Jordyn Adams was all set to become a two-sport star at North Carolina last spring, having signed an NCAA letter of intent to play both football and baseball for the Tar Heels. But the five-star wide receiver and outfielder from Cary’s Green Hope High School opted instead to specialize on the diamond after being selected by the Los Angeles Angels with the 17th overall pick in last year’s Major League Baseball draft.
State colleges will again be a focus early in this year’s draft, which begins on June 3. Only this time the most prominent players whose names will be called have already been on campus for at least two years.
NC State shortstop Will Wilson and UNC first baseman Michael Busch, along with right-handed pitchers George Kirby of Elon and Seth Johnson of Campbell are all projected to be first-round picks.
There is also a possibility that Duke lefty Graeme Stinson, who has missed most of his final college season with an injury, could also join them.
Of the group, Wilson considered to be the most polished major league prospect.
Though not as quick afoot as Trea Turner, the most recent Wolfpack shortstop to go in the first round, Wilson has earned high marks from scouts because of his quick hands and baseball instinct. They’re qualities that helped him earn ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors, an award that was announced on Monday.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pound junior from Kings Mountain opened eyes with his performance for Team USA last summer, then solidified his status as one of the nation’s top college players by hitting .356 with 16 homers for State this season.
“He’s a ballplayer,” Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent said of his star, who is ranked No. 23 by MLB.com. “He’s just an old-school, hard-nosed player who grinds it out. He just plays so hard and is a good baseball player.”
While Wilson has earned acclaim for his defense, UNC’s Busch is considered one of the best pure hitters in the draft. Although his average is down this season at .281, he has still pounded out 12 homers and driven in 50 runs heading into this week’s ACC Tournament.
The big question surrounding the left-handed hitting Minnesota native is where he projects to play defensively.
He has spent most of his career with the Tar Heels at first base, but at 6-foot, 207 pounds, is considered too small to play the position professionally. He spent last summer playing second base in the Cape Cod League and has also seen action in the outfield.
“I was in left field for the last three weeks in the fall. I never played the outfield, but I feel I adjusted to it pretty quickly,” Busch said earlier this season. “I have played in the infield and feel comfortable at all those positions. I think I can help the team offensively and defensively, so whichever position they want me to play, I will play.”
The uncertainty about where he fits in will likely give some teams pause, but not enough to knock him out of the first round. He is rated as the No. 28 prospect in this year’s draft.
As for the two pitchers, both Kirby and Johnson are poised to make history as the highest drafted players ever from their school.
Kirby, ranked No. 21, is likely to become Elon’s first first-rounder after a junior season in which he struck out 105 hitters while issuing only six walks in 82⅔ innings — the best ratio on the country — while going 8-1 with a 2.07 earned run average.
Already hitting the low- to mid-90s on the radar gun, Kirby figures to add even more velocity once he begins to put some bulk onto his slender 6-4, 205-pound frame. He also boasts a better-than-average curve, slider and changeup.
Johnson, meanwhile, isn’t nearly as polished after starting his career as a light-hitting shortstop at Louisburg Junior College. He only began concentrating on his pitching after transferring to Campbell this season.
He’s still very raw, but despite pedestrian statistics for the Camels this season, (3-3, 4.55 ERA, 76 strikeouts in 59⅓ innings), he’s drawn considerable interest because of a fastball that tops out at 98 mph, a crisp slider and a delivery one scouting director described to MLB.com as the best in the draft. He is the 29th-ranked prospect by MLB.com.
An even bigger draft day wild card could be Duke’s Stinson.
Considered one of the top pitchers in the country — if not the best overall — after leading the Blue Devils to an NCAA Super Regional last season, his stock began dropping as did the velocity on his fastball from the mid-90s to the mid-80s. He was eventually shut down after five starts with what was described as a hamstring injury.
“Everything he’s doing now is in preparation for the draft,” Duke coach Chris Pollard said.