Turning an amateur athlete into a professional though the draft process is obviously full of uncertainty, but the 2020 Major League Baseball Draft on June 10 will be the most unpredictable in history.
In an effort to survive the COVID-19 closures, MLB is cutting its draft from 40 rounds to only five rounds, while also shutting down more than 40 lower level teams from its massive minor league farm system. These moves will save the league and its owners money, but they will also send shock waves through the baseball world as the number of jobs dwindle.
“There’s nothing they can do,” Long Beach State Dirtbags coach Eric Valenzuela said of his seniors who are draft eligible. “If those guys get an opportunity they’re going to go, but I don’t know what ‘go’ means. I don’t know if the minor league season is going to play out or what they’re going to do.”
The Dirtbags have a handful of draft prospects who have received interest from MLB franchises. Pitcher Adam Seminaris is on the top of that list. The lefty ace had a 1.23 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 22 innings for LBSU this season.
“You never know how this thing is going to play out, but from the conversations that I’ve had with some scouts, he’s going to be in that top five rounds,” Valenzuela said of Seminaris. “If he doesn’t get drafted he’ll come back as a junior.”
“The free agent signing isn’t in my vision right now,” Seminaris said. “If (getting drafted) doesn’t happen I have zero problems coming back to school.”
Although the five rounds and 160 selections are the only guaranteed spots for first-year prospects, MLB will also allow franchises to offer any player not drafted a free agent contract. The maximum signing bonus will be $20,000. Those players offered will have until Aug. 1 to decide if they want to take the deal, or return to school thanks to NCAA eligibility relief.
“I’ve had a few teams reach out to me, and everyone is just playing this waiting game,” LBSU senior Calvin Estrada said. “No one is sure what’s going on. No one has really sat down and drawn up the boards yet.”
Estrada led off for the Dirtbags this season and hit .290 while scoring a team-high 10 runs.
“If I get a chance I have to take it,” Estrada said. “As I get older I have to take advantage because this could be the last opportunity I get to follow my dream.”
Fellow LBSU outfielder Aidan Malm is also getting some attention from teams as a possible free agent pickup. Malm hit .306 this year with eight RBIs in 12 games.
The MLB Draft will go back up to 20 rounds next year, but Valenzuela said that is still low enough to improve the talent level in college baseball.
“College baseball is going to be a lot stronger,” Valenzuela said. “More high school guys will come to college… Yes, (the cuts) may give less opportunities for college baseball players to chase their dream, but a lot more student athletes will be graduating. There were a lot of juniors who signed in the 21st-40th rounds. Now those guys are going to get their degrees in four years.”
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For players already in the minor leagues there are even more unanswered questions. Chris Betts, the Wilson High alum and catcher for the Tampa Bay Rays single-A affiliate Bowling Green Hot Rods, personally knows what the cuts mean.
“Some of my favorite people that I’ve encountered in my career have been staff members for some of these teams that are proposed to be cut,” Betts said. “I understand there’s less jobs and one day I might lose a job because of it. Players are going to lose jobs, front offices are going to lose jobs and small towns are going to lose revenue, there’s just no good way to do it.”
Betts has been staying prepared to return to the diamond, but he’s not holding out hope for this year because of the lack of information about a possible restart to the baseball season.
“Hopefully it’s the right thing to do so next year can go off without a hitch,” Betts said of cancelling the entire season. “What would be worse than not playing is jumping the gun and having to get shut down again, and that negatively affecting our chances to have a normal season next year.”
Betts is also teaching some social-distanced baseball lessons with young baseball players in Long Beach to stay busy and make some money. Many minor league agreements will end this summer, and there are rumors that some players could be furloughed indefinitely.
“Nothing is guaranteed,” Betts said. “I’m just trying to stay prepared for anything.”