5 Mid-Major Sleepers That Could Surge for the 2024 MLB Draft – Hitters Edition

December 27, 2023

Mid-major schools often feature some of the best talent a draft can offer. Those players can be difficult to watch on television, at least compared to Power 5 schools who possess their own conference networks. It’s important we recognize those players now rather than react deep into the summer.

Over the course of the last ten years, a mid-major hitter has been drafted inside the Top 12 picks in every single draft. In fact, 2012 is the only draft in the last 15 years where a mid-major hitter wasn’t selected in the Top 12 picks. Names of late such as Brooks Lee, Nolan Schanuel and Colton Cowser have gone early. On the tail end of that timeline guys like Kris Bryant, Max Pentecost and Ian Happ didn’t have to wait long.

The 2024 MLB Draft already features some names at the top with a chance to go very high. Northeastern outfielder Mike Sirota is considered by most a top ten prospect in this class. At least as things stand today. Guys like South Alabama outfielder Will Turner, Louisiana shortstop Kyle DeBarge and College of Charleston first baseman Cole Mathis can be found on most Top-100 lists at this stage too.

But we’re going to go deeper.

Let’s focus on guys you won’t find inside the Top 100 on most public boards. Let’s focus on five players with tremendous underlying metrics and intangibles found in their film that suggest they could jump from reasonable obscurity into potential day one talents come July.

 

Ivan Brethowr, OF — UC Santa Barbara

Brethowr is a mountain of a man. Towering over the opposition, the product of Overland Park, Kansas is a 6-foot-6-inch, 240-pound outfielder with the subsequent physicality you’d expect from a player of his stature. In 46 games as a sophomore in 2023, Brethowr slashed .311/.408/.571 with 11 homers and 8 stolen bases. His production landed him a cup of coffee with Brewster on the Cape where he’d log just 26 plate appearances over seven games posting a .100/.308/.100 line.

Many expect the baseball card figures to improve further in 2024. Brethowr’s exit velocity figures last year were loud. His max exit velocity touched nearly 113 mph and his 90th-percentile exit velocity sat at 108.5 mph, good for Top-50 in college baseball. The contact rate has room to grow, and Brethowr’s chase rate is a little high, but he’s entering a season where he should see consistent reps out the gate, something he hasn’t been able to firmly claim until this year. Players his size generally have more trouble handling velocity at the top of the zone. That is not a hole in Brethowr’s swing. Covering spin at the bottom of the zone is an area he will need to work to improve.

Couple the physical upside with an above average throwing arm and solid average speed and the traits exist for a breakout campaign. Brethowr currently ranks as the 89th-best prospect in the 2024 Draft according to FSS Plus.

 

Zander Darby, 3B — UC Santa Barbara

Darby is precisely how you draw them up. He’s a 6-foot-3-inch, 205-pound left-handed hitter who can handle the hot corner with confidence. Over 55 games last season Darby slashed .288/.383/.465 with 7 homers and 8 stolen bases. He struck out just 15.5 percent of the time. That steady performance landed him a contract with Yarmouth-Dennis on the Cape this past summer where he slashed .292/.404/.407 with three homers. He struck out just 16.7 percent of the time and walked almost as much as he punched out.

Darby’s underlying data is very, very good. He posted a contact rate north of 82 percent and a chase rate south of 17 percent. His in-zone contact rate approached 90 percent and his exit velocity figures with a wood bat this summer point to a guy who could blossom into more of a power hitter. While he’s unlikely to ever be considered a slugger, Darby has the polish at the plate and the physique as prerequisites to build upon.

This is a guy that seems to understand the game and plays it the right way. He’s got a strong internal clock and enough arm strength and lateral mobility to stay on the dirt as a pro. Whether that be a second base or third base, the floor for Darby is awfully appealing. He currently ranks as the 100th-best prospect in the 2024 MLB Draft at FSS Plus.

 

Jacob Friend, C — Davidson

Friend burst onto the scene from reasonable obscurity in 2023 posting a .277/.465/.561 slash with 11 homers and just seven more strikeouts than walks. He’s split his time behind the plate and in the outfield across his collegiate career, though most like what they’ve seen at catcher and think he’s got a shot to stick back there as a pro. A powerful left-handed hitter, Friend has a chance to develop into the most intimidating bat in the Atlantic 10 this spring.

