The MLB Draft and its signing deadline have come and gone, so by now we know which players are coming back to campus and which players are heading off into pro baseball, leaving behind big sets of shoes to fill.
In this most recent draft, the SEC had 75 players drafted, with many of them signing contracts and getting their professional baseball careers underway, so suffice it to say that there are plenty of teams looking to replace a lot of production. In this list, we’ll cover the five players whose production will be missed most.
But first, some parameters for this list.
For one, just for variety’s sake, we kept it to one player per team. So, even though LSU has four players who will be incredibly tough to replace in Jared Poche’, Alex Lange, Kramer Robertson, and Greg Deichmann, only one can make the list. Second, we’re not factoring in the team’s ability to immediately replace the production. So, spoiler alert, Alex Faedo is going to be on the list, and the fact that Florida has potential co-aces in Jackson Kowar and Brady Singer returning to bolster the rotation was not part of the calculation. We’re strictly concerned with the player’s performance.
Let’s get to it.
Jared Poche’ – LSU
All of the aforementioned Tigers would be well-deserved entries on this list, but Poche’ makes the cut not only because of his top-end performances over the years for LSU, but because of his longevity and consistency. He truly has both going for him. Over the first few weeks of the 2017 regular season, he was the most unhittable pitcher in the country and he was solid all season on the way to going 12-4 with a 3.17 ERA and a .234 opponent batting average.
And he put up numbers like that his entire four-year career. In 2016, he was 9-4 with a 3.35 ERA. In 2015, he was 9-2 with a 3.05 ERA, and as a freshman back in 2014, he was 9-2 with a 2.45 ERA, a career best, and a .222 opponent batting average, also a career best. Now that’s consistency.
He was never the most dominant pitcher out there. That was more of a distinction for his teammates like Aaron Nola (yes, Poche’ has been around long enough that he was teammates with Aaron Nola for a season), and more recently, Alex Lange. But he almost always gave the Tigers a chance to win, and he was incredibly durable, as he never made fewer than 16 starts in a season.
Pitchers who are as effective as Poche’ in the SEC are really hard to come by. Pitchers who are as effective as Poche’ in the SEC over the course of four entire seasons are nearly impossible to find, and that’s what will make filling his shoes so difficult.
Brent Rooker – Mississippi State
It took Rooker a little while to find his footing as a threat in the SEC. He redshirted as a freshman in 2014, and in 2015, he hit .257/.325/.378 in a limited role. But when he got it going…hoo boy, he was a machine.
In 2016, he gave us a taste of what was to come by hitting .324/.376/.578 with 15 doubles, 11 homers, and 54 RBI. In 2017, of course, he was on another level, on his way to being named the SEC Player of the Year. All he did was hit .387/.495/.810 with 30 doubles, 23 home runs, and 18 stolen bases. To top it off, he also made just one error on the season, good for a .998 fielding percentage.
Mississippi State had a pretty physical offense this season, but Rooker was far and away the most dangerous guy in the lineup. His homer total was about 40 percent of his team’s total of 59 on the season. His batting average was 60 points higher than the next figure on the team (Ryan Gridley’s .327). His on-base percentage was 62 points higher than the next-highest percentage (Cody Brown’s .433), and his slugging percentage was 271 points higher than Brown’s .539, the second-best figure on the team.
Even for those who dismiss the RBI stat completely, it’s still got to be jarring to see that his 82 RBI on the season were 40 more than Brown’s second-place total of 42. And his 18 stolen bases were tops on the team. Not bad for a guy you wouldn’t classify as a classic burner on the base paths.
Heading into 2018, the Bulldogs are going to have a lot of questions on the pitching staff after a 2017 season that saw that unit decimated by injuries, but if you grant that as question 1A for MSU and head coach Andy Cannizaro, question 1B is how you replace a power bat like Rooker’s.
