clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2023 MAC Baseball Offseason: The Major League Baseball Amateur Draft

Several MAC baseballers got the call they’ve waited their whole lives to hear last week, signing with various Major League Baseball clubs.

James H. Jimenez

The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft was July 9th-11th, and nine MAC players were selected over the three days. To be draft-eligible, players must have completed their junior season or be 21 years old, whichever happens first.

Players can also be drafted after they graduate from high school before enrolling in college. Unsigned high school players can be redrafted after going to college for three seasons, and unsigned college juniors can be redrafted the next season.

Drafting prospects is always risky in baseball, far more than the other major sports. Every player is at least one season from big league playing time. Occasionally a player comes along like Paul Skenes that looks MLB-ready in college, but the rookie contract structure incentivizes teams to keep prospects in the minors.

The draft itself is 20 rounds, and only the first two to three rounds are where there is confidence in the prospect making the major league team. After that, the prospect has one or two qualities to his game that are MLB-ready or could be MLB-quality. Every team has made major investments in player development and they do what they can to turn 15th-round picks into contributors at the major league level.

I don’t have access to some of the data that MLB teams use to evaluate prospects (exit velocity, spin rate, pitch velocity), but from what I do have I’ll take a stab at what the drafting team is using as their justification for drafting the best the MAC has to offer.

Joe Whitman, Kent State

Draft Info
Position: Starting Pitcher Drafted By: San Francisco Giants
Round: Second Compensation Overall: 69th

Joe Whitman, the MAC Pitcher of the Year, was the first player off the board for the Mid-American Conference. The lefty was initially a Purdue recruit but it just never worked in West Lafayette or in the summer league in between his two seasons there. Something clicked the summer before heading to Kent State, however.

In a combined 26.1 innings pitched in two different leagues, he struck out 24 batters to five walks and eight earned runs. That carried over to his one season with the Golden Flashes. He struck out 11.1 batters per nine innings in 81 innings and had a 1.14 WHIP.

The Giants clearly liked his low 90’s fastball and mid 80’s slider coming from the left side. He’s got the size, which is pretty much a minimum requirement these days, but could fill in and develop the fastball even further. He was the third player selected by the Giants and will show up at rookie ball with some expectations.

Trennor O’Donnell, Ball State

Draft Info
Position: Starting Pitcher Drafted By: Boston Red Sox
Round: 8th Overall: 238th

Trennor O’Donnell pitched the most impressive complete game of the season in the MAC Tournament to get Ball State one win away from the national tournament. His career at Ball State has been full of pressure moments like that one, starting the single elimination game for the MAC Championship in 2022 and starting game one of the Lexington Regional this summer.

When Boston looked at O’Donnell the first thing they, or anyone, noticed is the six-foot-seven frame and a big fastball to go with it. He mainly worked fastball and slider in college and used them to post a 2.93 ERA in 92 innings this season. He was the ace of a good Ball State staff and struck out 9.5 hitters per nine innings. He’s got the arm to throw more than 100 pitches in a game and the stuff to be effective from start to finish. The Red Sox player development team should be very excited to see what they can do to help O’Donnell climb the farm system.

Ryan Brown, Ball State

Draft Info
Position: Relief Pitcher Drafted By: Los Angeles Dodgers
Round: 9th Overall: 280th

Ryan Brown was the MAC Freshman Pitcher of the Year in 2022 and has been a strikeout machine his entire college career.

Ball State recruited him from Harrison Township in Michigan and was the second pitcher taken from the staff in the ‘23 draft. In 2022, Brown made 20 appearances for 46.1 innings and struck out 65 batters. Injuries shortened his 2023 campaign, but in the 28.1 innings he did pitch he struck out 56 including a stretch to open the season where he struck out 27 of 33 batters faced. He gave up one hit in those 33 plate appearances.

It’s clear what the Dodgers see in Brown. He has a fastball that sits low 90’s but can get up to 96 and a Vulcan changeup that disappears as it gets to the plate. He struggles with command at times but there won’t be a better place to get that adjusted than with the LA Dodgers and their resources.

Jeron Williams, Toledo

Draft Info
Position: Short Stop Drafted By: Houston Astros
Round: 9th Overall: 284th

Jeron Williams found his way to Toledo after starting his college career at Lincoln Trail Community College for the partial 2020 season and 2021. Williams continually added power at the plate throughout college and played excellent defense. In 2022 he made the All-MAC Defensive team and had an .814 OPS with three home runs.

Williams exploded in 2023, showing everything that a team would want to see from a position player. He hit .403 with a .681 slugging percentage and an OPS of 1.148, and paired paired that with 14 home runs, 16 doubles and 49 stolen bases.

That’s high-level baseball, and the Astros noticed. It’s going to come down to how well he adjusts to facing professional pitching on a nightly basis. The tools are there, but the path is a lot harder than what he’s faced to this point.

Ty Johnson, Ball State

Draft Info
Position: Starting Pitcher Drafted By: Chicago Cubs
Round: 15th Overall: 446th

Ty Johnson was the #4 recruit in Indiana when he signed with Ball State and threw 91 as a senior. His ERA dropped every year as a college pitcher but that wasn’t a good indicator of his effectiveness as a pitcher.

