’s not selected on Day One of the MLB Draft. There’s reason behind the optimism. The 2019 draft won’t be as rich in power pitching as a deep 2018 class that has higher-regarded prospects like Auburn’s Casey Mize, Florida’s Brady Singer, Arkansas’ Blaine Knight and Ole Miss’ Ryan Rollison in the SEC alone. If he wants to be a starter at the next level, and all indications are he does, another collegiate season could be beneficial after a largely inconsistent first year in the rotation. Hess turned down pro ball out of high school to improve his stock prove he’s a starting pitcher, and LSU hopes he may do so again. LSU can also dangle the carrot of offering him a spot playing for Paul Mainieri on the Collegiate National Team this summer if he doesn’t sign.
- OF Antoine Duplantis
The Buzz: Duplantis has been one of the most productive hitters in LSU history over his three seasons in Baton Rouge, but he doesn’t have the power, arm strength of truly elite speed that scouting departments covet. Word is that there’s some analytics-leaning scouting departments that like his game, but it is unclear how much value he has. Feels like a coin flip whether he comes back for his senior year or signs professionally.
- RHP Cam Sanders
The Buzz: Sanders always figured to be a one-and-done arm coming out of junior college, and him signing professionally appears to be even more of a lock given the brilliant way he pitched in the postseason. Sanders elevated his stock to that of a second day selection.
- LHP Nick Bush
The Buzz: The third-year sophomore has already undergone one serious arm surgery and is coming off a strong season in which he proved capable of starting and relieving. Lefties who throw 90+ mph with three pitches are always in high demand, so odds are he’ll be taken high enough to sign professionally.
6. INF Jake Slaughter
The Buzz: Slaughter is the fourth of LSU’s draft-eligible sophomores that figure to be selected some time this week. His career at LSU has been maddeningly inconsistent at times, but he’s got plenty of raw power and athleticism. Slaughter played his best baseball down the stretch this season and could be drafted high enough to sign professionally and begin his career in pro ball.
SIGNEES (BIGGEST DRAFT RISKS)
- SS Brice Turang
The Ranking: No. 25 (MLB Pipeline)
The Scout’s Take: “If LSU gets him, they definitely need to have a parade. He would be one of the biggest recruits to make it to campus in quite some time. At one point he was in that (first overall pick) conversation, and for me he’s going to be an everyday big league shortstop. He’s an incredible defender with a high baseball IQ — his dad was a big leaguer. He’s got great arm strength and can really run, but the question has become his impact with the bat. We haven’t seen consistency of him driving the ball. But I would say LSU getting him would be a bigger deal than getting Alex Bregman a few years back. He’s that kind of player and would be an absolute superstar. He’d lead LSU to a national championship, I would think. — Nathan Rode
The Buzz: Turang will undoubtedly be a first round draft pick, and LSU probably wouldn’t have any chance of getting him on campus if it weren’t for a relatively pedestrian senior season offensively. Some around LSU believe it is now a coin flip whether or not Turang signs professionally because he’s believed to have a rather exorbitant number in mind when it comes to a signing bonus. Keep a close eye on where the California native lands, and his name remains uncalled after pick No. 20 or so, start to get excited.
- RHP Jaden Hill
The Ranking: No. 78 (MLB Pipeline)
The Scout’s Take: “A quality athlete with a strong lower half, Hill throws without effort and repeats his delivery well. He throws strikes and uses his 6-foot-4 frame to create angle on his pitches. If he goes to college and focuses on baseball, he has the potential to develop into a first-rounder in the 2021 Draft.” – MLB Pipeline
The Buzz: A two-sport star out of Arkansas, Hill has a plus fastball and an advanced changeup for someone who diverted his attention between pitching and playing quarterback in high school. He’d be a big get for LSU, though his considerable talents make him one of the biggest draft risks in the class to sign professionally.
- OF Elijah Cabell
The Ranking: No. 101 (MLB Pipeline)
The Scout’s Take: “There is no question that Cabell looks the part of an impactful offensive player and has the bat skills to go along with it. He has tremendous raw power with the ability to drive the ball with the kind of different sound you hear from some hitters when he makes contact. With that power, however, comes some considerable swing and miss issues, as scouts see a grooved swing … If a team believes he can make enough contact to tap into that power, it could see him as a future run-producing right fielder and take him early enough to keep him from heading to LSU.” – MLB Pipeline
The Buzz: Cabell has the make-up that’ll remind people of a right-handed Greg Deichmann with his combination of raw power and a cannon for a throwing arm. LSU will just have to wait and see if a scouting department likes his raw tools enough to sign him away.
- RHP Landon Marceaux
The Ranking: No. 117 (MLB Pipeline)
The Scout’s Take: “If you talk to scouts, everybody loves him but nobody wants to pay him right now. He’s not necessarily a high-ceiling guy, but it is a high floor. What you see is what you get. He commands his entire arsenal, so you know he would go to LSU for three years and perform. I’m just not sure anybody would want to give him the $1 million or $1.5 million that he might want.” – Nathan Rode
The Buzz: Marceaux is eerily reminiscent of Blayne Enlow, the polished in-state signee LSU lost to the Minnesota Twins in last year’s MLB Draft. He doesn’t have the raw stuff that most teams covet, but his pitchability and control are elite for a high school pitcher. LSU considers it a virtual coin flip if he signs or comes to school, and there are contingency plans in place if he decides to take the money.
- RHP Cole Henry
The Ranking: No. 137 (MLB Pipeline)
The Scout’s Take: “Henry piqued the interest of scouts when he touched 97 mph and showed a plus curveball in his first outing of 2018, though he didn’t maintain that stuff throughout the spring. He could go as high as the fourth round if teams believe that will be early enough to divert him from a Louisiana State commitment.” – MLB Pipeline
The Buzz: The scouting report on this powerful right arm out of Alabama reads somewhat similarly to that of Hess coming out of high school. He’s flashed tremendous stuff at times, but there’s concerns about his consistency and maximum-effort delivery. LSU has a good chance of holding on to the promising hurler because of the overall depth in this draft.
- RHP Levi Kelly
The Ranking: No. 182 (MLB Pipeline)
The Scout’s Take: “From conversations I’ve had, I feel like Levi Kelly wants to sign and go into pro ball. Whether or not that happens, I’ll let you know in a week depending on where he ends up going. If LSU can get two out of the three (meaning Marceaux, Henry and Kelly), that would be a big win for the Tigers.” – Nathan Rode
The Buzz: Kelly is another big right-handed arm in what has the makings to be a signing class full of them for LSU. He upped his stock since making the move to the IMG Academy in Florida, but like Henry, he’s got a decent shot of winding up on campus because of the overall depth of right-handed pitching in this draft and some questions about his command.