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MLB Draft Watch: DII baseball players you should know

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Evan Gattis just won a World Series, getting his start in DII. Who’s next?

GRAND PRAIRIE, TX — Delta State’s Zack Shannon rips into one at the DII Baseball Championship.
Wayne Cavadi |

The NCAA DII baseball season is underway, which means the MLB Draft watch has officially begun. Last season, Tampa’s Garrett Cave was the first off the board, with the San Francisco Giants taking him in Round 4.

DII pitchers tend to go first, as hitters generally go later, with most bats being seniors. Still, plenty have made an impact in the big leagues — Evan Gattis (you can read my interview about his DII roots HERE) and J.D. Martinez to name a couple -- and plenty more will.

This is the first DII draft watch list of the season. It will change, it always does. There are plenty of DI transfers that fly in under the radar as well as breakout candidates that are amongst the best by midseason. Last week, we saw the teams to watch. This week, the players (in no particular order).

Colorado Mesa’s Big Three:

The Mavericks made it to the national semifinals last year behind timely pitching and the big bats of Kyle Serrano and Bligh Madris. Both are gone, Serrano graduated and Madris is now with the Pittsburgh Pirates — but the pitching staff this year is even stronger.

Junior righty J.R. McDermott (6-foot, 190) increased his stock with a strong showing on the Cape, going 2-2 with a 2.80 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 25.2 innings. The last I saw fellow righty Jake Mielock (senior, 6-foot-3, 225) he came out of the bullpen in Grand Prairie, recording five strikeouts in four one-hit, shutout innings. A nice showing in the Northwoods summer league has him on many a radar himself. Junior righty Kyle Leahy (6-foot-5, 195) has the frame scouts love, and the smarts that go with it. He was the Elite 90 winner in Grand Prairie, which is awarded to the player with the highest GPA.

The Mercyhurst arsenal

Last season, there was a lot expected from southpaw Matt Minnick (senior, 6-foot-2, 210), earning preseason pitcher of the year honors from Baseball America. He came out looking the part, but was shut down after five starts with a partial tear of the UCL. He should be ready to show his stuff this season, but his absence allowed junior righty Chris Vallimont (6-foot-5, 235) to breakout. He had big strikeout numbers, but struggled with command. Keep an eye on Russell Lamovec (righty, 6-foot, 190). He put up nice enough numbers last season that he should get some looks, but the junior may likely benefit from a senior season.

Other big arms:

Justin Montgomery, California Baptist, RHP, 6-foot-5, 205 — Montgomery is the next in line of head coach Gary Adcock’s MLB draftable pitchers. The Lancers have a long line of pitchers drafted (hence the moniker Pitcher U), and after an All Star summer in the Cape Cod Summer League, plenty of eyes will be on him this season.

Jacob Blank, Augustana (SD), RHP, 6-foot-3, 205 — The reigning DII Pitcher of the Year led DII with a 0.78 ERA. He also posted a 86-to-15 strikeout to walk ratio in 69 innings.

Dalton Roach, Minnesota State, RHP, 6-foot-2, 200 — A 10-1 record with a 1.56 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 86.2 innings earned Roach the Brett Tomko Award.

David Lebron and Cole Aker, Tampa, RHP, 6-foot, 190 — Sam Militello and Joe Urso pump out two things: national titles and MLB Draft prospects. Lebron was the South Region Pitcher of the Year, which speaks volumes. Aker transferred in from North Carolina so was already on plenty of radars.

Mitch Hickey and Jack Rupe, Jr., UC San Diego, RHPs —

Hickey transfers into the Tritons rotation from Oregon State, who know a thing or two about pitching. The 6-foot, 180 pound senior should fit right into the weekend rotation. Rupe, Jr. is a wild card, but he has the frame (6-foot-4, 200) and shined on the big stage in Grand Prairie, which was where I added him to my watch list.

Others to watch: Grant Wolfram, Davenport, Gus Varland, Concordia, Devin Conn, Nova Southeastern.

Two-way players to watch:

Zack Shannon, 1B/ RHP, Delta State — Shannon’s bat will get him plenty of looks, and his pitching days will likely be done if a pro career is next. He won the Tino Martinez award last season, hitting .434 with 19 home runs. The fact that he can throw some decent bullpen innings is just an added bonus.

Josiah Gray, LF/ RHP, Le Moyne -- Gray may be the most coveted DII draft prospect, many expecting him to jump off the board first. He had a sensational season out of the bullpen last year, striking out 22 and walking two in 14.1 innings.

Reagan Todd, RF/ LHP, Colorado Mesa — The Arizona State transfer has gotten off to a solid start at the plate and on the mound for the Mavericks.

Bats to watch:

Tyler Durna, 1B, UC San Diego — Durna is just a junior, so likely will be back in 2019, but he has a smooth swing and constantly gets the barrel on the ball so may get some looks earlier.

Clay Casey, OF, Delta State — Casey is a big-time power bat that slugged 17 home runs and 14 doubles last year.

Nick Beinlich, OF, Belmont Abbey — Another huge bat, he slugged 22 home runs with 34 stolen bases last season.

Keenon Eaton, OF, Colorado Mesa — If you’re noticing a lot of Mavericks, you’re starting to see the big picture. Mesa is one of the three biggest contenders (along with Tampa and Delta State) to return to Cary, and a deep squad is why. He has some DI experience at Wichita State.

Giovanni Dingcong, OF, St. Thomas Aquinas — Dingcong was a favorite out in Grand Prairie and proof that junior bats have a tough time getting drafted. Now a senior, Dingcong possess some of the best natural power in DII, and he has nice speed and defense to go along with it.

Jake Anchia, C, Nova Southeastern — The Sharks have a long line of success in DII baseball, especially with catchers of late. Anchia blends good defense with a nice power/ average combo. He already has four home runs on the season.

Craig Lewis, OF, Seton Hill — Seton Hill is a nice sleeper squad this season and Lewis is part of the reason why. Lewis has a great approach at the plate (26:23 K:BB in 2017) that lets him make good contact (.379) and has the speed (28 stolen bases) to be a menace on the base paths.

Joseph Pena, 2B, St. Thomas Aquinas — Pena put on a show in Grand Prairie, raising his draft stock entering his senior season. He makes good contact and has nice pop for a middle infielder.

Others to watch:

Alex Eliopulos, 3B, UC San Diego — the redshirt-junior had a huge run in the DII baseball championship. He showed great range at the hot corner and had some of the most timely hits in the Tritons runs to the finals. A long shot to get drafted this year, it’s worth keeping an eye on however.

Logan Mattix, OF, Georgia College — Georgia College puts up big offensive numbers. Its big slugger Brandon Benson was drafted in the 20th round last season and Mattix should follow suit. He had a nice summer, and is a guy that seemingly always gets the bat on the ball, for both average and nice pop.