MLB draft uncertain amidst collegiate, professional cancellations

Ty+Weber+pitches+the+ball+during+the+Illinois%E2%80%99+game+against+Coastal+Carolina+at+Conway+S.C.+on+Feb.+22.

Photo Courtesy of Illini Athletics

Ty Weber pitches the ball during the Illinois’ game against Coastal Carolina at Conway S.C. on Feb. 22.

By Rich Eberwein, Staff Writer

With organized baseball currently on hold essentially everywhere, amateur players trying to take their next steps into professional careers will have to stand by and contemplate their situations as MLB’s first-year player draft may not even happen.  With 17 new players on the squad in 2020, Illinois had just three seniors see playing time in the condensed season, but two of those players had a massive impact and were expected to be drafted upon graduation.

Those seniors, closer Garrett Acton and staff ace Ty Weber will most likely receive an extra year of eligibility at Illinois and may need. Rumors have been swirling about MLB possibly skipping the draft altogether to save money as revenues will be heavily diminished due to Spring Training and regular-season games being suspended until further notice. According to Ronald Blum of the Associated Press, signing bonuses for draft prospects adds up to about $400 million annually.

Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb has his own thoughts on what the MLB may do with the draft currently scheduled to take place from June 10-12.

“I truly think there will be a draft,” Hartleb said.  “Whether it happens in June or whether it gets pushed back, that remains to be seen.  One thing that I can see happening since opportunities for evaluations will be slim to none for a while, I could see them shortening the draft and having it compacted.  I don’t know how many rounds that is, 5, 7, 10, 20, I don’t know.”

In Hartleb’s scenario, teams would presumably attempt to draft only the top prospects with the lowest risks and best track records.

“The owners and organizations are not going to want to waste money, they’re going to have less information and players are not going to have as big a resume,” Hartleb continued.  “I think we have a few guys that would have draft possibilities.”

Acton and Weber, as well as their teammates and athletes around the world, will have to navigate the quick adjustment of not playing baseball for the next few months and weigh the plethora of options that lie ahead of them.

“I think there’s a number of great options on the table,” Acton said about the unique situation.  “As everything kind of gets figured out with the league and the draft, those things might become a little more clear on that side but I’m looking at all options right now.  Either way, if I go at the end of the year back to school and getting a master’s degree that’s a great opportunity for me.  If I get the opportunity to go play professional baseball and that’s the right situation that’s a great opportunity.  So, kind of out of all this darkness of the situation, there’s kind of all these great opportunities either way for me.  I just need to kind of approach those as they come.”

Acton finished the season with a 0.00 ERA and recorded six saves to bring his all-time college saves total to 25, a school record for Illinois.  With a fastball in the mid to high nineties and an impressive college career, Acton would surely have drawn interest from teams had scouts not been sent home earlier this month.

“They’re not allowed to administer tests, and they’re not supposed to be contacting potential prospects,” Hartleb said about MLB scouts. “There’s nothing they can do at this point at least within the rules and what happened with the shutdown of Major League Baseball, so lots of unknowns.”

What we do know is that Acton, Weber and the rest of the Illinois baseball team will continue to work out and do what they can to keep their baseball minds sharp with the unforeseen extended offseason.

“That’s definitely still a goal,” Weber said about the draft.  “With that though, everything is just kind of turned upside down. It’s just a weird type day to day basis of just doing all I can right now and that’s working on my physical talents and letting the mental stuff come later down the road.”

No players from major league teams have tested positive for COVID-19, but two minor leaguers in the Yankees organization have and will remain in quarantine for the time being.  Opening day is not expected to be held until at least Memorial Day (May 25) or later, which would surely see a shortened season as opposed to the traditional 162 games normally played each year.  The draft will not be suspended without the consent of the MLB Player’s Association.

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