Mike Metcalf has been a high school coach, Major League Baseball scout and is now an assistant coach at Florida State.
He has a viewpoint from each of those jobs and a perspective on the impact decisions by the NCAA and the MLB will have regarding athlete eligibility decisions as well as this summer’s draft. Decisions by the NCAA and MLB will have far-reaching implications on FSU’s program.
MLB and the players’ association have reportedly agreed to terms of a deal, which in part will shorten the draft to five or 10 rounds – a major shift from the typical 40 rounds in prior years. Going to just five rounds would be a reduction in draft picks by more than 85 percent. According to Baseball America, there were 167 players taken in the first five rounds in 2019. But the site states that 1,217 players were selected and 960 signed in all 40 rounds.
Teams will indeed draft this summer despite having a limited body of work to examine players from 2020. In FSU’s case, that was just 17 games. Metcalf said this shouldn’t be a big concern for MLB teams.
“The reality of it is those guys have been scouted, a lot of them, since they were juniors in high school,” Metcalf said in an interview with the Osceola. “Most of these teams have a history that they have built up of those guys that are on our roster. It affects them with it being a five-round compared to a 10-round. Simply put: It affects how many guys are going to get drafted and leave.”
College baseball could be better in the next few years due to the influx of high school talent – many of which may have gone pro but instead will go undrafted – as well as college players who stay another year. But programs could also be facing a roster that’s overloaded, going beyond the 35-player maximum the NCAA allows.
There are two sets of moving pieces here. First, the NCAA will vote on Monday regarding eligibility of spring sports athletes, could expand roster sizes and may also allow programs to go beyond the 11.7-scholarship limit. Seniors in 2020 have already been given the chance to return in 2021. Second, MLB teams will have the ability to sign an undrafted prospect (high school or college) for a maximum of $20,000.
What happens next is the big wild card. An expanded roster as well as a higher scholarship limit would give college programs flexibility but also comes at an expense to athletics departments. Would every school be able to fund an added baseball scholarship or two?
The draft, which could be held in June or July, won’t pluck as many college prospects and insert them into the minor league farm system. But teams will need to fill out those roster spots in the minors by extending offers to undrafted prospects. The offer of $20,000 or less may not sound enticing but some college players will look to get a jump on their pro careers in the minors.
College coaches will know in a few days how many players they can carry on the roster, which also helps in juggling the number of high school signees land on campus. But nothing will be finalized until players are drafted and sign.
“The biggest concern is just roster size but we don’t have any answers to that until the NCAA announces what they are going to do,” Metcalf said. “The reality is we’re still going to have guys drafted, we’re still going to have guys probably sign It will all play out. There’s just so much uncertainty, because you are used to playing with 40 rounds.”
Athletics on the high school, college and pro levels have never faced logistical challenges quite like what the coronavirus has presented. And while there are solutions, there are results that will have a significant impact on the sport. College baseball is unique in that prospects can be drafted out of high school or during their college career, further underscoring the challenge for coaches.
Also up for consideration is when the MLB establishes a deadline for drafted players to sign. Most deals are pre-negotiated as teams will reach out to prospects before they are picked and financial discussions will determine if a player is drafted or if a team will pass. But there is still a need for a deadline and it reportedly will be no later than Aug. 1, which could be just days before athletes arrive on campus.
For the next few months, coaches and athletes will look to see how it all unfolds. Metcalf has kept in close contact with FSU’s players and thinks they as well as those around the sport will be ready regardless of when games resume.
“Guys and girls that play Division I athletics, they are self-motivators,” Metcalf said. “They find ways to get something done. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be in the position they’re in.”
Uncertainty may be the only constant right now for players and coaches in the sport. But, to Metcalf’s point, what players and coaches can control is being prepared for what’s next, coming up with a game plan and adapting.