The MLB Draft brings a special kind of anxiety to fans of a college baseball team.
With the NFL and the NBA, it’s different. Players have to announce their intentions in advance. Once the player announces his intentions (or in the case of the NBA, he doesn’t withdraw his name at the deadline to do so), it’s done. He’s either coming back or he isn’t.
But baseball is a little different. You’ll hear a player’s name called on Monday night (or Tuesday), and the process is just beginning. Now you have to wait a month or two to find out if he’s signing to play professionally or returning to school (or coming to school, in the case of incoming recruits.)
Now, I will say that since the bonus pool rules came into effect a few years ago, there’s been considerably less sweating. With what essentially amounts to a penalty to failing to sign a drafted player in the first ten rounds — you lose the slot money, whatever it is, out of your bonus pool -- there’s a much greater premium on signability than there once was. If a player is probably not going to sign a professional contract, then he won’t get picked, at least not in the first couple of rounds. But if a guy does get drafted early, then he’s probably gone.
So who are we watching the next couple of days?
Most juniors who get drafted -- at all — are going to sign; it’s just a fact of life. Occasionally, a player either gets insulted by a lowball offer or thinks he can improve his draft stock with another year in school, but those are the exception and not the rule. Most players in that situation don’t want to lose the minimal leverage they still have, and will sign while they can still get a decent bonus out of it.
Now, there might actually be a couple of players on this year’s team who that might apply to — junior righthander Patrick Raby seemed to be mulling a return to school a couple of weeks ago, and Julian Infante’s massively disappointing junior year might convince him to come back (of course, at this point he might actually not have the option of going pro.) But it is probably safe to assume that Ethan Paul, Connor Kaiser, Stephen Scott, and Chandler Day are gone.
The more interesting case to watch is Reid Schaller. While a redshirt freshman, Schaller is draft-eligible, and MLB teams are interested. But since he could return to school and still have some leverage next year, he might not sign.
That’s a short list, but...
Yes, Vanderbilt might only have five or six juniors get draft this year. On the other hand, there’s the recruiting class.
The bad news about having the top-ranked recruiting class in the country, at least in baseball, is that many of your prospects are going to draw interest from MLB teams. Some won’t get drafted early because of signability concerns, but a good number of Vanderbilt’s recruits won’t make it to campus.
The Big Five
In Ethan Hankins, Kumar Rocker, and Ryan Weathers, Vanderbilt has a trio of pitching prospects who would be the envy of a lot of MLB teams, never mind every college baseball program in the country.
But they’re also extremely unlikely to get all three to campus — and it would be a massive win if one of the three made it to campus. The latest mock draft at FanGraphs has Weathers going at 7 to the Padres, Hankins to the Indians at 35, and Rocker at 40 to the Royals. Weathers, assuming he does get drafted that high, is as good as gone; you’re simply not going to turn down the money given to a top ten draft pick. Hankins and Rocker are a bit more interesting, though. Hankins was talked about as a potential #1 overall pick as recently as a year ago, but a shoulder injury this season has caused his stock to drop. That could go either way: potentially, Hankins could see himself as a guy who can get back to a top five pick after three years at Vanderbilt, but he also might be tempted to take the money while it’s there in case his arm falls apart. Rocker is rumored to be a tough sign, and that’s why he is showing up at 40 in this mock: on pure talent, he’d probably go much higher than that.
The class also has a couple of elite hitting prospects in Xavier Edwards and Will Banfield; of the two, Banfield is probably more likely to make it to campus. In the mock above, Edwards is projected to go 13th to the Marlins (which is as good an indication as any that he’ll probably sign), while Banfield is all the way down at 77, at the end of the second round.
What to watch for here is if any of these five have a weird, unexplained drop on draft night. Hankins’ arm troubles and Rocker’s perceived signability concerns are already priced in a bit here (and probably Banfield as well), so use that as a baseline. If any of them are still on the board at the end of the second round, it might well mean they’re coming to campus.
The rest of the class
(If you want the full list of commits, here’s the list that Perfect Game has. You can view the rankings if you’re a subscriber. Note that Tre Douglas is a football signee who probably won’t be playing baseball at Vanderbilt.)
Out of the remainder of the class, Ryder Green shows up at the back end of the second round in that FanGraphs mock (hell, he’s ahead of Banfield), which should probably tell you something about the relative signability of both Green and Banfield.
This is where we really need to watch the draft. Aside from the Big Five and Green, five other players — Austin Becker, Nick Northcut, John Malcom, Ethan Smith, and Brett Hansen -- are in Perfect Game’s top 100. That’s generally a range that correlates with being at least a fifth-round pick on talent, so any of those players could get drafted early enough to sign (or later and have a team free up enough money in their bonus pool to sign them over slot.) I won’t particularly worry about any of them if they fall past the tenth round, but it’s going to be a long summer if more than one goes in the first ten rounds.