Tanner Houck – Missouri
Tanner Houck’s three seasons in Columbia are not going to be remember as three of the more successful seasons in the history of Mizzou baseball, but his presence on campus keeps the Tigers’ lineage of producing blue chip prospect pitchers alive.
Houck was outstanding from the minute he took the mound. As a freshman, he burst onto the scene by putting up a 3.49 ERA with a .233 opponent batting average and 91 strikeouts in 100.2 innings pitched (to go along with just 12 walks). He bettered those numbers as a sophomore, as he put up a 2.99 ERA, with a .209 opponent batting average, and 106 strikeouts in 105.1 innings. Finally, as a junior, he had a 3.33 ERA, with a .220 opponent batting average, and 95 strikeouts in 94.2 innings.
For his efforts, the Red Sox took him with the 24th overall pick in the most recent draft, giving Missouri their fourth first-round draft pick since 2006, following big league pitchers Max Scherzer (2006), Aaron Crow (2008), and Kyle Gibson (2009).
Missouri has sometimes struggled to compete on a week-in and week-out basis with their league foes since joining the SEC prior to the 2013 season, but from the very beginning, Houck simply had no such problem.
Alex Faedo – Florida
Florida has their own impressive (and more recent) history of producing first-round talents on the mound, and by going to the Detroit Tigers with the 18th overall pick in the draft, Faedo is the next in line in a run of UF pitchers being drafted that highly. Last season, both A.J. Puk and Dane Dunning went in the first round. In 2013, Jonathan Crawford was a first-round selection, and in 2012, Brian Johnson was taken in the supplemental first round.
And now, the Gators will be looking to fill in Faedo’s spot in the rotation, and no matter how many potential aces they have waiting in the wings to get their shot, that won’t be easy to do.
Faedo made an impact right away in Gainesville, but because Florida seemingly always has a rotation full of stud pitchers, he had to wait his turn to get into the rotation on a full-time basis. As a freshman in 2015, he held down a swingman role and shined when he got his chances. Over 19 appearances, 12 of which were starts, he had a 3.32 ERA, a .251 opponent batting average, and 59 strikeouts in 61.1 innings.
As a sophomore, he got his first shot in the rotation and he was nothing short of outstanding by putting up a 3.18 ERA, with a .222 opponent batting average, and a 133/21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 104.2 innings. He saved his best for his junior year, though, when he had a 2.26 ERA, a .210 opponent batting average, and 157 strikeouts in 123.2 innings.
UF has Jackson Kowar and Brady Singer returning to the rotation and no shortage of pitchers ready to step into a bigger role, so there’s no reason to shed a tear for them, but that doesn’t mean it’s a whole lot of fun to have to replace a guy like Faedo.
Evan White – Kentucky
Kentucky enjoyed a breakthrough season under first-year head coach Nick Mingione in 2017 and got to the program’s first super regional, and Evan White was the catalyst for much of that.
He hit .373/.453/.637 with 24 doubles, ten homers, and 41 RBI. This came one season after he hit .376/.419/.535 with 15 homers, five homers, and 40 RBI, and two years after hitting .318/.369/.410 with 12 doubles.
But it was more than just White’s bat that was a difference-maker for the Wildcats. He was also the best first baseman in the SEC during his career. He committed just two errors over the course of his three seasons in Lexington, including not committing a single error during his junior campaign. Not shockingly, given that, he was named to the SEC All-Defensive Team all three years on campus.
Mingione will continue to put his stamp on this program, but he’ll undoubtedly wish he had a player like White to continue to build around moving forward.
Honorable mentions, in no particular order:
Alex Lange – LSU
Kyle Wright – Vanderbilt
Jeren Kendall – Vanderbilt
Greg Deichmann – LSU
Riley Mahan – Kentucky
Trevor Stephan – Arkansas
Keegan Thompson – Auburn
Kramer Robertson – LSU
Brigham Hill – Texas A&M
Jordan Rodgers – Tennessee
Chad Spanberger – Arkansas