The NPF draft will take on a new look this year from the past few events. Now down to just five league teams with no new additions this offseason, by consequence, the draft order and the draft pool have both been narrowed down.
Only twenty-six players will be selected in the draft this year, and they will go to either Akron, Florida, Chicago, or one of two Texas stops, the Scrap Yard Dawgs or the newly-relocated Texas Charge.
Without further adieu, here is my Big Board 1.0 for 2017, broken down by position.
1. Danielle O'Toole, Arizona --- O'Toole's dominance in the circle for Arizona have made her clearly the best pitcher available in this year's senior class. The redshirt senior boasts a 0.75 ERA and twenty-one wins, with 143 strikeouts in just under 140 innings of work. She has been utterly dominant against all kinds of competition, including in conference play. Team USA ties provide the only downside, however small.
2. Sara Groenewegen, Minnesota --- The Canuck hurler is finishing up one of the finest careers in Gophers history. With a career ERA under two and more than 1,000 strikeouts to her credit - with several conference series' and a postseason run still to go - she also presents an argument as the best available player in this year's senior class. Once again, though, national team commitments - with Team Canada, however - may present an issue for teams looking to add her to their roster.
3. Delanie Gourley, Florida --- Though undoubtedly one of the best in the country, Gourley may not even be the best pitcher on the Gators' roster. This despite an ERA of 0.83 and 134 strikeouts, averaging out to nearly a strikeout and a half per inning. Considering many of her career stats have come against SEC hitters, they're event more impressive. Yet again, however, as is the case with many of this year's top prospects, Team USA commitments may come into play.
4. Sierra Hyland, Cal Poly --- Not only the top Mid-Major pitcher in the draft-eligible class, Hyland is the crème de la crème across the board of mid-major hurlers. After starting the season with a bang, Hyland has continued her dominant streak and currently sports an 0.83 ERA. Opponents are hitting just .156 against her, and she has given up fewer than twenty earned runs in just under 160 innings of work.
5. Jessica Burroughs, Florida State --- After a continuing red-hot start to her final campaign, Burroughs has firmly placed herself in the conference's Pitcher and Player of the Year races and also finds herself vying for the National Player of the Year award. Despite the aforementioned hot streak and nearly two hundred strikeouts that average out to nearly two per inning, it is Burroughs' historic inconsistency that keeps her from being considered one of the nation's true elite. Nevertheless, with a collegiate head coach that also helms a professional team and solid numbers, her draft stock is
at an all-time high.
6. Megan Betsa, Michigan --- The two-time reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Year has shared the workload in the circle for the Wolverines this season, but has remained in impressive form for her swan song year. A nation-leading strikeout number already nearing 300 for the season shows that potential lingering injury issues have had no effect on her sheer dominance in the circle. A strong popularity and impressive stats may prove to outweigh longterm durability concerns.
7. Haley Chambers-Book, SIU-Edwardsville --- The odds-on favorite for Comeback Player of the Year, whether she winds up playing professionally or not, Chambers-Book's statistics alone demand a placement on this Big Board. A year and a baby away from her last game action, Chambers-Book returned with a vengeance for her senior campaign and boasts a 1.26 individual ERA with an average of nearly nine strikeouts per seven innings. She has proved able to hang tight with some of the nation's top teams and, if she elected to try her hand at pro ball, could be a quiet steal for any team.
8. Kelsee Selman, Baylor --- After transferring from LSU, Selman was a seldom-used member of the Bears staff and seemed destined to finish her career as a role player. Not so, though, as the Bears found themselves in need of an ace this season and found their huckleberry in the former Bayou Bengal. Heading up a solid Bears staff, Selman's ERA comes in well under 1.40 and opopnents have hit below .200 against her. Her strikeout to walk ratio is better than 5/1 and she boasts eighteen victories from the circle. Selman is another player whose strong senior campaign has greatly improved their draft stock.
9. Nickie Blue, South Carolina --- Hardly late to the party, Blue has shown a time or two her talent in shutting down some of the SEC's premier offenses. Her endurance has proved remarkable; her pitching skills particularly excellent, as well. Blue's ERA is barely knocking on the door of a 3.00 mark, and while she is averaging less than one strikeout per inning, her dominant tendencies in the circle could prove dangerous to pro batters, as well. Questions may pop up about her arm strength and further endurance, however, after carrying the USC pitching staff the last several seasons.
