Shortened Draft Has Wolfpack Baseball Prospects in Limbo

Brett Friedlander

Late May is usually the most exciting time of the year for a college baseball player.

Not only are there tournaments in which to play, but for draft-eligible juniors and seniors, there's also the anticipation of starting a professional career with a Major League organization.

That's still the case this year. But because the draft has been shortened from the usual 40 rounds to just five as a coronavirus-related cost-cutting measure, a lot fewer players will be certain of their baseball futures than ever before

While the change won't make much of a difference for NC State's early round prospects Patrick Bailey and Nick Swiney, there are numerous others whose plans will be greatly altered.

It's a group that includes juniors Devonte Brown, Austin Murr, David Harrison, Dalton Feeney and draft eligible sophomore Tyler McDonough. Seniors Kent Klyman, Brad Debo and Lawson McArthur also have decisions to make now that the NCAA has granted them an extra year of eligibility.

They can either either sign as an undrafted free agent for much less money than expected -- teams are only allowed to offer a maximum of $20,000 per player -- or they can return to school and hope that the system returns to normal next year.

“No one knows what’s going to happen," Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent said recently in an interview with SI All Wolfpack. '"We know the draft is going to take place on the 10th and 11th (of June). We know there’s going to be five rounds and there will be money after the draft on a limited basis that they may offer to people whether they be seniors or underclassmen.

“I try not to ask our players too many questions that I know they don’t have answers to. ... “It’s a decision they’ll have to base on where they’re at in their life."

Among the players most adversely affected by the shortened draft is junior outfielder Devonte Brown.

A marginal prospect when the season began, Brown was in the process of greatly enhancing his stock with a torrid start that saw him hit .338 with 22 hits, six doubles, five homers and 19 RBI when things were shut down after just 17 games. His .692 slugging percentage ranked fifth in the ACC.

But because he wasn't able to prove his ability to sustain that success over the course of a full season, he is still only ranked as the 353rd best player available by Baseball America. That would put him early in the 12th round in any other year.

Murr, a junior college transfer who was hitting .306 with 19 hits, a team-high seven doubles, two triples and three homers in his first season at State, is in a similar situation ranked at No. 467 (late 15th round).

An even more intriguing case is that of McDonough.

Eligible for the draft because he's already turned 21, the versatile infielder/outfielder -- who was recruited as a catcher -- is ranked as a ninth-round pick by Baseball America. 

But as Avent points out, teams might be willing to take a flyer on him earlier than he's projected since college players are likely to be viewed as safer picks than their high school counterparts.

“Now the decision is going to have to be made by the professional teams, do we push them up into round five because we have more information on them than on high school seniors, since high school season didn’t take place?" Avent said. "It could push a guy up and we may not get them back. But if they get left out of the top five rounds, then obviously we could get them back.”

Two players that definitely won't be back are Bailey and Swiney.

Bailey is rated as the top available catcher and is expected to be taken somewhere in the top 15 picks. 

Swiney is a left-handed pitcher rated as an early third rounder by MLB.com. But as a recent mock draft by The Athletic suggests, his he could sneak into the first round based on his four dominant starts for the Wolfpack this season -- in which he posted a 1.29 ERA in 28 innings while striking out 42 batters and walking just six,

"Swiney doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but his three-pitch mix is solid, and it plays up with a bit of funk in his delivery," Baseball America wrote in its scouting report of the 6-foot-3 junior. "Swiney was trending in the right direction and showing he could handle a starting role, but teams would have liked to see a full season to have more conviction that his stuff held up in that role and that his newfound strike-throwing improvement was legit."

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