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MLB draft prospects to watch in 2024

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When Major League Baseball postponed its annual draft five weeks to coincide with the All-Star Game, it hoped to generate more attention for major sports’ least heralded talent selection shows.

It also created three extra weeks for scouting directors and fans to gaze at the eye candy on the diamond.

With the NCAA baseball regionals kicking off this weekend, a top prospect is never more than a click of the remote or opening of the browser away. Sixteen regionals will make way for eight super-regionals that will determine the participants in the College World Series, June 14-24 in Omaha.

But blink, and you could miss an important talent. Two losses at any stage will send a team home, which is why next weekend is guaranteed to feature a slew of expected first-round picks.

Here’s a look at seven compelling talents to watch Friday through Monday (and maybe beyond):

Charlie Condon, OF, Georgia

Projected: No. 1 overall by Baseball America, No. 2 by MLB Pipeline

Regional: Athens, seeded No. 1

Remarkable: “Home run king in the BBCOR era” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, but Condon’s 35 home runs this year are the most since the NCAA took the rocket fuel out of the bats in 2011. former walk-on also homered in eight straight games, has a logic-defying .558 OBP and just 39 strikeouts in 210 at-bats.

Fun fact: His coach, Wes Johnson, can earn the rare distinction of coaching consecutive No. 1 overall picks at different schools. Johnson was LSU’s pitching coach a year ago when Paul Skenes was the 1/1.

Hagen Smith, LHP, Arkansas

Projected: No. 3/no. 6 overall

Regional: Fayetteville, seeded No. 1

Remarkable: You need to drop a pitcher here before the bats get too loud. Smith, 20, is Arkansas’ all-time strikeout leader, striking out a whopping 154 in 79 innings this year against just 30 walks. He struck out at least 10 batters in 11 of his 15 starts, including 17 in just six innings against Oregon State in February. Standing at 6-3 with a fastball in the mid-90s, he’s far from Skenes-like, but projects as a speedy mid-rotation type who can quickly reach the majors.

Fun fact: Threw seven no-hitters and four one-hitters in 2021, his senior year at Bullard High School in Texas, less than two years after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Jac Caglianon, 1B/LHP, Florida

Projected: No. 7/no. 3 general

Regional: Stillwater, seeded No. 3

Remarkable: Caglianone, the top two-way player in the draft, is a better bet as a hitter, likely because he hit 33 home runs as a sophomore — setting a record that Condon broke this year. As a junior, Caglianone simply homered in a record nine straight games, hitting 29 overall with a 1.369 OPS and striking out 68 batters in 62 innings across 13 starts. Followed Mets star Pete Alonso’s path from Tampa’s Plant High School to Gainesville.

Fun fact: His teammates call him Jactani for obvious reasons, and you can even buy a T-shirt with that two-sided tribute on the back.

Braden Montgomery, OF, Texas A&M

Projected: No. 5/no. 8 overall

Regional: College Station, ranked #1

Remarkable: Another two-way star who leans heavily toward hitting, Montgomery, 21, is a freshman Aggie after two seasons at Stanford. While not exactly a five-tool talent, Montgomery, a switch-hitter, hit 26 home runs, had a .451 OBP and provides a shutdown presence in outfield defenses with his mound-worthy arm. His recognition in the strike zone as a hitter should improve in the right organization.

Fun fact: Montgomery grew from 6-foot-4 to 6-foot-4 between his sophomore and senior years of high school, according to mom Gretchen.

Chase Burns, RHP, Wake Forest

Projected: No. 6/no. 5 overall

Regional: Greenville (NC), seeded No. 2

Remarkable: The Demon Deacons were a consensus preseason No. 1, thanks in part to Burns’ transfer from Tennessee, but still finished 38-20 and 15-15, fifth, in the ACC. Still, they may have the ultimate regional weapon in Burns, who struck out a career-high 16 batters to defeat Clemson, now the No. 6 national seed, earlier this month. He set a school record this year with 184 strikeouts, hits 100 mph on the radar, has a WHIP of 0.87 and is a fun guy to watch. (Hopefully he gets more than one start in June).

Fun fact: Mike Piazza, beware: Burns was born in Napoli and paved the way for Italy’s World Baseball Classic team’s No. 1 starter status.

Carson Benge, OF, Oklahoma State

Projected: No. 16/no. 19 in total

Regional: Stillwater, seeded No. 1

Remarkable: Stop us if you’ve heard this before: a two-way player with Tommy John surgery in his past. Benge is very much in the developmental stages as a pitcher as he is just two years removed from elbow surgery in 2022, but his fastball is hitting 93 miles per hour and needs more attention as a pitcher. He struck out 10 and walked none in a Big 12 Tournament start against Texas Tech; of course he also had three hits. Still, his athleticism at the plate and in the field is hard to deny, with 17 home runs, a .451 OBP and the ability to play anywhere in the outfield.

Fun fact: Benge walked as many batters this year – 46 – as he struck out.

Griff O’Ferrall, SS, Virginia

Projected: No. 111/no. 41 overall

Regional: Charlottesville, seeded No. 1

Remarkable: Hey, it’s not all exit velocity and home run records. There’s still a place in the college game for the consummate ballplayer, and on a Virginia team that ranked ninth nationally with 113 home runs, O’Ferrall is holding it all together. He has the most career hits of any three-year player in program history, including a team-high 86 in 56 games this year, along with 15 steals in 19 attempts. Given the volatility of its shares, a player that could benefit enormously from a longer look in June.

Fun fact: Started at shortstop for Team USA’s collegiate national team and batted .463 in international play.

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