10. Savannah Jo Dorsey, Ohio --- Dorsey returned from an abbreviated 2015 to be named MAC Conference Pitcher of the Year in 2016 and lead the nation in strikeouts with 336 in almost 249 full innings. Ever a strikeout queen, she boasts 229 on the active season, while opponents have hit just .155 against her. Dorsey is my pick for this year's "diamond in the rough", a player you've not heard much about that has a shot at taking the pro league by storm.
1. Sahvanna Jaquish, LSU --- A super-utility player for the Tigers, having played third base, first base, and spent time behind the plate, Jaquish has settled in as the "hind catcher" for her final season in Baton Rouge. The two-time all-American ranks second on her team with a .362 batting average and is slugging an even .600 on the year. Her strikeout numbers have been particularly low, though she's seen more than her fair share of walks; her thirty-seven bases-on-balls rank in the top ten in the nation. Occasionally struggling with consistency at the plate, Jaquish has seen her power numbers fall of a bit this season to this point. Nevertheless, she presents a high ceiling and mid-level floor for teams looking for some potential pop at the plate and solid defense and versatility.
2. Chloe Miller, Wisconsin --- Miller has enjoyed the finest season of her career, at this point, which is saying something for the career .334 hitter and two-time all-region honoree. Succeeding and leading her team to similar successes, Miller boasts a .480 on the season to this point, as well as a nearly-astronomical .902 slugging percentage. Her nine home runs, forty RBI, and twenty-three extra base hits all pace her team.
3. Anna Varriano, Northern Iowa --- The fiery backstop from Overland Park, Kansas has enjoyed a breakout campaign at just the right time, transforming herself from a primarily-defensive catcher to her team's offensive leader. She leads the Panthers with a .337 batting average, eight home runs, and .675 slugging percentage. Though a debate may be had about the competition level, there's no denying that Varriano got hot to start the year and has stayed there - she could be a nice late-round or open tryout addition for a team looking for some depth behind the plate.
4. Susan Welborn, Texas Tech --- The Red Raiders backstop spent the majority of her team in the outfield during her early career, before becoming the program’s full-time catcher. A hitter with a quietly-powerful punch, her seven home runs in 2017 rank her fourth in the Big 12 statistical standings. With two Texas teams taking part in the draft, Welborn could be a late-round selection as some depth behind - and at - the plate.
5. Molly Hutchison, North Carolina State --- Caught among a lackluster NC State team, Hutchison holds a powerful bat; she's never hit fewer than double-digit home runs in a season, and has already reached that mark in her fourth and final year. She enjoyed something of a breakout campaign in 2016, a season that included her highest-ever batting average, slugging percentage, and RBI total, but has regressed a small bit thus-far in 2017, hitting just below .300, but still pacing her team by a large margin in home runs and slugging percentage.
1. Alex Powers, Florida State --- After multiple knee surgeries got her career off to a quiet, melancholy start, Powers enjoyed an incredible 2016 campaign when she batted .396, with sixteen home runs and sixty-three RBI, and hit .571 in the Women's College World Series, including an additional pair of home runs. Though her 2017 has been a bit quieter - including a current line of .398/6/35, with a .659 slugging percentage - she remains both a dangerous power threat and a good hitter for average.
2. Stephanie Texeira, Florida International --- If Texeira's name is not atop every major FIU program offensive record by the season's end, it will be a surprise. One of the best players to ever put on a Panther uniform, she has turned herself from the Conference USA Freshman of the Year into a bonafide star. In 2016, she led her team with thirteen home runs and a .413 batting average, despite missing several games due to injury. Her 2017 numbers include nine home runs, thirty-five RBI, and a .653 slugging percentage. She presents a solid target and is sure-handed defensively, rarely making errors, and has a big stick that can hold some serious pop at times.
3. MJ Knighten, Nebraska --- The two-time all-region selection and 2016 All-American may have had to take second-fiddle to her sister Shay's championship-winning feats in 2016, but the elder Knighten will not have to worry about being remembered in her sister's shadow after a fine Husker career that sees her currently sporting a line of .336/5/19. Though the statistics are somewhat diminished from her 2015/2016 form (when she hit twenty-nine home runs and posted a .394 batting average during the span), she still presents a quality prospect and high upside.
