Prospects In Person: Rutgers University

April 15, 2024

While the Rutgers University baseball program has a lot more to watch than it has in recent memory under the leadership of Steve Owens, there will be an increasing amount of eyes on one player as we get closer to the 2024 MLB Draft.

Shortstop Josh Kuroda-Grauer has skyrocketed up FSS Plus analyst Joe Doyle’s just-released Top 400 MLB Draft prospects list, moving up a stunning 105 spots to No. 52 after entering the season most rankings somewhere between the 100-150 range.

Doyle writes, in part, “Kuroda-Grauer has been a force for Rutgers in his two years with the program hitting for average, a bit of power, and displaying one of the most impressive eyes at the plate in college baseball…the narrative here is a polished pure hitter with fringy tools in terms of power and speed, but a reliable glove that can be deployed anywhere on the field.”

FSS Plus was on hand to see “JKG” twice during the Scarlet Knights stunning series win over the University of Nebraska, and here are some thoughts and video on players who popped during that time.

Josh Kuroda-Grauer, SS (No.52 FSS Plus 2024 MLB Draft Prospect)

This isn’t our first look at Rutgers this year and, like most, I was probably light on JKG my first time seeing him. We recently got a pro ball look at Brice Matthews, who tore up the Big Ten last year with Nebraska and ended up going in the back end of the first round to the Houston Astros last year. Kuroda-Grauer is likely a more complete player than Matthews — although he’ll also likely not reach the power potential that Matthews has and showed in his 2023 college campaign — and is going to be a really intriguing player for teams to evaluate heading into the Draft.

Main concern first time seeing him was as a defender, as a few hard-hit balls he tried to pick instead of getting more square and knocking down caused him problems. There are also concerns over whether the arm keeps him at shortstop long term, which I think have some validity. Very much so has the athleticism and instincts to stick there, however.

There isn’t much he can’t do on the offensive side of the ball: Exceptional discipline at the plate, hits to all fields, has in-game gap power, plus runner, good instincts on basepaths…gets lauded for improvements to his game as a whole from start of his collegiate career.

No-doubt pro with a chance for some impact when he gets there. How that looks and where that ends up in the field remain to be seen. But his stock is rising for a reason.

Tony Santa Maria, 3B (No. 362, 2024)

Santa Maria is the type of player scouts will take notice of if they’re going there solely to see JKG. He’s not the only one like that, but we’ll get to that in a minute. A draft-eligible redshirt sophomore who missed most of last season due to injury, the five-foot-eleven, 195-pounder has seen the vast majority of his time at Rutgers at third base, with a handful of time at second base mixed in.

Doyle writes “an aggressive hitter with an all fields, line drive stroke, Santa Maria packs a surprising punch in his undersized frame. He’s added 20 pounds over the last two years recovering from a shoulder injury, but looks considerably stronger in 2024 and has shown flashes of the impact he’s capable of going back to 2022.”

Santa Maria has an advanced approach at the plate, and shows the “all fields” element of it with an extraordinary piece of hitting that you see in that video, when he takes a slider on the outer half the other way. High-effort defender at third, but as Doyle also notes, second may be the future for him at the next level. Not sure there’s enough arm there to keep him at the hot corner. Solid pickup as a polished college bat for someone in the later rounds of the Draft.

Christian Coppola, RHP(No. 93, FSS Plus 2025 MLB Draft college prospects)

Coppola was probably the most disappointing watch of the weekend, and the stuff seemed down from what others have seen in the past, particularly with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. Ranked at No. 93 in Doyle’s early-March look at the Top 200 college prospects for the 2025 MLB Draft, Doyle noted at the time that “he’ll work up to 93 but sits a tick or two below that in most cases with unique angles and steepness.

Coppola’s slider and changeup both wreak havoc on the opposition with massive whiff rates and well above-average chase rates. If he can continue to add velocity and throw strikes, he’s got first round upside.”

On Sunday, his highly-anticipated matchup with Drew Christo fizzled out a bit, as he was yanked after three-plus innings after allowing three runs on six hits — including a long homer off the bat of ’24 Draft prospect Dylan Carey — and three walks while striking out two. He sat at 88-90 miles per hour on the radar gun, and was very offspeed-heavy in his mix. The curveball was effective on inner half to righties. With that, there didn’t seem to be a true out pitch here.

His season statistics are somewhat reflective off perhaps a down time in his trajectory (6.58 ERA, 1.765 WHIP, 29/41 BB/K and 6 HRA in 39.2 IP). Was expecting more “now” for someone with the kind of upside he showed last year.

Trevor Cohen, OF (No. 116, FSS Plus 2025 MLB Draft college prospects)

Likely a prototypical leadoff man for someone in pro ball, with a lefty bat that can handle any position in the outfield with multiple tools to play with.

Coming in at No. 116 in Doyle’s 2025 MLB Draft Top 200 college prospect rankings, he writes: “Cohen is a table-setter who makes a ton of contact at the top of the order. He boasts enough speed to be a threat on the bases, and has a shot to stick in centerfield at the professional level. He’s gotten bigger and stronger during his time on campus and has continued to marginally add impact at the plate.”

Has always been a high on-base guy with impressive BB/K numbers. .853 OBP this year reflects that. Downside here is there isn’t much pop to speak of and likely never will be; Cohen feels on the smaller side despite being listed at six-foot-one and 195 pounds, and that lack of power may hurt how much he can ultimately rise as we get to the next Draft process.

Cameron Love, 2B

Yet another player who may pop for scouts who are there to see others. Hit tool stands out on the back of the baseball card, but Love is a plus defender with impressive range who has served as Rutgers regular second baseman and would make for an excellent utility man for someone.

Six-foot, 190-pound senior, righty bat. Average runner, but hustles and is aggressive on basepaths with good instincts. Might not be a huge pro future here, but he’s earned a look as a sink-or-swim guy for someone as a last two-three rounds or priority UDFA sign.

Justin Sinibaldi, LHP

For all intents and purposes, Sinibaldi is the Scarlet Knights staff ace, a big six-foot-four, 220-pound southpaw senior who showed why on Friday night. He battled through seven innings to keep No. 21 Nebraska limited to three runs (two earned) on five hits and two walks, striking out three.

Deliberate, long-in-the-back delivery that generates 88-91 on the gun, touching 92. Feel for multiple pitches. Again, as scouts continue to descend to see the bigger names, others may get a look because of it. He wouldn’t be out of place in pro ball, and brings value as a versatile lefty.

Jackson Natili, C

Natili is a true freshman and wouldn’t be eligible until the 2026 MLB Draft, but has shown some flashes that he’ll be on the radar for that when the time comes. Six-foot-four, 195-pounder from the right side at the plate. Has some power to the pull side gap, as evidenced by his home run on Sunday.

Has the arm to stick behind the plate, but the receiving skills seem to very much so be a work in progress. With some of his value tied to the current position, how his stock fluctuates will be dictated by his evolution at it, but he’s worth a watch.

Mike Ashmore
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