The ACC didn’t have the best year on the field — the only two teams left out of 16 in the NCAA baseball tournament are Virginia and Maryland, and they play each other in Super Regionals — but there’s still plenty of talent in this league.
College baseball also presents the unique problem of having juniors (and/or players who have been in school for three years) become draft-eligible for the first time. And it’s not like college football or basketball, where there are only a few rounds. The Major League Baseball Draft (which starts on June 5) has 40 rounds and well over 1,000 picks — although obviously, the higher you’re picked, the more money you’ll make.
And so players also have the benefit of knowing where they’ve been drafted and what money they’re likely to receive, so juniors can make more educated decisions on whether or not they want to come out of school early.
No matter where a player is drafted, though, it all depends on the situation they get offered by whichever team drafts them, and if they think they can improve their stock or not with one more year in school.
Baseball America ranked the top 500 prospects, which is the first 17 rounds (plus seven more picks). The ACC had 32 of those, and 25 are juniors (another two are redshirt sophomores).
Basically, though, if these underclassmen go in the top 17 or so rounds, depending on the money and what they think they can get after another year, they’ll likely go pro while they can.
FIRST FIVE ROUNDS
There are likely to be three first-round picks from the ACC, and one could even go first overall in NC State lefty pitcher Carlos Rodon. He’s slipped down some draft boards (third in Baseball America’s), but there’s no way he falls out of the top three. And his teammate Trea Turner (No. 9), a junior shortstop, is almost a lock for the top 10. Virginia’s Nick Howard (Virginia’s closer who can also bat and play in the field) is 25th according to Baseball America.
Speaking of Virginia, it makes sense that arguably the ACC’s best team has the most draft prospects in the top 500 — seven, and three in the top 43. Outfielders Derek Fisher and first baseman Mike Papi — both juniors — are projected second-round picks, with Fisher at the top of the second.
Florida State has four top-500 prospects, but the highest for the Seminoles is junior staff ace Luke Weaver, a righty. He’s projected to go in the middle of the second round.
Maryland’s Jake Stinnett is the only Terrapin who made the top 500, and he’s a projected third-rounder. The rare senior who helped his stock quite a bit, Stinnett’s excellent postseason has certainly helped quite a bit as he is the highest-ranked senior in the ACC currently.
Miami lefty pitcher (and yes, a junior) Andrew Suarez joins Stinnett in the projected third round. The fourth-round picks could include Clemson junior righty Daniel Gossett (who will be 22 in November, it’s worth noting) and Virginia Tech’s junior catcher Mark Zagunis.
The fifth is chock full of potential ACC players, who — if rankings hold — would comprise five of the 29 picks that round. Miami lefty Chris Diaz, Notre Dame righty Pat Connaughton (who also plays basketball) and Georgia Tech lefty Sam Clay are all supposed to be there, while NC State’s Brett Austin and UNC’s Michael Russell are projected in that middle of that round too.
Virginia’s Brandon Downes is supposed to be an early sixth-rounder who could sneak up a round, as Baseball America has him as the No. 6 outfielder in the rankings of players from four-year schools.
As far as juniors go, this is where things get interesting. Virginia’s Brandon Cogswell is ranked 228th and catcher Nate Irving is 354th. Georgia Tech righty pitcher Matthew Grimes is 291, while Boston College redshirt sophomore lefty Andrew Chin is 399th.
The losses of thsoe two would hurt their teams, obviously. But two of Florida State’s best pitchers — Brandon Leibrandt and Bryant Holtmann — are ranked high enough (317 and 321, respectively) that they both might end up gone. They ended the year hurt, though, and their injuries didn’t help as the Seminoles had a bit of a late flameout in the NCAA Tournament.
There are other big arms on that list, too. UNC starter Benton Moss is expected to go (he’s slotted 365th) and yet another NC State junior, too — lefty Logan Jernigan (343rd). Jernigan had kind of a rough year but is plenty talented. That would be a big loss for the Wolfpack, and speaking of that…
Obviously, there are some that didn’t make the top 500, but will likely get drafted — even juniors. NC State could find itself particularly decimated — as many as 11 juniors could decide to go. Now, there’s no guarantee of that — even Jernigan might decide to come back for more money, should be go. But there are seven other juniors who are draft-eligible and could be selected, including three more pitchers in addition to the two projected to go, not to mention a number of day-to-day starters. That would be a tough, tough blow for the Wolfpack to bounce back from next season.
Every other team only has a handful of prospects on this list of fringe players, but every team has some impact guys it can’t afford to lose — at least in theory. Florida State could lose an additional four juniors from the top 500 prospects, and all are starters. Virginia Tech had a bit of a disappointing season after a great year in 2013, and the Hokies are almost certainly going to lose Zagunis but could also be down two two-way players in Sean Keselica and Brendon Hayden.
Either way, juniors do have something going for them — if they don’t like where they’re selected, or their bonus, or anything like that, they still have some leverage. Not quite as much as players coming out of high school who will make major-league teams wait three years if they don’t give them what they want, but still some leverage.
Though if the lack of seniors in the top 500 prospects is any indication, most players would probably do well to get out while they can.