4. Pauline Tufi, Louisiana Tech --- The senior Alaskan can play all over the field, having spent time in the circle and outfield, but primarily spending her time at first base. A power hitter, she has posted double-digit home run totals each of the last two years. Though her 2017 is down, statistically speaking, she remains a fiery, dangerous hitter and is certainly a personality.
1. Katiyana Mauga, Arizona --- Still making a climb up the all-time home run chart, Mauga's raw power is evident and clear. What most may not realize, however, is that she gets on base at a .344 clip and holds a career on-base percentage of .468, with plenty of bases-on-balls to go around. Very much an all-around player, her eighty-three career home runs will remain the focal point. She figures to be high on teams' draft boards across the league.
2. Kasey Cooper, Auburn --- Coming into the season, Cooper was the obvious favorite to take home National Player of the Year honors. A "light" year, by her standards has left her out of contention for the award, but when a .300 batting average and .569 slugging percentage are your numbers on a down year, you should be okay. Cooper remains one of the best talents and greatest softball minds in the game, and despite her own membership on Team USA, expect a team to pick her up and utilize her talents for even the short periods she can adorn their active rosters.
3. Maddy Grimm, Kent State --- The shortstop/third base-hybrid slugger has spent significant time at both positions, but earns mention here. She is the Kent State program career leader in home runs and RBIs and holds three all-region selections in her trophy case, and seems destined for a fourth following this season. She has never hit fewer than thirteen home runs in a season, a fact that will not change in 2017. Though MAC competition may be a detractor to some, Grimm has significant upside and has serious sleeper-candidate potential.
4. Lindsey Cargill, Baylor --- Cargill, a career .333 hitter, came into the 2017 season undoubtedly expecting to have a role in any success the Bears had... but chances are good she's blown away even those expectations. Hitting .480 at present, with a .567 slugging percentage and seventy-two total bases - just one short of her previous single-season career high - the Bears' corner-sacker has been distinctly impressive thus-far this season. With a batting average that ties her for fourth-best in the nation, Cargill has seen her star significantly rise, and should hear her name called on draft night.
1. Delaney Spaulding, UCLA --- Spaulding has to be one of the finest-hitting infielders I have seen in several years. A pure swing, a solid stroke, and a whole lot of power combine for a player that has devastated PAC-12 pitching throughout her career. Also a member of Team USA – a mantra that has been said more than a couple of times already – even her limited availability should not prohibit any of the teams from selecting her, as even just a few weeks of her at-bats could provide an offensive boost.
2. Ali Aguilar, Washington --- In any other year, Aguilar would be at the top of the heap in her own right – both at her position and around the diamond. A crowded top of the class may leave her without a “1” next to her name, but doesn’t come close to diminishing her potential impact on a team – with the recurring caveat of Team USA commitments. An all-American a season ago, Aguilar currently sports a .333 batting average, with a high .646 slugging percentage to go along with it.
3. Morgan Zerkle, Marshall --- Few have had as impressive of a career as Zerkle, and while she plays on a fun Herd squad, she has rarely received nearly enough praise for her efforts in her four years. A stellar athlete and a tremendous hitter, her talent level is top-shelf and her energy and team leadership undeniable. Yet another player with Team USA ties – showing the depth and youth of the USA program just three years removed from the Olympic Games – she should nevertheless make a large impact on the pros.
4. Hannah Flippen, Utah --- When Utah joined the Pac-12 just a few years ago, few thought the Utes would contend for a conference title for several years. In 2016, the Utes finished above both Arizona and Arizona State in the PAC-12 standings and Flippen earned Player of the Year honors. As the Utes have gone, Flippen has led them and is a big catalyst for the program’s almost-immediate success in the high conference. Pacing her squad with a .465 batting average this season, Flippen also sports a slugging percentage of .782. Again with USA ties, there is a caveat, but she has one of the highest ceilings in the senior class and is dependable at the plate, both for power and average.
5. Nikki Udria, Oregon --- Had Udria been a year earlier coming out of school, she may have been a top-ten pick a year ago. She outshined teammates Geri Ann Glasco and Alyssa Gillespie, who would go on to be selected #20 and #38 overall last season. Without USA commitments to add an asterisk, Udria may find herself at the top of the list for a team that needs immediate and consistent help.
