Maury Neipris

Five college seniors who could go No. 1 in the 2017 NPF Draft

Before some of the best softball players in the world take the field for the 2017 National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) season in June, a new crop of talent will be added to the league on Monday.

The annual NPF Draft, which will take place for the first time at Acme Feed & Seed in Nashville, Tenn., will feature five rounds and 26 picks divided up among the NPF’s five teams.

The defending regular-season champion USSSA Pride will have first dibs this year, while the Akron Racers are set to select second. The reigning Cowles Cup champion Chicago Bandits will have back-to-back picks with Nos. 3 and 4, and the newly revamped Texas Charge will finish off the first round with the fifth overall selection.

As general managers wrestle with decisions that could impact the league for seasons to come, below are five college seniors who could become the coveted No. 1 pick in Monday’s draft, which will be streamed on NPFTV at 8 p.m. ET.

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1. Jessica Burroughs – Florida State

Burroughs could be just the welcome addition the Pride need after their disappointing run in the 2016 postseason, which ended with a stunning 2–1 loss to the Bandits in the NPF Championship Series. Though USSSA ended last year’s NPF campaign leading the league in multiple pitching categories, the team ultimately lacked the depth it needed out of the bullpen down the stretch.

Burroughs, a hard-throwing righthander with a full arsenal of pitches, has proved to be the most reliable arm on one of the nation’s best teams. She’s the reigning ACC Pitcher of the Year and has helped lead No. 2 Florida State (41–3–1) to two Women’s College World Series appearances in three seasons. The 2016 third-team All-America selection has followed up her stellar junior campaign with even better numbers this year, boasting a 21–2 record with a 0.85 ERA and 197 strikeouts so far.

To boot, she’s already spent plenty of time with Pride coach Lonni Alameda, who has also served as her head coach during her tenure with the Seminoles. The fit appears to be ideal for both Burroughs and the Pride, and based on her track record, it makes the most sense for her to be chosen with Monday’s top pick.

2. Megan Betsa – Michigan

Not to be outdone by Burroughs, Betsa is also having a special senior season in the circle. As the leader of 19th-ranked Michigan (32–9–1), a team that could have been decimated by the graduation of its best offensive threats, Betsa has stepped up in a big way for the Wolverines in 2017.

Pitching all seven innings of most games she starts, Betsa has blossomed into the country’s best workhorse. She leads Division I in strikeouts (306)—tying her total for all of last season—and has two no-hitters and nine shutouts to her name this year.

Her 18–6 record and 1.38 ERA don’t begin to tell the story of her value to Michigan during her college career: She is the first Wolverine to total three 300-strikeout seasons and ranks third in career strikeouts (1,095) and fifth in wins (95).

Megan Betsa (right) after Michigan’s win over Michigan State on April 18, 2017. (University of Michigan Athletics)

Betsa improved her repertoire in the offseason to go from being predominately a rise ball-changeup pitcher to one that also mixes in curves and drops. The two-time Big Ten Pitcher of the Year can spin it with the best of them and could be just the type of arm USSSA was missing when it counted late last season.

3. Bailey Landry – LSU

Though the mild-mannered Landry doesn’t possess the persona of the best all-around player in the country, she has been just that for No. 16 LSU (33–12) this season. The outfielder is the most complete athlete in this draft class and has all the tools necessary to be successful at the professional level.

Landry’s numbers back up that statement, as she currently owns the second-best batting average in the nation at .483. She is a triple threat from the left side of the plate, possessing the ability to bunt, slap and hit for power, as well as the potential to play multiple positions in the outfield.

The natural-born table-setter could be the perfect addition to the top, or very bottom, of the high-powered USSSA batting order.

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4. Mo Mercado – Arizona

Mercado may be a dark horse for the No. 1 pick, but she’d be a worthy choice for the Pride. The senior is in the midst of a career year for No. 3 Arizona (43–3), and does it all for the Wildcats.

She plays a solid shortstop and leads Arizona’s offense with a .425 batting average, 57 hits and 12 doubles to go along with her nine home runs and 45 RBIs.

The better the pitching she’s faced in 2017, the better the result has been for Mercado, who longtime Arizona head coach Mike Candrea has called the team’s MVP this season.

5. Kelsee Selman – Baylor

Selman is another potential No. 1 pick flying under the radar right now. After transferring from LSU following her sophomore season, she went on to provide meaningful innings for No. 15 Baylor (35–7) in 2016 before becoming the team’s ace this year.

Selman saved her best for last, as her impressive senior campaign has yielded a 18–4 record and 1.31 ERA, which are both currently the top marks in the Big 12 Conference.

Similar to what she’s done for the Bears in less than two full seasons, Selman could provide the Pride with quality depth if she’s chosen with Monday’s top pick.

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