Jamal O’Guinn grew up a University of Southern California fan. When the opportunity to play collegiate baseball for USC emerged, O’Guinn felt it was the ideal fit.
Despite the Fresno, California native’s passion for the program, he hoped he would have an option to start a professional baseball career after his senior year of high school in 2017. He never heard his name called in the 2017 MLB draft, though, and honored his commitment to USC.
Over the last three years, O’Guinn has developed into an impact player at the collegiate level. His success in his first three years at USC has put him in draft conversations again this year.
O’Guinn, a right-handed hitting third baseman, is one of the top prospects in this year’s draft class and could be selected as early as the second or third round. He’s using his experience as a high school senior to help him as he goes through the draft process for the second time in his career, he said.
“It’s one of those things that you just know what goes on and what to expect,” O’Guinn said. “You know that there’s a chance you might not be picked.”
O’Guinn started immediately as a freshman and played in 39 games in 2018. He hit .240 with four doubles and eight RBIs in 121 plate appearances. In his sophomore season, he showed more power potential, hitting .281 with five home runs and 29 RBIs in 182 plate appearances.
After showing encouraging results last summer in the Cape Cod League, O’Guinn thrived in an abbreviated season this spring. In 14 games, he batted .378 with six doubles and seven RBIs in 60 plate appearances.
O’Guinn is a 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-handed hitter who has displayed an excellent ability to get on base, posting a .420 on-base percentage in his three years at USC. He has solid raw power and drives the ball to all parts of the field.
“I feel like the older I’ve gotten the stronger I have got,” O’Guinn said. “I feel like I am more consistent power-wise compared to my freshman year of college. I am a more consistent hitter now. I have just taken what I get and tried to get on base as much as I can.”
Last summer, O’Guinn tweaked his mechanics at the plate, changing more to an upright stance. With question marks about his ability to incorporate the lower half of his body in his swing, O’Guinn feels he addressed those concerns by altering his stance.
He also believes the change will lead to better power numbers than he’s displayed at USC.
“I am standing up a little more in my batting stance and I felt like that helped me hit breaking balls better,” O’Guinn said. “I got a lot more swings off against off-speed pitches early in counts. I thought that was the biggest change I made and I just stuck with that.”
O’Guinn played shortstop in high school, but since joining USC, he has bounced around the diamond.
He mostly played right field as a freshman and then split time between first base and right field as a sophomore last year at USC. In the Cape Cod League, O’Guinn played first base, left field and right field.
This spring, O’Guinn was USC’s starting third baseman, which he believes was the hardest position to learn. Although he views himself as a third baseman long term, he believes the versatility he gained throughout his first three years of college will benefit him in the pro ranks.
“In high school, my coach stressed that I had to cover so much space and I had to be the leader,” O’Guinn said. “At third, I never changed that mentality. I got beat for a while. The more reps I got, the more comfortable I got. That’s when I realized it’s a completely different world from shortstop to third.
“I think different teams could see me in different positions. Playing third this year, I want to play third. But it gets to a point where I have no say on what’s going to get me to the big leagues the quickest.”
Read more stories on top 2020 MLB draft prospects here.
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for five years. He’s interviewed 191 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.