A Draft in the Air


Florida Tech’s Jonathan Cornelius may be selected in baseball’s amateur draft the second week of June.

 

Major league baseball’s annual amateur draft is around the corner, and before it’s over some Space Coast names may be called.

If you’re a draft-eligible player, a player’s parent or a loved one, or just a Space Coast baseball fan, here’s what you need to know.

This year’s schedule and format is a bit different from past years.

For the second consecutive year, the first round will be televised on the MLB Network. It’s scheduled to begin on Monday June 7 at 7 PM EDT.

(By coincidence, I’m webcasting the Brevard County Manatees game that night starting at 6:50 PM EDT, so you can guess what will be a running topic of conversation.)

The remaining rounds, 2 through 50, will be held over the next two days. They won’t be televised, but you’ll be able to follow the selections on MLB.com and BaseballAmerica.com.

Baseball America is to the baseball industry what Variety is to the entertainment industry. BA is considered the leading independent authority on amateur talent, extensively evaluating and rating high school and college talent all the way up to draft day.

BA analyst Conor Glassey wrote in the latest issue that “2010 is a bit of an underwhelming year for draft-eligible talent.” He believes that “it’s an especially down year for college hitters” and that “the college crop of arms isn’t as strong as initially hoped.”

The draft is always more art than science. Many articles have been written over the years citing expensive first-rounders who went bust, and late-rounders who turned out to be All-Stars.

Who’s eligible?

High school graduates are, although if a player has earned his GED he can declare for the draft.

That’s how super-prospect Bryce Harper beat the system at age 17. Harper is considered by most analysts to be the likely #1 pick overall in the draft, a pick that belongs to the Washington Nationals. He’ll have until August 15 to sign, but the Nats can’t expect a quick autograph as Harper’s “advisor” is infamous agent Scott Boras.

Note that Boras may only “advise” Harper, not act as his agent. If Boras acts in an agent capacity, Harper loses his amateur eligibility.

Should Harper sign with the Nationals, most likely he’ll report to their minor league complex in Viera. If he fails to sign, he goes back in the pool for 2011 so long as he remains at the community college level.

Players at junior colleges — called “jucos” — are eligible, but not freshmen or sophomores at four-year universities. That’s why you often see top-prospect amateurs head for a juco instead of a university.

It also means that all players with the Brevard Community College Titans are eligible, but only juniors and seniors who played this year for the Florida Tech Panthers.

BA analyst John Manuel published his top Florida prospects on May 26. No Space Coast amateurs appear on the list, alas, except for FIT southpaw Jonathan Cornelius, who ranked #83 on the list of #85 amateurs. Here’s what Manuel wrote about Jono:

The need for lefties could also push Florida Tech’s Jonathan Cornelius up some boards, as he has an 85-89 mph fastball and a nice breaking ball that helped him strike out 95 in 91 innings. He’s ticketed for the 10th-15th round range.

As noted, Tech’s juniors and seniors are eligible. Cornelius is a junior. Eligible seniors are LHP Andrew Buonnani, 1B Michael Demma, and IF/OF Tony Moos.

Juniors have a bit of a negotiating edge, because if they don’t get the signing bonus they want they can return to college for another year, but they take the risk that they may get a lesser offer in 2011 if they have a poor senior season or get injured. Seniors are basically stuck with a take-it-or-leave-it offer.

If you’re draft-eligible but your name isn’t called, don’t despair. Many organizations scour Florida for players — college players in particular — who can be signed as undrafted free agents. These are often college seniors who might project as filling a niche in a minor league organization, such as a setup reliever, a veteran catcher to handle a young staff, or an infielder with a superior glove who can save young pitchers from running up their pitch counts too quickly by making stellar defensive plays.

It may not be much, but it gets your foot in the door.


Florida Tech’s Mike Piazza was signed by the Angels as an undrafted free agent in June 2009 and was assigned to the Rookie-A Orem Owlz.

 

That’s how Florida Tech senior Mike Piazza wound up with the Los Angeles Angels. He was signed as an undrafted free agent on June 18, 2009 and reported to Rookie-A Orem in the Pioneer League. Piazza worked 31 innings in relief and posted a 2.01 ERA with 30 strikeouts and 15 walks. He’s currently assigned to the Angels’ extended spring training at their minor league complex in Tempe, Arizona, the Angels’ version of the Nationals’ camp in Viera.

