PULLMAN – The madness that started brewing in March could lead to mayhem in April, May, June and July for college baseball programs around the country.
The NCAA’s decision to grant an additional year of eligibility for spring student-athletes who lost most of their season due to the coronavirus pandemic was widely praised, though there are numerous implications for baseball coaches who’ll spend the next few months pondering how the changes will impact their rosters in 2020-21.
Fortunately, Washington State’s Brian Green will be spared some of those headaches, with only two seniors on his 35-man roster. One of those, left-handed pitcher A.J. Block, is a virtual lock to enter the Major League Baseball draft after being selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 17th round of the 2018 draft. The Bellevue native held a 2-1 record with a team-leading 34 strikeouts when the season was suspended.
“Obviously, A.J. was on his way to really upping his draft status, which we were really excited about,” Green said Thursday on a conference call with reporters. “I think we both anticipate A.J., professional baseball is going to be in his future really soon.”
Owen Leonard, the other senior, will have to make a decision on his future soon. Even if he returns, WSU’s roster presumably wouldn’t exceed 36 players, which gives Green more flexibility than some of his peers. Gonzaga, for example, has five seniors on its roster.
College baseball coaches can allocate 11.7 scholarships to no more than 27 players. The NCAA’s ruling from earlier in the week states that seniors who opt to come back can only receive up to the scholarship money they were getting previously.
“The fact the NCAA did that to give all students another year, although a lot of us are going to have to work, at the end of the day everybody is pumped the student-athletes get another opportunity,” Green said. “That’s why we’re here, that’s why we have our jobs.”
Still, Green is prepared to deal with other “moving parts.”
Because the MLB draft is being moved from early to late July, and will be trimmed from the usual 40 rounds to no more than 10 – and perhaps as few as five – it’s expected that many high school players will take the college route rather than jumping straight into professional baseball. Meanwhile, college juniors and seniors who are considered midround draft picks may return to school for a chance to boost their MLB stock.
Because of when the draft is taking place, coaches may not have a good sense of what their rosters will look like by the July 1 date when scholarships are renewed.
“We’re about ready to hit the Wild West, I would assume, just in terms of all those midlevel drafts are going to show up as we all anticipate,” Green said. “It’s got a chance to be crazy here over the next couple months.”
WSU’s signing class includes four of the top-10-ranked high school prospects in Washington, according to Prep Baseball Report, and is supplemented by five junior college players, who make up the fifth-best JC class in the country, according to JBB Baseball. Some of those players may have been weighing their options before revisions to the MLB draft convinced them to take their chances in college.
“For us, we’ve got a couple kids in that recruiting class we were biting our nails about,” Green said. “Now with the rules changed, you’re looking at your sixth-, seventh- and eighth-rounders, they’re just planning on going to school. So for us, really exciting times.”
Between returning juniors and seniors, and the anticipated injection of freshmen who would’ve otherwise gone directly to the pros, college baseball could be especially loaded with talent next season.
“College baseball’s got a chance to be extremely stout this year just in terms of strong rosters,” Green said.
Under normal circumstances, the Cougars, who finished the abbreviated season with a 9-7 record, would’ve been preparing for a three-game series against USC this weekend at Bailey-Brayton Field. Now, Green and his staff members are holding daily Zoom meetings to communicate with players, who hear from a coach three times per week. Some meetings are exclusive to pitchers or infielders, while others include every member of the team.
“It’s only four hours a week you want to limit those to,” he said. “We’ve just switched gears. Heads-up baseball. We’ve got presentations for the kids, visualization and meetings just on what we want to be doing in the weight room and nutrition.
“I’m actually a lot busier than I anticipated.”
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