San Diego County is annually among the nation’s biggest hotbeds for amateur baseball talent, with dozens of players selected each year in the MLB Draft.
Expect the number of local players to be counted on one hand with MLB’s plan to scale back next month’s draft from 40 to five rounds.
One result of this development is that both four-year universities and junior colleges expect to benefit, with more incoming freshmen heading to campus and more draft-eligible players staying on campus.
“Colleges are going to be all backed up,” a longtime local scout said. “You’re going to have a lot of guys going to JCs this next year. … The JCs will have the most abundance of talent that they’ve had in 15 or 20 years.”
Baseball America ranks San Diego State third baseman/closer Casey Schmitt (Eastlake High) as the No. 60 player in the nation.
Three other college players produced by area high schools are in BA’s top 160 — Arizona shortstop Alika Williams (Rancho Bernardo High) at No. 31, Oregon State right-hander Kevin Abel (Madison High) at No. 83 and USC right-hander Kyle Hurt (Torrey Pines High) at No. 135.
“I’m sure Casey will get drafted in the first five rounds,” SDSU head coach Mark Martinez said.
This, even though play was canceled just four weeks into the season because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Based on the fact he had such a good summer,” Martinez said. “He had a slow start, but he was on fire over in Oklahoma (for a series against Oklahoma State). There were a lot of cross checkers there to see him play.
“He’s really the one guy that will have the opportunity. Some of our other guys might get a phone call regarding the free agent stuff.”
USD has a pair of junior catchers — Shane McGuire and Adam Kerner — who may have played their way into the top five rounds, but never had the opportunity.
The Toreros also had a pair of local high school recruits — Torrey Pines High third baseman/right-hander Kevin Sim and San Marcos High left-hander/outfielder Kyle Carr — who could have improved their draft stock this season enough to have a decision between signing and attending college.
It’s not just the reduced number of rounds for the June 10-11 draft that will have more players headed to college.
Other factors include:
— Deferred bonuses.
Teams will pay $100,000 to signed players this year and the remainder of bonuses will be split in two payments in 2021 and 2022.
— Bonuses for free agents will be limited to $20,000.
The draft pick bonus recommendations are the same as last year, ranging from $8,415,300 for the first pick in the first round to $324,100 for the last pick (160th overall) in the fifth round.
“The deferment plan is a game changer,” Hill said. “This is one of the reasons our guys won’t do it, because it doesn’t make sense.”
Limiting the upfront signing bonus means players won’t have much to live on while they’re in the minor leagues.
— Where will draftees play this summer?
At this point, it appears unlikely there will be a minor league season.
“When you sign this year, there’s nowhere to go,” Hill said. “College baseball is going to be the benefactor for all of those reasons.”
One reason more players could end up at junior colleges is because they are immediately eligible for the draft after one year, whereas players who attend four-year schools are not eligible until after their junior year.
Also, some players headed to a four-year school on a partial scholarship may not be able to afford the remainder of their tuition because of financial difficulties created by the crisis.
College baseball is allowed only 11.7 scholarships, which means many players are receiving only 25 to 50 percent of the cost of school. If you’re at a school that costs $50,000 a year, for instance, that’s a substantial sum to cover beyond what the scholarship pays.
Coaches aren’t celebrating getting more players to school just yet, however.
“I’m hesitant to start jumping up and down and throwing a party because you never really know,” Hill said.
Said Martinez: “Your first reaction is, ‘This is great for college baseball.’ But we’ll find out how it’s going to play out over time.”
While college coaches are cautiously optimistic, those who sit in the stands scouting players have been depressed since rumors of a five-round draft emerged two months ago.
“There’s a lot of big leaguers who have come from (rounds) six to 10,” said the longtime pro scout, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment. “It’s not good. It’s bad. It’s not something any scout would say is good in any way, shape or form. But it’s the situation we’re in.
“You’ve got scouts being laid off. You’ve got scouts being furloughed. You’ve got scouts losing jobs.
“It’s very short-sighted.”