Max Ferguson received little attention from professional scouts leading up to the 2018 MLB draft. The then-senior out of The Bolles School in Florida was a light-hitting position player who knew his best path was to honor his commitment to the University of Tennessee, he said.
Nearly three years after going undrafted, Ferguson, a junior at Tennessee, is one of the top players in college baseball and a potential early-round pick in July’s draft.
“Tennessee has been the greatest thing that has happened to me,” Ferguson said. “I came in looking to show what I can do. I am fortunate to learn from the coaching staff we have here. They do a great job of developing players.”
Ferguson has evolved in all aspects of the game throughout his first 2½ years at Tennessee. He’s especially added more strength to his frame that’s translated to improved power-hitting ability at the plate.
His success on the field and enhanced toolset has caused him to rapidly move up draft boards.
“It has been pretty cool to see it all happen,” said Ferguson on the draft attention. “I have been fortunate to be around some good players that I could be alongside and watch them go through the process. It has been cool to go through it now.”
In 2019, Ferguson received playing time immediately as a freshman, mostly seeing time at first base. He hit .231 with one double, one triple and nine RBIs in 78 at-bats in 34 games.
Ferguson showed growth as Tennessee’s second baseman last year. He hit .333 with two doubles, two home runs and six RBIs in 42 at-bats in 13 games. He also stole nine bases in the pandemic shortened season.
Ferguson is extremely athletic, with his top trait being his above-average speed. That athleticism is an asset on the base pads and in the field defensively. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound left-handed hitter is more of a gap-to-gap hitter but continues to add more power to his game as he matures physically.
“For me, speed has always been something that I have had in my back pocket and something I have hung my hat on,” Ferguson said. “As I have gotten stronger, I have started to develop more power to give me a combination of speed and power.”
In preparation for this season, Ferguson worked on his hitting mechanics in the offseason. He hopes he can incorporate his back leg more into his swing to generate consistent power, he said.
“I want to mainly grow as a player from the standpoint of being a leader,” Ferguson said. “On top of that, I want to continue to develop power and backspin balls the way I want to backspin them.”
In high school, Ferguson played center field his sophomore and junior years and second base and shortstop his senior year. That position versatility has benefited him at Tennessee. He’s played first base, second base, shortstop and center field in his first two college seasons.
Ferguson believes he likely will play second base and some center field this spring. He envisions himself playing second base or shortstop in pro ball.
“I take pride in bouncing around and playing other positions,” Ferguson said. “I take a lot of pride in my versatility.”
Last spring, Tennessee started 15-2 before COVID-19 caused the college baseball season to end prematurely. The Volunteers return plenty of talent this season, and Ferguson believes they have all the pieces in place to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
“My biggest goal is to go to Omaha, and I know that’s something myself and our team is looking forward to getting to compete for,” Ferguson said. “We are pretty hungry after our season was cut short last year. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for six years. He’s interviewed 253 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com 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.