Major League Baseball is now playing a waiting game.
The owners and the MLB Players Association have mapped a plan for the 2020 MLB season, and, most importantly to them, how everyone in their circle is going to make the most money possible.
The owners didn’t get rich by hemorrhaging money, which they are doing without games being played amid the coronavirus pandemic. No games equals no gate revenues and no TV contracts.
Part of the grand scheme to help owners minimize losses and costs is shortening the June amateur draft. It might seem as if they aren’t having a draft at all.
MLB was given the right to cut the draft from 40 rounds, the longest draft in professional sports, to only five. There’s a chance it will be longer, though most agree it won’t be longer than 10 rounds.
The results will be millions saved for each team, but millions lost for prospective draftees and a potential headache for them and for college coaches.
“College baseball is going to be played at a higher level maybe than it has in a long time because more good players are going to stay in college and more good players are going to come to college,” TCU baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “Now … fitting them all in 11.7 scholarships and a roster size of 35, that’s going to be the challenge.”
For players like Baylor shortstop Nick Loftin, a junior who is considered a top 50 prospect, there’s not a lot of stress involved. Yes, the college season was wiped out, but he has been heavily scouted the past few seasons.
The Texas Rangers have seen him. They drafted Loftin’s former Bears teammate Davis Wendzel last year with the 41st overall pick and nabbed left-hander Cody Bradford in the sixth round.
There’s no way Rangers area scout Josh Simpson, or the North Texas scout for any other team, didn’t see Loftin. He knows that, and that has left him feeling confident amid the uncertainty surrounding the draft.
Yes, he’s bummed not to be playing games now, but not because he is worried that his draft status is being affected adversely.
“I’m not too worried. I feel like I’ve really established myself these last two years as a baseball player,” Loftin said. “I’m putting everything in God’s hands. We’ve had top picks, so we’ve had a lot of scouts at our games the last few years. I’m just working out and doing my baseball stuff for when the time comes.”
Flower Mound right-hander Cam Brown is considered the No. 68 prospect in the latest Baseball America rankings, but his situation is different than Loftin.
Brown has committed to TCU, and until he is drafted his mindset is that he will honor that commitment. If he is drafted, he said that he will speak with his parents about his best move.
Scouts have seen Brown, both at Flower Mound High School and on the summer circuit of showcases for top prep players, but they don’t have the same volume of information on him as a college player like Loftin.
Maybe the last couple times scouts saw Brown they weren’t impressed. Maybe teams trend more toward college players this year rather than higher-risk prep players, and Brown slides out of the top two rounds and the kind of money that will convince him to bypass college.
“Right now I’m looking forward to getting to TCU and trying to win a College World Series,” Brown said. “With everything that’s been going on, I haven’t really talked to my family yet. I don’t have a ‘Oh, I’m going no matter what’ or ‘I’m going to college.’ It’s just going to be whatever I decide is what’s going to be best with me.”
In the meantime, a draft date hasn’t even been set, and players are left to work out on their own while trying to stay sharp for the draft or their next season.
Loftin left Waco for his home in Corpus Christi, where he is taking online classes and continuing to hit, throw, take grounders and work out. His high school coach lives down the street and grabbed a bucket of balls before schools were shut down, and his brother has a fairly extensive home gym.
“I’ve never had this much time in my life,” Loftin said. “Once we start pro ball, we’re going to hit the ground running and be gone for months at a time. Right now, I’m taking it day by day, and I’m not too worried about it right now.”
Brown said that he is working out five days a week but isn’t throwing off a mound in large part because he doesn’t have access to one.
Online classes at Flower Mound begin Monday.
“My brother and I are just training and staying in shape while we still can before everything opens up again,” Brown said. “It’s two leg days and three heavy days, which is basically long-tossing.”
Schlossnagle said that Monday is a potentially big day for NCAA spring sports. The Division I Council will vote for eligibility forgiveness, fancy talk for giving spring athletes who lost their seasons an extra year of eligibility.
It might be only seniors who get the extra year, and it’s also possible that the decision is tabled until a decision is made on if fall sports _ especially football _ will have their seasons canceled.
A backlog of baseball players is a likely result. Recruiting classes are still coming and with potentially very few players leaving, coaches will have to figure out how to fit them all on a roster of 35 and how to divvy up 11.7 scholarships.
While the draft is shortened, undrafted free agents can sign for $20,000. One MLB executive speculated that some college juniors could take that deal, particularly those facing a potential loss of playing next season and a lack of draft leverage if they become seniors.
Schlossnagle said he advises his players about the importance of being far enough along in their development before making a jump to the majors. Pitchers who have been injured in college should be especially weary.
“The signing bonus with the exception of the guys in the first couple rounds, that’s overrated,” Scholossnagle said. “It’s all about your development and are you ready to go into professional baseball and compete.
“To me, you make your money in the big leagues, so you better be ready to play versus just taking a bonus and not getting your degree.”
As is the case with most things in this coronavirus pandemic, no one knows for sure what will happen.
However, the MLB draft will be much different than in past seasons, and the decision by MLB owners to cut expenses on the draft will have a trickle-down effect on college baseball.
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