The 2016 MLB draft has come and gone, but it's never too soon to think about the 2017 class. It is only 360 or so days away, after all.
It’s important to remember that a lot of the names you see below will have their stock change dramatically in that time. Therefore, this is not meant to be a wholesale look at what the class will offer, but instead a peek at what the players teams will most be keeping an eye on throughout the summer season and various showcase events.
With those caveats in mind, let’s take a look at some of the players to know in advance of the 2017 MLB draft. They are presented in alphabetical order in each of four different groupings: high school hitters and pitchers and college hitters and pitchers.
Jordon Adell, OF/RHP, Ballard High (Louisville, Ky.)
Every class has a player that intrigues scouts both on the mound and with the bat, and in 2017, that player could be Adell. His fastball has been clocked in the mid 90s, but most believe the mound is not where his future lies. Indeed, he has shown the potential to hit for average and also be a stalwart with the glove in centerfield. If Adell's offense proves disappointing, he can always be moved to the mound later—a nice consolation prize, but don't expect that to happen.
Alejandro Toral, 1B, Archbishop McCarthy High (Davie, Fla.)
Prep first baseman aren't often drafted early, but Toral has massive power potential from the left side, and his smooth swing gives him a chance to hit for average as well. Being a first baseman puts a lot of pressure on a young man’s bat, but Toral just might be worth it.
Cole Turney, OF, William B. Travis High (Richmond, Texas)
On paper, Turney is the best player in the Lone Star State: He has excellent bat speed that should help him hit for power as he fills out and might have a plus hit tool when it’s all said and done. If there’s a high-floor prep hitter in the 2017 class, it’s Turney.
Mark Vientos, SS, Flanagan High (Pembroke Pines, Fla.)
Vientos is not universally rated as the top high school bat in the class, but he has a chance to hit for average and power while playing a premium position, giving him as much upside as any prep hitter. If he moves to third base he could be a standout defender, but someone will give this young man a chance to stay in the middle of the infield.
Hans Crouse, RHP, Dana Hills (Calif.) High
The Golden State is loaded once again, and even if Crouse gets overshadowed by the other names in this group, there’s plenty to like about him. He’s more a project than a pitcher at this point, but he already touches 95 mph because of his elite arm strength, and his heater could be plus-plus when he fills out. Everything else is very much a work in progress, but he’s flashed an above-average curveball and—on rare occasions—a useable changeup. At least in terms of upside, Crouse competes with any prep hurler in the 2017 class.
Hagen Danner, RHP, Huntington Beach (Calif.) High
Danner doesn’t have quite the same velocity as Hunter Greene (below), but he shows a quality breaking-ball and the makings of a solid changeup. He’s also a player who some scouts believe could become a major league shortstop someday, but it’d be shocking if Danner doesn't remain as a pitcher.
Hunter Greene, RHP, Notre Dame High (Sherman Oaks, Calif.)
The top prep arm on many boards to start the year will be Greene, who touches 96 mph and oozes athleticism; he plays shortstop when he’s not on the mound. He’s also shown a plus curveball, and if he can throw his changeup with more consistency, he has a real chance to be a top-10 pick.
D.L. Hall, LHP, Houston County High (Warner-Robbins, Ga.)
Teams that like southpaws with an advanced feel for pitching and still show quality stuff are really going to like Hall. He’s not overpowering, but he’ll get his fastball up to 94 mph and show a plus curveball that he can locate for strikes. He doesn’t match the upside of Danner or Greene, but he does have one of the highest floors of any prep in the class.
KJ Harrison, C, Oregon State
The Beavers are annually one of the best baseball teams in the country, and in Harrison, they have one of the nation's top hitting prospects. There is plus power potential in his righthanded bat, and while he doesn’t have the patience of fellow collegiate catcher JJ Schwarz, he might have a better chance at hitting for average because of his hand-eye coordination. Scouts are very mixed as to whether or not Harrison will be able to stay behind the plate, but he’s good enough offensively that he could be a regular at first base.
Jeren Kendall, CF, Vanderbilt
Last year’s group of college bats was one of the best we’ve seen in the decade, but this year’s group has a chance to be even better. Kendall starts the year not only as the top college hitter in the class but also as a legit candidate to be the first player selected in 2017. He’s a lefthanded hitter who has a chance for a plus hit tool and solid-average power, and he’s a lock to stick in centerfield with speed that can make a difference in the field and on the bases. Like Louisville outfielder Corey Ray, who went No. 5 to the Brewers in last week's draft, Kendall has a rare combination of having high upside and a high floor, and scouts love that.
JJ Schwarz, C, Florida
If there were a favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft at this point last year, it was Schwarz. A good but not great sophomore campaign has seen his stock slide slightly, but he’s still a candidate for that honor. Schwarz's calling card is plus power from the right side, and he’s also a patient hitter who will draw more than his share of walks to give him a chance to be an on-base machine as well. He has a great chance to stay behind the plate, and his strong throwing arm will keep all but the fleetest base runners from trying to run on him.
• Subscribe to get the best of Sports Illustrated delivered right to your inbox
J.B. Bukauskas, RHP, North Carolina
We saved the best for last, as this—again, on paper—is the strength of the class. All five of the pitchers listed here would have been the best collegiate starter in the 2016 group if they were eligible. Bukauskas scares some clubs because of his funky arm-action, but he also has a the makings of two plus-plus pitches: a lightning-quick fastball and one of the best curveballs from an amatuer that I’ve seen in the past few years.
Alex Faedo, RHP, Florida
Faedo has been one of the best pitchers in the SEC this year, and his 92–94 mph fastball and plus curveball show that it's not a mirage.
Tanner Houck, RHP, Missouri
As good as these other four guys are, Houck might be the best of all of them. He misses bats with three pitches, throws everything for strikes, and at 6'5" and 217 pounds, he has prototypical starter size.
Alex Lange, RHP, LSU
Lange’s curveball isn’t too far behind Bukauskas's, and he might have a better chance of starting because of a cleaner delivery and a more complete arsenal.
Brendan McKay, LHP, Louisville
McKay, who also plays first base and was last year's Baseball America national freshman of the year, is the rare two-way collegiate prospect and one of the best hitters on a loaded Cardinals club. Still, teams rarely let talented lefthanders like this start their careers somewhere other than on the mound.
The Way Too Early Top Five
1. Jeren Kendall, OF, Vanderbilt
2. Tanner Houck, RHP, Missouri
3. Alex Faedo, RHP, Florida
4. J.J. Schwarz, C, Florida
5. Hunter Greene, RHP, Notre Dame High (Sherman Oaks, Calif.)