If this year’s MLB Draft were at its usual full length of 40 rounds, USC’s six players ranked in Baseball America’s top 500 draft prospects would have had the program poised to make quite the splash in the 2020 event.
But because of the coronavirus pandemic, the most recent installment of the draft lasted only five rounds, and rising senior right-handed pitcher Kyle Hurt was the lone Trojan to be selected over the course of the two-day draft. Hurt, Baseball America’s No. 135 prospect, fell Thursday at No. 134 overall — the 27th-to-last pick — to the Miami Marlins in the final round.
“We were in the fifth round yesterday and my thought was, ‘Who’s the player here that’s here and is extremely undervalued?’” Marlins Director of Amateur Scouting DJ Svihlik said Friday in a virtual press conference. “Kyle Hurt, at times — and we’re in the fifth round, at times — has as good of stuff as the five players or better than the guys we drafted ahead of him. He’s that good.”
Hurt had a somewhat enigmatic college career. After being drafted in the 34th round of the 2017 draft by the Philadelphia Phillies — a knee injury and USC commitment lowered the top-100 prospect’s draft stock — Hurt elected to go the college route and play at USC. He struggled to the tune of a 4.76 ERA in his freshman year and a 5.69 mark his sophomore year. Hurt was beginning to flip the script during his junior year, posting a 3.71 ERA with a .190 opponent’s batting average through four starts before the season was shut down by the pandemic.
But Miami is betting on Hurt’s stuff to pay dividends in the professional scene. He boasts a 92- to 94-mph fastball that tops out at 97 mph, and he adds a changeup that scouts believe could develop into a plus pitch. The two pitches each grade as a 55 on MLB’s 20-80 scale, and he also throws a slider and curveball that scouts pegged as a 50 and a 40, respectively.
“Kyle Hurt was outstanding this year,” Svihlik said. “He really turned the corner with a new coaching staff at USC. He struggled with the previous staff, so you take the bet on the player with the real talent, the real major-league talent and body and pitch package.”
Hurt has often struggled with command in his college career, walking 58 batters in 81.1 innings his freshman year, 41 batters in 74.1 innings his sophomore year and eight through 17 innings this year. Hurt’s command grades out as a below-average 45 on MLB’s 20-80 scale.
Regardless, Hurt’s 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame and his upside make him an intriguing prospect for Miami. The Marlins finished 57-105 last year, the worst record in the National League and the third-worst record in MLB. However, in March, MLB.com ranked Miami’s the fourth-best farm system in baseball, a group Hurt will hope to bolster should he forgo his final two years of college eligibility and enter Miami’s ranks.
No. 122 rising senior infielder and outfielder Jamal O’Guinn, No. 325 rising senior shortstop Ben Ramirez, No. 343 rising junior first baseman Clay Owens, No. 357 rising senior left-handed pitcher John Beller and No. 423 rising junior right-handed pitcher Chandler Champlain are the five other Trojans that made Baseball America’s Top 500. Though they were not selected in the draft, they will be able to sign with teams for signing bonuses up to $20,000 as undrafted free agents.
This article was updated on June 12 at 11:03 a.m. to include quotes from Marlins Director of Amateur Scouting DJ Svihlik.