Just like the other Ball State draftees, his stuff is excellent. The six-foot-six righty struck out 178 batters in 157 innings with the Cardinals and 11.4 per nine innings in his final season. He struggled with walks during his college career, but that didn’t stop the Cubs from giving Johnson a shot.

The fastball has added a couple of miles per hour while at Ball State, and his fastball-slider combination was good enough to get college hitters out. Swing-and-miss stuff is hard to develop at the professional level. Johnson has it and the Cubs think he’s worth bringing into the farm system.

Justin Miknis, Kent State

Draft Info
Position: Catcher Drafted By: Pittsburgh Pirates
Round: 16th Overall: 467th

Catcher is a unique position in baseball. It is a defense-first position, especially as long as pitch framing, calling pitches and working with pitchers continue to be things catchers need to do. Bad defensive catchers give away free bases to base runners via pass balls or their inability to throw out base stealers.

Justin Miknis was a first-team all-MAC catcher in 2023 and second-team in 2021. In 2022, he made the All-Defensive team. Suffice to say defense won’t be an issue for Miknis at the next level.

The tool that got him drafted by the Pirates is his hit tool. If he can continue to develop in the minors, the Pirates have a rare catcher that is an offensive asset.

At Kent State, Miknis was a three-year starter and hit .319 with 42 doubles and 20 home runs. A high average with a lot of doubles means that Miknis hits line drives all over the place all the time. Sometimes they get in between outfielders and sometimes they don’t, but high doubles is a great sign of a good hitter. His strikeouts were a bit concerning in ‘22 at 21 percent, but in ‘23 Miknis cut them down to 15 percent. He’s a late-round draft pick that will need to take advantage of his at bats to make sure he gets the chance to continue to develop.

Luke Russo, Eastern Michigan

Draft Info
Position: Starting Pitcher Drafted By: Philadelphia Phillies
Round: 16th Overall: 493rd

Luke Russo was recruited from Howell, Michigan to Eastern Michigan and turned one great season in 2023 into getting drafted. In 2023, Russo finished his degree and threw a career-high 78 innings for the Eagles. In those 78 innings, he struck out 12.3 batters per nine innings and walked 2.9 over nine innings. His previous two seasons weren’t bad, but they were light on work.

In 2021, he threw 10 innings and in 2022 he got 22.1 innings and his first collegiate starts. He struck out 40 batters in the 32.1 innings, so the stuff has always been there, just not the innings.

With his degree finished, Russo entered the transfer portal and landed with UNC before the Phillies selected him in the 16th round. If Russo keeps missing bats, he’ll have a shot in the Phillies farm system.

Connor Oliver, Miami

Draft Info
Position: Starting Pitcher Drafted By: Kansas City Royals
Round: 17th Overal: 499th

Connor Oliver was second in the MAC in total strikeouts in 2023 and made the all-MAC second team in his only season at Miami. He’s another MAC pitcher with strikeout stuff that an MLB team thinks is worth a shot in the farm system. He’s great value in the 17th round and some of the best stuff in the MAC.

His path to being drafted was not an easy one. He started his freshman season at Wichita State before it was cut short by the pandemic. Oliver transferred to Wabash Valley Community College and dominated in one season. He posted a 1.87 ERA with 14.4 strikeouts per nine and low walks, 2.5 per nine. He turned that into one season at TCU that didn’t work out, and ended his college career at Miami.

He struggled with command the last two years, but if the Royals can get his stuff under control and keep it sharp, he might not be long for A ball.

Aidan Longwell, Kent State

Draft Info
Position: First Base Drafted By: Colorado Rockies
Round: 17th Overal: 502nd

Aidan Longwell is the third position player taken in the MLB draft from MAC schools, this time by the Colorado Rockies.

He was a two-way player at Kent State, but used primarily as a first baseman. His OPS grew roughly 300 points each season and he finished 2023 with a .652 slugging percentage.

He has the same hitting archetype as his teammate, Justin Miknis. With 23 doubles, 10 home runs and a .403 batting average in his final season, he was a complete college hitter. The icing on the cake is more walks than strikeouts in 2023 which is a good indicator of plate discipline. Bad plate discipline can lead to bad at bats and limited playing time. It’s a skill that will serve Longwell well in the minors.

His pitching was good this year in restricted innings. He was Kent State’s mid-week pitcher for a portion of the season and had a 1.45 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 18 innings. Longwell gives himself many ways to hang around and earn promotions in the Rockies farm system.

Undrafted Free Agent Signings:

Three pitchers were signed after the draft which is becoming more common after the draft was shortened to 20 rounds with the last CBA. Two more Miami RedHawks signed and Ty Weatherly from Ball State. They all have the same selling point: Good stuff and a lot of strikeouts.

  • Kenten Egbert, SP, Miami to Chicago Cubs.
  • Hudson Leach, SP, Miami to Houston Astros.
  • Ty Weatherly, SP, Ball State to Baltimore Orioles.