Golden Spikes Watch List: Overview of the preseason favorites

A look at the Golden Spikes Watch List, highlighted by two-way star and returning finalist Jac Caglianone.

Golden Spikes Watch List

The 2024 Golden Spikes Watch List was released on Friday afternoon as USA Baseball begins its process of “identifying the best amateur baseball player in the nation.” It’s always enjoyable to parse through the list at the outset of the year and watch as the field gradually narrows.

Last season was a banner year for the award in terms of D-I baseball: The three finalists all played in the College World Series finals as LSU, with Dylan Crews and Paul Skenes, emerged triumphant over Florida and Jac Caglianone.

While Skenes went No. 1 in the MLB Draft to the Pittsburgh Pirates — one spot ahead of Crews — it was the Tigers’ center fielder that took home the prestigious award. Joining Ben McDonald as the second LSU player to win, Crews became the 45th Golden Spikes Award winner on June 25. A day later, he was lifting the NCAA trophy. Thirteen days after that, he heard his name called by the Washington Nationals as the second overall pick.

Jac Caglianone Golden Spikes
Jac Caglianone emerged as a star in 2023. (Florida Athletics Photo)

This season sees Caglianone as a potential frontrunner after a finalist finish last season. He’ll look to join notable two-way stars AJ Reed (Kentucky, 2014) and Brendan McKay (Louisville, 2017) in winning the award. McKay hit .341 with 18 home runs while going 11-3 with a 2.56 ERA on the mound — earning All-ACC First Team honors at starting pitcher and DH/utility. Reed, meanwhile, clubbed 23 home runs and hit .336 while going a similarly impressive 12-2 with a 2.09 ERA.

Caglianone’s hitting was ahead of his pitching last year, which shouldn’t come as a surprise as last year was his first after Tommy John surgery. Still, while hitting .322 with a nation-leading 33 home runs he also turned in a 7-4 record with a 4.34 ERA on the mound. It’s not unreasonable to expect improvements on the mound after a 1.42 WHIP and 6.6 BB/9, so it’s hard to see how anyone could match that combined output.

He’s one of 15 SEC players on the list, the most of any conference, as the conference looks for its third winner in the last four years (Crews and Arkansas’ Kevin Kopps in 2021).

The list includes seven semifinalists from a year ago: Georgia’s Charlie Condon, South Carolina’s Ethan Petry, Arkansas’ Hagen Smith, LSU’s Tommy White, West Virginia’s JJ Wetherholt, and the Wake Forest duo of Josh Hartle and Nick Kurtz.

The Demon Deacons, this year’s consensus No. 1 team, lead the way with four selections — Seaver King and Chase Burns join the aforementioned duo. Tennessee follows with three in Billy Amick, Drew Beam, and Christian Moore.

Here’s a look at last year’s numbers for those on the list, when applicable. Two high schoolers — both LSU commits — in Cam Caminiti (Saguaro High School) and Konnor Griffin (Jackson Prep) aren’t included in the stats tables, but both are likely first-round picks in the upcoming MLB Draft.

The bulk of the 55-player list are hitters, which tracks with the historic trends: The only player that was exclusively a pitcher to win the award in the last decade was Kopps.

In a crowded field — with Skenes rewriting the pitching record books, Caglianone pitching and hitting in the nation’s best conference, and Crews being Crews — the omission of Wetherholt from the finalists was still a tough one. The West Virginia sophomore truly did it all, leading the nation in average (.449) while filling up the box score with 24 doubles (11th), 36 stolen bases (10th), and 16 home runs.

White, meanwhile, led the nation in RBIs (105) and posted top-15 marks in total bases (3rd), hits (6th), home runs (11th), and doubles (11th). While his RBI total was definitely aided by hitting behind Crews, who got on base at a gaudy .567 clip, the junior third baseman is poised for another big season.

Wake Forest’s duo of Kurtz and King — a D-II transfer from Wingate — will be fun to watch in 2024. King has had a meteoric rise this past summer after hitting .411 as a sophomore. He transferred to Wake Forest, had a dynamic few weeks on the Cape, and started the bulk of games for the USA Collegiate National Team. Kurtz, on the other hand, ranks as the No. 2 prospect behind Wetherholt in the upcoming MLB Draft per Baseball America.



Wake Forest: After an Omaha appearance, the Deacs enter 2024 as the consensus No. 1 team with a plethora of first-round talent.

Oregon State’s Travis Bazzana is looking to give the Beavers a second Golden Spikes winner in the last five years as Adley Rutschman won it in 2019. The Australian second baseman is career .340 hitter and coming off a Cape Cod MVP-winning summer.

It’s impossible to highlight every hitter without this breakdown turning into a small novel, but here’s a few more. Condon is coming off a fantastic redshirt-freshman season at Georgia, slugging 25 home runs with a 1.284 OPS. Another youthful SEC bat was South Carolina’s Ethan Petry, who hit 23 home runs with a .376 batting average as a true freshman.

Stanford catcher Malcom Moore also had a fantastic first year, earning freshman All-American honors and hitting .311 with 15 home runs, while his former teammate Braden Montgomery is one to watch after transferring to Texas A&M. Montgomery struggled on the mound in 2023 — opponents hit .328 off him in 14 innings — but he slashed .336/.461/.611 with double-digit doubles and home runs.

Finally, there’s Northeastern’s Mike Sirota — who might be one of the more underappreciated stars in college baseball today. The No. 5 draft prospect, per Baseball America, Sirota is coming off a year in which he hit .344/.470/.674 with 18 home runs, 19 stolen bases, and scored 73 runs.

The smaller pitching contingent is headlined by Hartle, who has only improved each year with the Demon Deacons. A starter from his true freshman year on, the lefthander took a big step in 2023 and turned in an 11-2 record with a 2.81 ERA.

Arkansas’ Hagen Smith, a returning All-SEC First Team selection, split time between the bullpen and rotation last year with 11 starts and seven relief appearances. He fanned 109 batters over 71-plus innings, going 8-2 with a 3.64 ERA and two saves. The other All-SEC First Team starting pitcher this preseason is Beam, who has a 3.20 ERA over 32 starts across two years.

Iowa’s Brody Brecht has some of the best stuff in the country — finding more command on the mound after walking 61 in 77 innings would mean big things. Another Midwest arm is Kansas State’s elite closer Tyson Neighbors, who struck out 86 in 48-plus innings last year and logged 11 saves with a 1.85 ERA.

The biggest name on the move this offseason was Burns, who headed to Wake Forest from Tennessee and has looked explosive in the preseason. Another high-profile transfer is LSU’s Luke Holman, who who went 7-4 with a 3.67 ERA at Alabama last year. East Carolina’s Trey Yesavage, Texas’ Lebarron Johnson Jr., and UC Santa Barbara’s Matt Ager are all coming off strong 2023 campaigns as well.

Another two-way name to keep an eye on is TCU’s Payton Tolle, who transferred to the Horned Frogs by way of Wichita State. Tolle posted a 4.62 ERA over 85-plus innings last season, going 9-3 on the mound, while chipping in a .311 batting average with 13 home runs.

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