September 24, 2017

Feeling the Draft and the Summer Breeze

June 7, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

A new facet of the 2017 season reveals itself in June. There is the College World Series that begins on June 17th and the Super Regionals are set to begin with no small number of surprise teams making the field of 16 teams left standing. Davidson, Missouri State, and Sam Houston are among some of the names that few would have included in their brackets. Solid favorites like Oregon State, Florida, LSU and Louisville remain in contention as well.

There are other opening days occurring as some wood bat leagues have already begun play and the Cape Cod League begins next week.

But the biggest rumble will come when the MLB Rule 4 amateur draft steps off on June 12 when the Minnesota Twins step to the rostrum alongside Commissioner Rob Manfred and announce the first overall pick. Minnesota is believed to leaning toward Vanderbilt right-handed pitcher, Kyle Wright, widely regarded as the best or solid college pitching prospect coming out this year. Players like Miguel Sano have finally begun to realize their vast potential and the Twins need pitchers who can move quickly through their system to join Jose Berrios at the front of the rotation.

The draft provides young men whose lives have been about little more than baseball since their their early teens with a unique moment of realization. Rick Ankiel articulated the excitement of it all in his recent book as well as anyone. As important as the draft is to the lives of aspiring young men, it has significance in the game overall that will be felt like a domino run that sets in motion a chain of events beginning with the opening of Short Season Leagues, and the increasing ferment of Major League trade rumors.

After the draft there will be the perennial scramble to sign the players, although the drama of it has been significantly lessened in recent years. MLB has shortened the signing period and firmer slot allocations have taken away much of the wiggle room that players once had to negotiate. Quickly, teams will begin signing talent and allocating it to their minor league organizations. Some of these additions will bump players from Low-A teams to High-A, but more importantly, teams will know what kind of overall talent they have as contenders look to add those final pieces for the last two months of the season and the playoffs.

Few teams have depleted their minor league resources as much as the Washington Nationals in recent years as they attempt to maximize their competitive window that Bryce Harper gives the Major League team. The signing of international talents like Juan Soto, Victor Robles and others are almost all that they have left and few gems are left in their system save an Eric Fedde here and a Carter Kieboom there, with few other players that still have claims of legitimate prospect status.

It is all in for 2017 however, and the draft will be a big tell as to what to expect from the Nationals moving forward toward the trade deadline. Almost everyone expects the Nationals to add a bullpen arm to bolster their chances in the playoffs. But what they can afford to trade will be largely determined by what they take away from the Amateur Draft next week.

One of the best mock drafts from the Washington perspective was at John Sickels Minor League Ball site. That mock draft saw the Nationals using three of their first four picks to select college pitchers. The departure of Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning have left the Nationals with some of the worst minor league pitching overall anywhere and a distinct need to re-load.  In the Sickels mock draft, Griff Canning of UCLA and Alex Lange of LSU are still available when Washington selects at number 25. One can only hope for that kind of luck. The second round selection of Trevor Stephen of Arkansas, might be the best pitching talent with that pick since Jordan Zimmermann in 2007.

The struggles of Joe Ross, A.J. Cole and Austin Voth have left the Nationals with few options to fill out their rotation at the Major League level. They need a re-boot in the worst way.

However the draft proceeds for the Nationals, they will have a set of players who can fill out the rosters at Hagerstown, MD, Auburn, NY and wherever they might choose to place players taken in the first few rounds. There will be a better understanding of organizational strengths from which to deal in late June and July as the team looks to solidify their bullpen and anything else they can get.

Having watched a wood bat game in Charlottesville, VA last night, I can attest to the beauty of the June nights as the fire flies circle the field in the woods beyond the outfield walls. The play was a bit sloppy at times, but the atmosphere was hard to beat. Hopefully the Nationals can find the kind of lift they need to take the team to the next level, but regardless, there is even more baseball being played around the country and the weather is just grand. Get out and enjoy it while you can.

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