By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. -- Although the conference season is rolling along, it is time to talk about the SEC in the Major League Baseball Draft. The Southeastern Conference has constantly been among the top leagues in the country in producing major league talent, and this year looks like another banner crop.
In this special Q&A, we talked with ESPN's Keith Law about the league's top players. Law is a senior baseball analyst for ESPN Insider, and produces a yearly Top 100 prospects list for the Worldwide Leader. Prior to being at ESPN, Law wrote for Baseball Prospectus and was a special assistant in the Toronto Blue Jays front office.
SEC Digital Network: The SEC had six players taken in the first round of last year’s MLB Draft, raising the total number to 89 first rounders taken since 1991. Is it fair to say that the Southeastern Conference, in terms of producing draft prospects, is the top collegiate league in the country in that regard?
I think that's fair. The league has the best caliber of competition on a pretty consistent basis, including the most first-round talents, so it's scouted more heavily, which leads in turn to more drafting of second-tier players as well.
SEC Digital Network: If you had to compare SEC baseball to a minor league level, where would it fall? How big a difference is there in the college game and the lower ranks of the professional level?
Overall, the SEC is probably comparable to advanced short-season leagues, or perhaps just below a full-season low-A league. That said, a top prospect taken from the SEC should start his first full pro season in high-A.
The differences are massive: Wood bats instead of tin. Five-day rotations instead of seven, six or seven games a week instead of four. Far less obsession with bunting and small ball. Lower pitch counts - you would never see a pro team abuse a pitcher the way Stanford recently did with Mark Appel, throwing him 149 pitches, for example. I'd love to see the college game adopt more aspects of pro ball, starting with the bats. If pro fans recognize the sport more within the college game, it will only help to make the latter more popular.
SEC Digital Network: How many first round draft picks can the SEC have this season?
Mike Zunino, Kevin Gausman, Brian Johnson, and Chris Stratton seem like locks to go in the first round. Nolan Fontana, Nolan Sanburn, or Alex Wood are possibilities. Even Alex Yarbrough wouldn't shock me. So I'd say most likely five.
SEC Digital Network: Is Florida’s Mike Zunino in consideration for the top overall selection? Will he be the top drafted SEC player?
I don't believe Zunino will go first overall. It's even money between him or Kevin Gausman for the first SEC player taken.
SEC Digital Network: As you scout SEC players, are the league’s past success taken into account as you profile a player? Does playing and in this case succeeding in the SEC make carry any extra weight in the scouting process?
Past success is not a factor for me, but current level of competition is, and even in a down year for the SEC for top prospects, it's still among the top two conferences this year for the quality of play. The fact that the SEC can offer that quality on a consistent basis should be a major draw for recruits considering SEC schools against other conferences or against pro ball.