10 players who stood out at this year's MLB Draft Combine

Led by a shortstop who could go No. 1 in this year's draft, here are the players who improved their stock the most this week in Phoenix

PHOENIX — The fourth annual MLB Draft Combine is winding down this weekend at Chase Field, with players undergoing their final physical evaluations and conducting last-minute interviews with teams. In a little more than four weeks, the Cleveland Guardians will be on the clock with the first overall pick in the 2024 MLB Draft, with 20 rounds of picks to follow over the next two days.

Here are 10 players who caught my attention this week in Phoenix, either in conversations or with their on-field performances.

Perhaps it was a coincidence that for the first time all season, Wetherholt was projected to go first overall in two different prominent mock drafts this week (Baseball America and ESPN). But it felt like Wetherholt’s presence in Phoenix, particularly as the lone member of the elite tier of eight college players in attendance, helped recenter him as a legitimate candidate to hear his name called first on July 14.

It was fascinating to hear Wetherholt talk about his confidence in his ability to play shortstop at the next level, as that is a crucial part of his profile that could help distinguish him from the other players vying for the top pick. While we’ve still got a long way to go until draft night and plenty of factors to consider beyond a handful of interviews and TV appearances at the Combine, it seems clear that Wetherholt is indeed in the mix to go 1.1 — just as we anticipated six months ago.

Brecht also stood out among our conversations with potential first-round picks as a player who believes he is just scratching the surface of his potential — quite the notion for a pitcher who racked up 282 strikeouts over his 178 innings as a Hawkeye. I was particularly struck by Brecht’s comments on the adjustments he made in the middle of this season, including discussions with a mental skills coach outside the Iowa program, that helped him finish so strong down the stretch and reestablish himself as a candidate to hear his name called in the top half of the first round. If Brecht is right, and there is indeed another level he can reach in pro ball, he has the potential to be the best pitcher in this draft.

You can listen to our conversation with Brecht in the latest edition of Baseball Bar-B-Cast:

After watching these two hulking sluggers smash so many memorable dingers in ballparks across the SEC over the past two seasons, it was very fun to watch them showcase their juice in a big-league ballpark at the Combine. Jones delivered the highest single exit velocity of the week, with a 113.4 mph, 423-foot home run to left, while Hines cranked a number of memorable moon shots to right field, including a 442-foot rocket that landed near the top of the seats.

Although the lefty-hitting Hines boasts the preferred handedness, Jones, a draft-eligible sophomore, is the superior prospect. He markedly improved across the board in his second season in Baton Rouge, cutting down on his strikeouts by nearly 10 percentage points while continuing to walk at an exceptionally high rate, further enabling him to consistently tap into his epic raw power (.747 SLG%, 28 HR). Meanwhile, Hines has been roughly the same player for three years in Starkville. Look for Jones to go in the third to fifth round, while Hines might wait until later on Day 2.

Before the Combine, I tabbed Nebraska third baseman Kale Fountain as the strongest candidate among the high school class to stand out during the Trackman-monitored BP sessions. While Fountain did show well, with seven batted balls with at least 107 mph exit velocity, Harlan, another prep third baseman, stole the show with a few particularly prodigious blasts of his own. His best bolt — a 112.4 mph, 453.4-foot home run — earned Harlan the second-highest exit velocity (behind only Jones) and farthest projected distance on a batted ball at the Combine.

A Clemson commit from eastern Pennsylvania, Harlan isn’t quite as big as Fountain, but he brings a similarly impactful, right-handed swing, albeit one that comes with concerns about making enough contact. In a BP setting, though, Harlan could really let loose and focus on launching balls. We’ll find out next month if he raised his stock enough this spring to start his pro career or if he’ll be terrorizing ACC pitching for the next three years instead.

While Brecht’s transition away from the gridiron has been well-documented, Boettcher — a linebacker for the Ducks who was only a part-time player on the baseball team before this year — has flown almost completely under the radar. But that might be about to change. Boettcher was a full participant in the on-field Combine activities, taking BP on Wednesday before running through the litany of strength and conditioning assessments on Thursday.

