ASU baseball's Tracy Smith discusses MLB draft changes, potential picks

The skipper spoke on how shortening the MLB draft may push players to play in college

ASU baseball head coach Tracy Smith spoke to media members regarding COVID-19's impact, Major League Baseball's five-round draft and the proposed Minor League Baseball contraction Wednesday morning via Zoom.

The Sun Devil skipper discussed how the current state of college baseball has been affected by recent changes in the structure of the developmental systems of MLB. 

MLB shrinks draft to five rounds

In early May, MLB announced it would shorten its annual First Year Player Draft to five rounds from its normal 40.

"No one knows if this is going to be the college heavy (draft) or high school heavy because that not only impacts our current roster, but certainly some of the guys we have coming in," Smith said. "We do feel, regardless, that we are probably going to get some guys back or some guys to campus that we maybe wouldn't have had with a 40-round draft."

With a smaller window for players to be taken in this June's draft, the Sun Devil program expects to strengthen even the strongest aspects of its projected 2021 roster.

"The one piece that I think will be really strong is the pitching piece," Smith said. "That's the area we didn't think was going to change a whole lot with a 40-round draft."

Following the five-round draft, there will be a period for MLB organizations to sign players to contracts worth up to $20,000. Smith spoke on the decision making process of whether a player should sign professionally or play the 2021 collegiate season.

"I think there is going to be a very limited, if at all, minor league season," Smith said. "It's not going to be a traditional minor league season."

With current precautions related to COVID-19, there is uncertainty regarding the 2020 minor league season. Smith said this year's minor league experience could be drastically altered.

"You are probably going to go and play some shortened version of spring training if they open the facilities back up," Smith said. "You are going to stay in that location and you are not going to play a traditional season."

Smith hinted at the idea that playing a college season may be wise with the looming possibility of having no minor league season in 2020.

"We are going to have an entire college baseball season prior to the next draft," Smith said. "If it's not a good financial decision, why would you sign a professional contract to go sit and not play a traditional minor league season until a year from now anyway, when you could also play your college season?" 

With 15 of the 30 MLB organizations having spring training and minor league facilities in the Valley, ASU players find themselves in a unique position, Smith said.

"The irony of being at a place like ASU, lets say a guy signs for $20,000, well, he's going to sign for $20,000 and then go sit in a minor league complex within 15 miles of our facility and watch us play all spring when he could have been (playing college baseball) and signing (after the 2021 season) anyway," Smith said.

Smith understands the balance of risks and rewards his draft-eligible players find themselves holding. Smith played professionally in the Chicago Cubs' minor league system for three seasons after graduating from Miami University in 1989.

"If they get compensated at a fair value that makes you pass all that up, absolutely (sign)," Smith said. "We are just trying to make sure guys are not in panic mode."

Smith's draft expectations

Despite the change in the number of rounds, Smith still believes a number of Sun Devils will hear their names called come draft day.

While Smith mostly refrained from mentioning specific people, he predicted four-to-six players will get selected.

"I think we are going to lose four-to-six guys from the current roster (to the draft) and there are a couple of our incoming class that are getting strong consideration," Smith said. 

Two ASU commits, pitcher Hunter Barnhart and shortstop Colt Keith, appeared on Athlon Sports 2020 MLB Preview's top 50 high school prospects list, making it likely either player may be drafted in one of the five rounds.

One player Smith did mention by name was junior first baseman Spencer Torkelson, who is currently the top overall prospect in the draft, according to MLB.com.

"If you don't take him, you would be, fill in the blank, crazy," Smith said. "He is one of the best that I think to ever play the collegiate game."

Effects of MiLB contraction

With rumors swirling around MLB and its current economic state, Smith believes MiLB contraction could be a positive for collegiate baseball.

A current proposal made by MLB is reported to contract MiLB by over 40 teams

The soon-to-be 25-year head coach believes college baseball is beginning to serve the role of baseball's minor leagues.

"You look at the trend of the draft, it is more college dominant, particularly in recent years," Smith said. "I think there is this, almost, de facto view by Major League Baseball that they are using college baseball more and more as their minor leagues."

A relationship between MLB and college baseball, much like other professional leagues and their collegiate counterparts, could mean much less of an economic commitment than that of current-day minor league affiliations.

"From an economic standpoint, especially in the climate we are in now, why wouldn't you reduce some of your expenses on the minor league side if there is a strong relationship or trust on the development on the college side?" Smith said.

MiLB serves as the developmental system for its affiliated MLB team. Smith believes MLB teams could have a safer development strategy with a relationship with collegiate baseball.

"I like it because I think college baseball does a good job," Smith said. "If it's me and I'm the general manager of a club, I would like that extra three years to see how the kids develop post high school, therefore, it minimizes my risk on selection or investing money in the kid."

The MLB Draft is scheduled for June 10 and 11. It is currently unknown when a decision on minor league contraction will come.


Reach the reporter at ancoil@asu.edu or follow @anc2018 on Twitter.

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