Last year, when I ran my statistical research on college bats, freshman Seth Beer was overwhelmingly the top-ranked bat in college ball. This year, he was seventh overall, and second among sophomore bats. Second to Liberty University outfielder D.J. Artis. (Don’t worry, Beer is on the short list of upcoming draft profiles).
Artis was a scrawny, fast outfielder out of a North Carolina high school. He was a 2015 40th round pick by the Boston Red Sox. He passed up the shot at pro ball, and has done nothing but hit since showing up at Liberty. As a freshman, he hit .369/.500/.464, with 52 walks to only 28 strikeouts, and 23 stolen bases in 29 attempts. He was named to both the Baseball America and the Perfect Game Freshman All-American second teams after that performance. He followed it up with a .271/.381/.331 line in 118 at bats in the Cape Cod League.
Coming into his sophomore season, he had grown from 5’9”, 165 as a prepster, to a more solid 5’11”, 190. He was named as the Big South Conference player of the year pre-season by Baseball America. He somehow put up even stronger numbers as a sophomore: .359/.532/.552, with 62 walks to 30 strikeouts, and 23 stolen bases in 26 attempts. More importantly, he also more than doubled his ISO, from .095 as a freshman to .193 as a sophomore. That brings his two year totals to .365/.515/.504, 112 runs, 35 extra base hits, 86 RBI, 46 stolen bases, and a 114/58 BB/K ratio over 540 PA.
On results alone, Artis is a first round draft pick. But there’s more to the draft than results. First, the Big South Conference, and Liberty University, are not known as sources of MLB talent. Until this year, the most recent draft pick from Liberty to make the big leagues was 1991 12th rounder Doug Brady, with all of 23 plate appearances. Ian Parmley, a 2012 seventh rounder, ended the drought with three plate appearances in June. But Parmley was only a .313/.395/.378 hitter at Liberty, with nowhere near the plate discipline of Artis.
Liberty has had five players picked in the top four rounds, the most recent being Jason Jones in 2004. Their most successful MLB alumni was also their highest draft pick, 1981 second rounder Sid Bream. Artis has a real chance at matching Bream as a second rounder, with a shot at getting into the first round. It will be tough in a deep year for talent, but Kyle Lewis was taken in the first round from Mercer, who had never had a draft pick higher than the second round (Pat Creech way back in 1973).
On the positive end, Artis was a Baseball America third team All American - joining 2017 first rounder Jeren Kendall and possible 2018 first rounder Tristan Pompey. By wRC+ on Baseball America’s website, he was the fourth-best hitter in college ball this year, behind first rounders Keston Hiura and Brent Rooker, and second rounder Daulton Varsho. He was also named the Big South Player of the Year.
From a skills and scouting perspective, Artis has a plus batting eye, with plus speed that gives him value on the basepaths and in the outfield. Watching video, you can see just how quick his bat gets through the zone.
This helps him with the line drive power he showed this year, but it also gives him extra time to evaluate a pitch and make a decision to swing or not. His ultimate value will depend on the power development, but he has enough secondary skills to eventually be a competent backup outfielder at the big league level even if the power doesn’t develop.
At this point, it seems reasonable to expect Artis to be drafted within the first three rounds. But don’t be surprised if he sneaks into the first round.