Previously a late-inning defensive replacement in the outfield, Boettcher played in more games this spring (55) than he had over his first three seasons in Eugene (53) and delivered by far his best all-around campaign. He took a huge step forward offensively (.872 OPS, 12 HR, 15 SB), and the standout defense in center field for which he was already known was rewarded earlier this week with a Rawlings Gold Glove Award as one of the premier defenders in Division I baseball.

Turning 22 next month, Boettcher is a bit older than the average college prospect, but his relatively short track record on the diamond and obvious athleticism would seem to suggest a degree of untapped potential if baseball is indeed about to become his full-time focus. For a player who was on virtually zero industry draft boards during the season, this would be quite a breakthrough, even as a later-round pick. Keep an eye on this one.

If not for a disappointing season for the Fighting Camels that saw them miss the NCAA postseason for the first time since 2017 and nagging injuries that cost him nearly all of April and May, Knipp likely would’ve been in more of the national college baseball spotlight down the stretch. The ultra-strong catcher and occasional closer was off to a ridiculous start to his senior campaign, with 18 homers in just 29 games with a laugh-out-loud 1.576 OPS.

Well, whatever was hampering him physically in the second half seems to have dissipated, as Knipp reemerged in Phoenix to deliver the loudest two-way performance of any player in attendance, with a BP session that featured a 111.5 mph, 404-foot home run and a bullpen during which his four-seam fastball averaged 96.8 mph. Knipp turns 23 in November, so he won’t have much leverage in negotiating with big-league clubs. But his Combine showing was an emphatic reminder of the pure tools at his disposal, and I’m eager to see which team gives him the chance to further establish his prospect stock in pro ball — and, of course, how they choose to utilize him.

Ten years ago, a high school arm as high-octane as Gregory-Alford’s would’ve gotten more mainstream attention. But exceptional velocity has become so commonplace that the novelty of a teenager throwing 100 mph has, somehow, somewhat worn off. Still, it was cool to see the massive right-hander from Colorado back up his reputation as one of the hardest throwers in this year’s class. Gregory-Alford was the lone hurler who threw off the Chase Field mound this week and touched 100 mph, with his four-seamer averaging 96.5 mph during his mound session.

While this year’s high school position-player group is considerably worse than in recent drafts, a sneaky strength of this year’s class is the wealth of high school arms who could realistically command seven-figure signing bonuses. Gregory-Alford, a University of Virginia commit, is right in the thick of that demographic, with most outlets pegging him in the third-round range, with a small chance to sneak into the end of Day 1.

Among the college arms, it was Colleran whose high-end heat stood out during this week’s bullpen sessions. One of the top pitchers in the 2021 Massachusetts high school class, Colleran matriculated to Northeastern, where he found some success out of the bullpen as a freshman before an elbow injury necessitated Tommy John surgery, wiping out the entirety of his sophomore year.

Back on the mound for his junior year, Colleran struggled to the tune of a 7.97 ERA in 20 appearances for the Huskies this spring, but the stuff always looked leaps and bounds better than the results. That’s not to say he was strictly unlucky; there is serious development that needs to take place with his command and depth of his arsenal as he enters the pro ranks, even if he is going to be a reliever.

But Colleran unsurprisingly shined in the showcase setting of the Combine. He threw both a four-seamer and a sinker with each touching 99 mph, as well as a sharp, low-90s cutter. With the right tweaks by the right organization, it’s not hard to envision Colleran pitching in a big-league bullpen in the not-so-distant future.

In recent years, Canada has consistently produced a handful of early-round draft picks, and a few of this year’s best amateur prospects from north of the border were in attendance this week in Phoenix. Among them is Flewelling, whose impressive spring and strong showing at the Combine have made him a late entrant into the top tier of this year’s class of talented Canadian prepsters.

A well-built, left-handed catcher who caught three innings of the high school showcase game on Tuesday, Flewelling also showed well in batting practice, with a line drive that left the bat at 112.4 mph, tied with Harlan for the second-highest mark of any hitter who took BP. What makes Flewelling’s all-around skill set especially impressive is the fact that he’s one of the youngest players in the entire 2024 draft, as he doesn’t turn 18 until November. We’ve seen a good number of prospects hail from Ontario and Quebec, but Flewelling’s roots in Alberta make him even more unique. If he doesn’t go pro later this summer, he’s committed to play collegiately at Gonzaga.