As we head into conference play in most of the major conferences this weekend I wanted to highlight five of the best starts to their college career for members of our final 2022 Five Tool 55. There have been quite a few freshman earning significant playing time, but I narrowed it down to five standouts. One thing to remember is that the journey for every freshman is different. Not everyone has the same path to playing time in their new program. I would expect to see quite a few more names making an impact as we progress through the 2023 college baseball season. Here are the five:
(photo courtesy Texas A&M athletics)
1. Justin Lamkin - Texas A&M - LHP (No. 8 in Final Ranking)
The highest ranked LHP in our final edition of the 2022 Five Tool 55, Lamkin is proving his worth in a variety of ways. Through 17 games, Lamkin has started two games and come out of the bullpen five times, accruing 16.0 innings. Over those 16.0 innings, Lamkin has amassed 20 strikeouts, walked seven, and given up just two earned runs resulting in a minuscule 1.12 ERA. Hitters are struggling to hit the freshman southpaw as they currently have a batting average of .153 against him. It will be interesting to watch to see what kind of role Lamkin has as the season goes on. A likely starter in the future, Lamkin seems to be being groomed for that role as evidence by his two recent midweek starts.
2. Easton Carmichael - Oklahoma - C (No. 22 in Final Ranking)
The freshman from Prosper has come out of the gates swinging for the Sooners. Joining his older brother in Norman, Carmichael has quickly made an impact with the bat. Through 17 games, Carmichael is sporting a .422 batting average with nine extra-base hits (2 2B, 4 3B, and 3 HR) and 25 RBI. Another impressive stat for the young catcher is that he has been successful on four of his five stolen base attempts. What stands out to me about his hot start at the plate is the fact that it is not unusual for a young catcher’s head to be spinning trying to manage a pitching staff at this level for the first time. Carmichael has been steady behind the plate for the Sooners so far this season with still a great deal of room for growth. A pitching coach by trade, Skip Johnson places a premium on the catching position and to entrust that post to a freshman tells me a lot.
3. Kolby Branch - Baylor - IF (No. 24 in Final Ranking)
In transition years for a new staff, often times you are looking for any bright spots you can make foundation pieces for your program. Baylor seemingly has found one of those in Kolby Branch. The freshman infielder from Lovejoy leads the Bears in almost every offensive statistic through 17 games. In that span, Branch has hammered six doubles, a triple, and three home runs while driving in 18. What is impressive about that RBI total to me is that he has done that while hitting in the leadoff spot. Defensively, Branch has bounced between shortstop and second base compiling a .974 fielding percentage and only committing two errors. This production has surely been a bright spot for the Bears thus far and gives the Baylor staff a major building block for the future.
4. Rocco Garza-Gongora - OF (No. 29 in Final Ranking)
The South Texas slugger has already made his presence felt in the box in Norman. Garza-Gongora has always been known for his sweet swing and ability to hit and he has made the transition to D1 baseball seem easy. In 14 games, the freshman has an OPS of 1.022 with five extra-base hits (2 2B, 1 3B, and 2 HR) and 11 RBI. Having played mostly outfield in high school, it has been interesting to me that aside from left and centerfield, Garza-Gongora has spent time at first base and designated hitter. To me that tells me a couple things: first, that he is a versatile athlete that has the ability to play multiple spots. Second, that they are trying to find ways to get this talented bat in the lineup. Alongside Carmichael, Garza-Gongora is giving the Sooners some potential stalwarts for a program looking to become a mainstay in Omaha.
5. Owen Proksch - Duke - LHP (No. 34 in Final Ranking)
Straight off a state title, the Southlake southpaw has carved out a nice little role for himself in Durham as part of one of the nation’s top pitching staffs. Through 17 games, Proksch has had his name called eight times from the bullpen for the Blue Devils. Over those eight outings, he has pitched 14.1 innings and struck out 20. Hitters are hitting a measly .106 against the lefty so far. In his most recent outing, Proksch went three innings to get the win over current No. 4-ranked Wake Forest, while striking out four and surrendering no baserunners. It will be interesting to monitor his usage for Chris Pollard as he continues to build trust from the Duke skipper.