Again, the metrics here are strong. The 77 percent contact rate should jump in 2024 considering just how selective a hitter friend is. His 11 percent chase rate was among the best in college baseball in 2023. That selectivity should lend well toward a jump in overall bat-to-ball performance with added reps. Friend’s exit velocity figures are gaudy too. His 93.7 mph average exit velocity points toward a tremendous feel for the barrel. For reference, Florida masher Jac Caglianone also posted a 93.7 mph average exit velocity in 2023. Friend is quite pull-happy and he’s currently tapping into considerable power to right field. As is probably predictable, Friend’s ability to create impact on pitches on the outer-third of the zone will need to improve in 2024. He pummels everything on the inner-third.

A universe exists where Friend goes gangbusters in 2024 and presents himself something similar to Dodgers 2022 second round pick Dalton Rushing this spring. They’re eerily similar players with similar swings and offensive profiles, though Rushing probably gets a small nod in terms of confidence to stick behind the plate long-term. Friend currently ranks as the 175th-best prospect in the 2024 Draft at FSS Plus, though behind the scenes he’s primed to jump close to 50 spots during the next update after a loud fall.

 

Robert Hipwell, 3B — Santa Clara

Hipwell just looks the part of a future full-time third baseman at the next level. He’s a 6-foot-2-inch, 215-pound infielder with a bulldog frame and a physicality about his profile that immediately catches the eye. His .329/.500/.706 slash with 14 homers last season helped lead the Broncos to a 36-20 campaign.

While the 74 percent contact rate is more middle of the road, it’s his 17 percent chase rate and 87 percent in-zone contact rate that has scouts and analysts bullish on the future upside. As has been the narrative with those above him on this list, continued reps should allow those underlying swing metrics to shine. The whiff rate should fall and Hipwell’s slash line could get louder. His 92.5 average exit velocity and 106.3 mph 90th-percentile exit velocity point to a guy with strong barrel awareness and an ability to manipulate the fat part of the bat through the zone. Hipwell will need to improve his ability to handle velocity, especially at the top of the zone, but there’s a lot to like in the overall offensive profile here.

While he’ll miss a good chunk of the 2024 season, if Hipwell returns in April and showcases strong attention to detail on the dirt and improved hands at third base, his bat should help cement his name as a Top-5 round pick. If he makes considerable strides in the areas mentioned above, he’s got a chance to go in the top three rounds. Hipwell currently ranks as the 188th-best college prospect in the 2024 Draft at FSS Plus. He is scheduled to jump into the Top-175 overall prospects on the next update after a loud fall.

 

Zack Stewart, OF — Missouri State

Missouri State has quietly turned into a powerhouse breeding ground for big draft prospects over the last several years and 2024 is no different with Stewart in the fold. A 6-foot-2-inch, 220-pound outfielder, the pride of Lebanon, Missouri boasts traits few can match. A .302/.370/.563 slash with 12 homers helped put Stewart on the map last year.

Juice is the name of the game here. An average exit velocity north of 94 mph, and 90th-percentile exit velocity around 108 mph and a max exit velocity of 112 mph points to a guy with very real bat speed. Stewart has thus far shown below average bat-to-ball skills with a contact rate just south of 70 percent and a chase rate just north of 24 percent. But those figures could improve and the power could take centerstage this spring in the eyes of scouts. After all, Arizona OF Chase Davis saw his whiff rate drop more than ten percentage points from 2022 to 2023. If that same things happens for Stewart, his name could vault into the Top 100 prospects for the draft.

Stewart is a big, barrel-chested outfielder, though he’s had some run at third base where he’s shown so-so actions on the dirt. He does have a strong throwing arm, but his footwork and technique at third base will have to improve. It’s more than likely a power-over-everything profile that probably fits best in right field at the next level. Stewart currently ranks as the 173rd-best prospect in the 2024 Draft at FSS Plus, but will need to show more polish at the plate to keep that Top-5 round projection in the spring.

Joe Doyle
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