Vanderbilt trio among coveted MLB draft prospects

If you're seeking top prospects for the upcoming MLB draft, look no further than Vanderbilt - a college with a smart-kid reputation and growing status as a destination for big-league hopefuls.

Three players from the Southeastern Conference school - shortstop Dansby Swanson and pitchers Walker Buehler and Carson Fulmer - are expected to be first-round selections.

Other prospects in the draft that starts Monday include big college arms who've excelled as starters and closers, prep stars and talented players trying to prove themselves after injuries.

The three Commodores are trying to join an expanding list of Vanderbilt alumni in the big leagues, including pitchers David Price, Sonny Gray and Mike Minor, along with infielders Pedro Alvarez and Ryan Flaherty.

Swanson - who could realistically be selected No. 1 overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks - said Vanderbilt was an ideal place to prepare for the draft.

''(Vanderbilt) does a really good job of mixing the physical part of baseball with the academic and social aspects of life,'' Swanson said. ''After you've been here a few years, you become pretty good at managing things.''

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior has sent expectations soaring about his baseball future after an outstanding spring. He's batting .348 with 22 doubles, 14 homers and 15 stolen bases as the Commodores try to repeat as NCAA national champions.

Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said Swanson's physical ability combined with his intelligence and intangibles make him a nearly flawless prospect.

''It's a powerful mind matched with a powerful body,'' Corbin said. ''He's very intuitive on the field.''

Buehler, a wiry 6-foot-2 right-hander, dealt with some elbow soreness early in the season, but bounced back to have a solid junior season, including a 4-2 record, 2.97 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 78 2/3 innings.

Fulmer, a 6-foot-0, 195-pound right-hander, might be the most divisive among scouts. He's been one of the best starters in college baseball this spring with a 12-2 record, a 1.92 ERA and 147 strikeouts, but his violent delivery lead some to believe his future might be in the bullpen.

With three major prospects on the roster, scouts have flocked to Vanderbilt's games this season. Swanson said the constant pressure to perform can sometimes be taxing, but when he needs encouragement, he knows Buehler and Fulmer can relate.

''It's always nice having a few people around who know exactly what you're going through,'' Swanson said.

Other players to watch when the MLB draft begins next week:

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RODGERS AMONG ELITE PREP PROSPECTS

Orlando, Florida, shortstop Brendan Rodgers has emerged as one of the nation's top prep prospects. Rodgers' high school coach Allen Tuttle said the 6-foot-1, 185-pound shortstop is ''a special all-around player who has a tremendous arm and surprising power.''

Rodgers hit eight homers this spring for Lake Mary High School, Tuttle said.

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COLLEGE ARMS

UC Santa Barbara's Dillon Tate and Illinois left-hander Tyler Jay are among the pitchers who could also be selected early in the first round. Tate, a right-hander, struck out 111 batters this season for UC Santa Barbara and allowed only 66 hits over 103 1/3 innings in 14 starts after transitioning from last year's role as the Gauchos' closer.

Jay has been unstoppable out of the bullpen for the Fighting Illini - he has 14 saves, a 0.60 ERA and 70 strikeouts over 60 1/3 innings.

Other college pitchers to watch: Louisville RHP Kyle Funkhouser, Missouri State RHP Jon Harris.

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INJURED BUT INTRIGUING

Last year's No. 1 pick, Brady Aiken, and Duke's Michael Matuella would have likely been among the top 10 picks this year before elbow injuries forced both pitchers to have Tommy John surgery. Neither is a sure bet to go in the first round on Monday, but it's a possibility both could hear their name called.

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OTHERS TO WATCH

LSU shortstop Alex Bregman has been one of the college game's most consistent performers the last three seasons. He's hitting .318 this season with 22 doubles, nine homers and 35 stolen bases and also provides solid defense ... Arkansas outfielder Andrew Benintendi has had a huge season to rise into first-round consideration. The draft-eligible sophomore outfielder is batting .390 with 18 homers and 22 stolen bases ... Prep catcher Tyler Stephenson, who is from Kennesaw, Georgia, has impressed scouts with his size and raw power.

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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