6. Mo Mercado, Arizona --- After switching middle infield positions prior to her junior season, Mercado continued on a torrid offensive pace, including a .378 batting average last season, her career best by nearly forty points. She is a three-time all-region team member and is solid defensively. Oh, and she is currently hitting .425 for the one-loss Wildcats. No big deal.
7. Ellie Cooper, Florida State --- The Noles’ resident Kiwi is a back-to-back all-region honoree and sharp-hitting infielder, Cooper has shown that she can hit for both average and power. Her .323 average this season is good enough for just eighth on her first-place team, while her full line reads .323/.475/.442.
1. Bailey Landry, LSU --- A gem of a player, possessing both speed and a seemingly-eternal hot bat, Landry, if she desires to play in the professional ranks, need not ask "if", but "where" she will be drafted to play. A name that must be considered in the running for Top Senior, if such an award were given, Landry is hitting over .500 more than halfway through the season, with several batting average points to give before sinking beneath the plateau. Her stellar batting average is matched only by her .701 slugging percentage and .547 on-base percentage.
2. Karley Wester, Notre Dame --- A two-time all-American and three-time all-conference stud, through her first three years of collegiate ball, Wester has never hit below .429 or slugged a number below .500. She's that good. South Bend has long been home to a perennial contending team, but Wester has been a big part of that team the last several seasons. With just under half of a season left to go, she still has some time to help boost her statistics this season, but nevertheless, she is speedy, quick-handed defensively, and gets on base well, three facets that often translate fairly seamlessly to the pro level.
3. Alex Bayne, Ohio State --- Bayne's sophomore year saw her hit .375, an impressive number, albeit in just thirty-eight games, with four home runs and a .688 slugging percentage. In her junior year of 2016, Bayne broke out in a big way, tying the program single-season record with nineteen home runs, earning all-conference and all-region first-team honors, and batting .364 with forty-nine RBI and fifty-three runs scored. Her eleven home runs lead her team this season, while her.673 slugging percentage, .336 batting average .416 on-base percentage, and twenty-eight RBIs all rank in the top three on the Buckeyes.
4. Kelly Christner, Michigan --- Christner earned all-American honors in 2015, when she helped lead the Wolverines all the way to the WCWS final with twenty-one home runs and a near-.400 batting average. She regressed significantly a year later, batting just .313 with only six home runs and a slugging percentage nearly three hundred points beneath her previous year's totals. 2017 and her swan-song season have given her the opportunity for the former reserve outfielder to break out of her shell one more time, and she has taken advantage, currently batting .439 with a .645 slugging percentage. Fairly sure-handed on defense and quick-footed on the base paths and in the outfield, her somewhat-sporadic incredibly impressive play should be enough for a team to pick her up and give her the opportunity to contribute.
5. Nicole Schroeder, Arkansas --- On what was a dismal Arkansas team, Schroeder still plugged on, putting up solid, if not overwhelming, statistics and production. Then enter the 2017 season, where Schroeder now boasts a .350 batting average, twelve home runs (150% of her 2016 final total), and an .806 slugging percentage. Her dozen home runs are double that of the next-highest total on the team. In the span of just 1/2 of a year, she has greatly improved her draft stock from a marginal prospect to a solid mid-round pick - and, according to sister Jen, the Razorback slugger wants to continue her career beyond college, always a high point for teams looking for offensive depth.
6. Sydni Emanuel, Georgia --- A former Texas Tech Red Raider, Sydni Emanuel has thrived since joining the Dawgs and her sister Cortni in 2015. She earned all-Big 12 and all-region honors at TTU before electing to transfer to the SEC, and she began her UGA career with her second all-region honors of her career, as well as an all-conference nod once again. She has led her program in both full seasons she has spent in Athens, hitting .431 over that time and gathering 158 hits over those same two years. She currently leads her team with a .461 batting average and sixty-five hits.
1. Kendra Lynch, North Carolina --- Normally, I would not list anyone in this category, if only for the reason that players are rarely drafted to the pros for their bats alone with no defense or circle mastery to go along. In Lynch's case, though, I'll make an exception. An incredible player that doesn't get enough love for the budding Tar Heels, Lynch's .400-plus batting average and sixteen home runs are not just a catalyst, but a major part of the Tar Heel offensive threat. Her pitching is far from shabby, though it pales in comparison to her work at the plate this season. She would be a solid addition as a role player/super-utility player for a professional team.