At the start of this year, it looked like the best college bat (that being the best all-around run producer) would either be Kris Bryant or DJ Peterson. There were (and are) some concerns about Bryant’s ability to hit for average as a pro, and there were questions about Peterson’s true power potential (for a guy definitely limited to 1st base). North Carolina’s Colin Moran and Stanford’s Austin Wilson were also right in the middle of that conversation.
Fast forward a few quick months, and things haven’t really changed all that much. Kris Bryant has established himself as the best all-around bat with the same skill set that scouts saw last year (just improved with another year of experience). With a great walk rate and plus plus power, he likely has more offensive upside than any other college bat this year. Although that’s not to say his floor isn’t decently high as well.
It’s a bit less clear who the next-best college bat is though. DJ Peterson is hitting a ton again this year for New Mexico, but some have voiced legitimate concern that his home park significantly boosts his offensive numbers. Even still, if you look at his Park and Schedule adjusted numbers on College Splits, Peterson’s numbers are still well above-average. Most seem sold on his power with his ability to make consistent contact or hit for average being a lot less certain.
Before this season Colin Moran was considered the best pure hitter in the draft, and nothing has changed. His ability to barrel up balls and make consistent contact is a big value, even if his power potential is in question (for a corner infielder). With his elite contact rate, and strong pitch recognition he could be a Bill Buckner/Mark Grace type first baseman if he’s forced to move across the diamond.
Austin Wilson has been, and continues to be more about potential and tools than actual performance. With such strong tools, he stands out in a class that lacks elite, middle of the order bats (with above-average defensive value as well). It’s been an odd year for him, and while I’m not a huge fan, a team lower in the 1st, or even early in the 2nd round could get a great value pick with him.
One of the bats that has emerged this year (or at least stepped up to realize his potential) is Hunter Renfroe. The tools have always been there, but in an even more raw way than the aforementioned Wilson. He’s improved his approach by leaps and bounds this year, and with significantly higher contact rates, his power numbers have spiked. It remains to be seen if the adjustments will continue as he heads off to the professional game, but if they do he could very easily be the 2nd best all-around college bat this year. Especially when you consider his value on defense.
Speaking of defense, Samford’s Phil Ervin has always been lingering in the conversation for those who might go in the first round. He will ultimately have a hard time surpassing all of the other bats in this post on offensive achievements along. His lack of elite talent with the bat is bolstered by strong value on the bases and in the field. His skill set isn’t the same, but in some ways he reminds me of former Notre Dame outfielder AJ Pollock (now with Arizona) with very strong all-around value. Even so, he will need to hit more than most expect him to in order to be the 2nd best college bat in this class.
Last but not least is Hunter Dozier. Currently listed as a shortstop, it seems likely that a transition to third or second base is in his future if reports are accurate. Even so, he’s been right near the top of the Division I leaderboard in wOBA the past two years. His strong approach and surprising pop could make him and interesting up-the-middle bat as a pro. If he can manage to stick at 2nd base, Dozier’s power could quietly make him the next most valuable college bat to come out of this draft class.