Darren O’Day, an undrafted reliever out of the University of Florida, was signed by the Angels on May 29, 2006 and went to Orem just as did Piazza. The Orem Owlz’ manager, Tom Kotchman, is a long-time Florida scout who lives near Tampa. Kotchman is wired into many of the coaches in the state, so he knows how to find overlooked seniors and other undrafted players. O’Day made his major league debut with the Angels in 2008 and is currently in the Texas Rangers’ bullpen where he has a 1.93 ERA in 18 2/3 innings.

Having followed the Angels’ minor leagues for thirteen years on my other web site FutureAngels.com, I guarantee you that the Angels will call a number of Floridians’ names in the latter rounds. “Kotch” looks for those role players I told you about who might fill a niche. O’Day took his opportunity and ran with it all the way to the big leagues.

What if a scout hasn’t talked to you yet? What if a scout has talked to you?

To be honest … It doesn’t mean much.

Some scouts approach players to learn more about them. Other scouts prefer to observe on their own. The veteran scouts get to know all the high school, juco and university coaches to talk on background about a player’s traits — not just his physical skills, which are on display every game, but how he behaves in the clubhouse, as a teammate, away from the team, his academics.

Don’t underestimate these questions. Pro baseball is a business. If you don’t take amateur ball seriously, odds are you won’t take pro ball seriously either. If you show up late for practice, if you look like a slob in your jersey, if you’re a party animal, organizations are more likely to shy away from you.

If you’re a top prospect, of course, organizations might put up with more, but very few players fall into that category. So don’t lessen your chances by leaving a poor impression.

Even if a scout has approached you, it doesn’t mean much. Many players have told me they never heard a word from the organization that drafted them until after their name was called. Some had their butts kissed by scouts who said their organization was very interested, only to never hear from that team again.

If you do get an offer to play pro ball, should you accept it?

Only you can answer that question.

If you’re a high school player, you have to ask yourself if you’re emotionally ready for a full-time temporary job with low pay and grueling hours. You won’t be able to attend college full-time, only part-time, and you’ll lose your amateur eligibility. If you sign, it’s quite possible you’ll spend the next three months on long bus rides to small towns in parts of the country you never knew existed, sleeping with at least one roommate in a low-end motel.

It’s also possible that, twenty years from now, you’ll look back on that as the best experience of your life.

I’ve known many former pro players who said their first year of minor league ball was their favorite. They remember every game, every road trip, every teammate.

Now let’s talk to Mom and Dad.

Here’s a dirty little secret … Most scouts will try to convince Mom, not Dad. So watch for that.

But let’s be honest. If your son doesn’t have the natural ability, no organization is capable of turning him into Tim Lincecum or Luis Pujols. All players will receive professional instruction, but it’s only natural that the ones who get the most attention are the ones who have the most investment, i.e. those who received the biggest bonuses. A lot more is at stake if a million-dollar prospect fails than a player who received a $5,000 bonus.

You’re probably worried about whether the organization will raise your son properly. To be honest, some are better about that than others. The Angels are the only organization I know intimately, and I can promise you that they don’t tolerate misbehavior. You couldn’t ask for better father figures than Tom Kotchman at Orem and his pitching coach Zeke Zimmerman.

But there are 29 other major league organizations out there, each with its own standard of behavior. Hopefully you raised your son properly and taught him the values that will help him make the right decision when presented with a dubious proposition.

Let’s also note that drug testing in the minors is much stricter than in the big leagues. Major league players belong to the union. Minor leaguers do not. That means MLB can implement very strict testing rules. If you’re doing marijuana, amphetamines, steroids, or anything else that’s forbidden, don’t think you can beat the system. You can’t. Players get suspended all the time. If you’re caught three times, you’re banned for life. So don’t mess up your one opportunity to play pro ball.

Draft week is exhilarating, frightening, and undoubtedly a lifelong memory. There’s nothing like hearing your name called by a professional baseball organization. I’ll be listening for Space Coast names. If the Angels sign you … I’ll see you in Orem.

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