Due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, earlier this month the NCAA decided to suspend all spring sports competition, which means that the 2020 college baseball season ended after four weeks of competition; also, Major League Baseball’s opening day, scheduled for March 26, was delayed until further notice. As a result of the shortened season, the status of the 2020 MLB Draft came into question, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan.
According to Passan, the MLB has the authority to shorten the 2020 draft to five rounds and they could potentially lessen the 2021 draft to 20 rounds, as opposed to the typical 40. Even though the exact date and number of rounds have yet to be determined, predictions are that July’s draft could only be five-to-ten rounds.
Ultimately, if they cut a majority of the rounds, the number of undrafted prospects increases greatly. That includes high school seniors, junior college players, and four-year university student-athletes. Furthermore, Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich have reported that the players’ signing bonus worth affiliated with each draft pick will remain at the 2019 value for the next two seasons. Also, if a player doesn’t get drafted, their signing bonus would be capped at $20K as an undrafted free agent.
With the presumed cap and draft limits, it will likely cause a vast majority of college underclassmen to return to their programs. That also could mean that high school prospects could end up choosing to play college ball rather than go pro.
Currently, for college seniors, their eligibility expires leaving them with no other options than to test their talents at the professional level or just live a normal life. According to the Wall Street Journal, the NCAA is open to granting an additional year of eligibility to seniors who participate in spring athletics at their respective schools. Those sports include baseball, softball, lacrosse, golf, and tennis.
According to Kendall Rogers of D1Baseball.com, two “Power Five” conferences disagree with the proposed notion of relief for athletes as a whole, while most other conferences uphold the idea of another year of eligibility for seniors, and for all spring athletes. Even though there is a divide, it’s anticipated that seniors will receive another season of eligibility, and underclassmen would about their business as usual.
As a result of all this, the 2021 MLB Draft class would be exceedingly competitive as college programs would have more talent than usual as seniors return for the final year; as well as a size-able freshman class that would be divided among program’s campuses. Programs are only allowed to have 27 players on scholarship and a 35-man roster overall. If another year of eligibility is allowed for spring athletes, the NCAA would have to take expanding baseball roster sizes into consideration.
For a school like UGA, this could greatly affect the school’s scholarship funds because football is the university’s money-maker. The current COVID-19 epidemic could greatly affect the school’s financials, too. The NCAA is set to vote Monday on the matter.
Georgia, who technically finished the season No. 2 in the county, has a lot pending on this vote. Below is a list of guys that this decision could affect, and some of them aren’t seniors.
Shepherd returned for his senior year in 2020 as Georgia’s starting shortstop, and one the more productive hitters in the lineup during the short season. In 2020, Shepherd 18 games at shortstop and batted .268 with four doubles, four home runs, and 21 RBI plus was 7-for-7 in stolen bases. He delivered a team-high two-out RBIs on the season, plus led the team with seven multi-hit games. Defensively, he tallied a .946 fielding percentage in 74 total chances.
As a junior, Shepherd was drafted in the 20th round by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2019 draft. He elected to return for his senior season in hopes that the Bulldogs could get over the hump of a regional, and reach the College World Series for the first time in 12 years. Shepherd is well respected in the locker room and was named one of the team’s three captains alongside Emerson Hancock and Riley King.
Prediction: Even with a strong showing in his senior season, I think Shepherd still has a lot to prove. He has a hot bat, but I think his consistency getting on base needs to improve. Defensively, he made a few errors this past season, and another year could improve his draft stock.
Hancock, a junior, is one of college baseball’s most highly regarded pitchers as he was predicted by many to be a top-five draft pick coming up in July. But with his junior season cut short, Hancock now will have a big decision to make if he wants to return for his final year or not. Through three seasons, Hancock has posted a 16-7 record, 3.47 ERA in 33 appearances, with 206 strikeouts and 55 walks in 192 innings
As a junior, he made four starts and registered a team-high 34 strikeouts in 24 innings, going 2-0 with a 2.75 ERA. UGA head coach Scott Stricklin has said many times over the short season that Hancock has vastly improved on his four-seam fastball, and almost perfected his changeup. Coming into the season, he was selected to the first team SEC Coaches Preseason All-SEC Team. Hancock was also a consensus preseason All-America selection and named to the watch list for USA Baseball’s Golden Spikes Award.
Prediction: I think Emerson Hancock will elect to enter his name into the MLB Draft. He has proven himself time and time again. Hancock has the composure, resilience, and showing to compete highly at the next level. He has a 95-mph fastball that can turn hitters heads, I think that if he was to return and get injured, that it could decrease his draft stock.
Bradley returned this past season after sitting out a majority of 2019 with a should injury. A redshirt junior, Bradley already has the option to return for another year. He proved that he can have a deadly bat as he enjoyed one of the finest starts of any player in the country. He batted .397 (25-for-63) with three doubles, six home runs, and 23 RBI plus was 8-for-9 in stolen bases and reached base safely in all 18 games.
In 2020, he also posted a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in 14 total chances. Bradley also has made quite a few appearances on the mound posting a 0-0 record, 2.25 ERA and two saves in 10 relief appearances with 17 strikeouts and nine walks in 12 innings during his career at UGA. On March 8, he was apart of a combined 6-0 shutout against UMASS.
Prediction: I think Bradley will return for another season because I think he still thinks he has a lot to prove. He’s just that type of hardworking guy who always wants to improve not only himself but also the team. He’s a very versatile player, and can pretty much play anywhere in the outfield, but I think he would probably like to solidify a position before he goes to the next level.
Like Hancock, the sophomore was one of the season’s most anticipated must-watch pitchers in the country. In his two-year career, Wilcox has made 23 appearances on the mound with 10 starts and posted a 6-2 record, with a 3.38 ERA and one complete game in 82.2 innings with 40 walks and 96 strikeouts. Wilcox was dominant on the mound in 2020 as he made four starts, and went 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA in 23 innings with 26 strikeouts and two walks.
Wilcox’s .157 ERA ranks third in school history for a season and is the best since 1966. Stricklin has said many times this past season that Wilcox is extremely successful because of fastball, and arsenal of off-speed pitches. He also has a nasty curveball that can leave hitters striking out while looking.
Prediction: I think that Wilcox returns because he is only a sophomore, and didn’t elect to enter the draft after his freshman year. He doesn’t no where he might place, and from what I’ve seen he is a team player. It seems that he has a remembrance of how last season ended in the opening weekend regional losses to FSU. Plus, I think he knows that his game could vastly improve with another year learning from Bulldogs’ pitching coach Sean Kenny.