Tim Corbin didn’t have much time to celebrate. Neither did many of his Vanderbilt players, specifically Dansby Swanson, the All-America shortstop soon to be selected as the first pick in the 2015 MLB draft.
Their on-field celebration of a pressure-packed, 4-2 win at Illinois lasted less than five minutes.
The Commodores, moments removed from the win that secured a College World Series spot, huddled around a phone near their dugout, watching a live feed as the draft began.
“Talk about the awkwardness that would exist if (Alabama football coach) Nick Saban or (Ohio State football coach) Urban Meyer would have to do that,” Corbin said. “No one would go for that, but yet we ride with it.”
That’s just one story of the MLB draft intruding on college baseball’s postseason. It crashes super regional parties, distracts players in regional championships and interrupts some of the most significant practices of the year.
The stories are endless.
Miami catcher Yasmani Grandal was picked as the 12th overall selection in 2010 as he waited for a rain delay to end in the Hurricanes’ regional championship game with Texas A&M.
In 2012, LSU coach Paul Mainieri yanked then-pitcher Nick Rumbelow off the field during pregame warmups ahead of a super regional against Oklahoma. Why? So a New York Yankees executive could confirm Rumbelow would sign if the organization drafted him in the next 15 minutes.
“Imagine if I didn’t take the call,” Mainieri said. “It could have affected Nick Rumbelow’s life. Not to mention the fact that it certainly could affect his attention to the game.”
Things aren’t changing — at least not this year.
The draft will conflict with the NCAA postseason again, lurking over college baseball’s most important events, stirring emotions in the game’s coaches and further opening the chasm between college and pro baseball.
Rounds 2 and 3 of the draft — the busiest and most productive draft days — overlap with the first two days of the NCAA super regionals, set for June 10-11.
It’s the third time in four years the draft falls on the same days as the first two super regional rounds. It’s the ninth time in the past 10 years the draft will, in some way, overlap with an NCAA postseason event — either a regional or a super regional.
As college baseball wraps up the second weekend of its young season, those in the college game are more frustrated than ever. MLB selected the draft dates even after a committee of pro, college and NCAA representatives met over the summer and discussed, among other things, more accommodating and appropriate dates for the draft.
The trend irks many in college baseball, and it reveals a longtime problem: Major League Baseball and college baseball don’t always get along.
“It’s always been a strained relationship between the two entities,” Mainieri said. “I do feel it’s the responsibility of the highest level of the sport to make sure the sport is strong at the grassroots level. I think if you talked to them they probably think that they are (supporting college baseball), and, in many cases, they are, but I don’t think they’re supporting college baseball to the level that they could.”
“Baseball hasn’t always had the relationship it needs to have with college baseball,” longtime Southern coach Roger Cador said. “They ought to work with colleges better.”
Minor leagues vs. college ball
Alex Bregman, the former All-America shortstop at LSU, turned down $900,000 to play in college. Jake Latz, the injury-plagued current Tigers hurler, passed on about the same amount, and Trey Dawson, LSU’s opening-day shortstop this year, turned down $600,000 this summer.
Those players chose college — baseball’s other farm system — over the minor leagues.
This is at the heart of the sometimes-contentious relationship between MLB and college baseball: They each compete for high school players.
Those in college baseball use words like “disappointed” and “ludicrous” to describe pro baseball’s decision on this year’s draft date. But it’s only another barb from the game’s highest level toward what, recently, has become its true farm system.
“Each of us believes we have the best development system,” said one head college coach who wished not to be named. “They get (upset) when players turn down $1 million to come to college.”
MLB officials declined to be interviewed for this story.
“We have ongoing dialogue with the NCAA on issues of mutual interest,” Michael Teevan, of MLB public relations, wrote in a one-sentence statement to The Advocate.
Ron Prettyman, hired recently to replace Damani Leech in overseeing baseball for the NCAA, calls the organization’s relationship with MLB “very strong” and said it “continues to get stronger.”
Many on the ground floor of college baseball don’t necessarily see it that way, but they understand why it is the way it is: The organizations recruit against each other for high school stars.
“There are personal relationships that take place,” Corbin said. “At the same level, you’re working against them, hoping you can attain players. It’s a cyclical relationship. It’s on terms of however that relationship is being used at the time. It’s one that is healthy and sometimes adversarial.”
One college head coach said some MLB clubs look at college teams as “the enemy.”
College coaches are selling beautiful, co-ed campuses, plush new stadia and fine training facilities. They, at times, outbid the NCAA by increasing a prospect’s scholarship money.
They’re driving up signing bonuses that MLB clubs must pay high school prospects because those players have the leverage to attend college.
Meanwhile, each side is telling this 18-year-old kid that its route to the majors is the best.
“We’re competing for the same kids,” said an administrator involved heavily in college baseball who wished not to be named. “I think there’s been a really good professional relationship. They want kids, and we want kids. We think what we do is better, and they think what they do is better.”
So what’s better — minor leagues or college ball?
Nearly half of MLB’s opening-day rosters last year were made up of players signed out of four-year colleges (45 percent), according to MLB. Just 24 percent of the players were originally drafted out of high school, and 23 percent were international players.
That said, pro clubs still like spending exorbitant amounts of money on 17- and 18-year-olds who have never faced a 98-mph heater. They cite undeveloped potential as reasons. Over the previous five years, high school players made up exactly half of the picks in the first round of the MLB draft with 121 total, just eclipsing college players (45 percent, or 110 total).
College players reach the majors about 10 months earlier than those from high school, but that’s not a factor in drafting for at least one major league scout.
“That’s never been something that’s been big in conversation in our draft rooms over the last 10 years, how quick a guy can get to the big leagues,” R.J. Harrison, the Rays’ senior advisor for scouting and baseball operations, said on MLB Radio this week. “We want to get the guy we think has the best chance to be the best big leaguer once he gets to the big leagues. We put a lot of faith in our development program.”
Andy Cannizaro, a scout for the Yankees from 2009-14, is starting his second season as LSU’s hitting coach and recruiting coordinator. He spent more than a half-decade wooing high school kids to sign with his organization and join the minor league farm system.
Now he’s doing the opposite. After a full season coaching Southeastern Conference baseball, he has seen all he needs to see.
“Every day in this league is a dog fight,” he said. “As a pro scout, you want to see guys have success, (and) you want to see how they handle failure. You want to see how they perform in pressure-filled situations. There’s not a better place to do it than in this league.”
The SEC had 60 players on MLB opening-day rosters last year — 7 percent of the total and one-sixth of the former college players.
Clubs drafted 24 players from SEC teams in the first rounds of the past five drafts. That’s almost 10 percent of the first-round selections in that stretch.
“I’d feel so confident as a scout these days coming to Alex Box Stadium and seeing anybody in the SEC perform and knowing what kind of player you’re exactly buying,” Cannizaro said. “If you could play in this league and these types of pressure situations, you can have a very successful professional career.
“You’re having years of track record and seeing kids able to perform against quality pitching and in front of 12,000 people. They won’t play in front of more people until they get to the big leagues.”
The September announcement of this year’s MLB draft dates took Corbin by surprise.
The Vanderbilt coach this summer sat on that committee made up of college coaches, NCAA representatives and major league officials to discuss ongoing matters between the college and pro game.
One of the primary topics, committee members said, was the date of the draft. Discussions led them to what seemed like a compromise and accommodating date: Have the draft in Omaha, Nebraska, in the days preceding the College World Series.
Top college prospects like Bregman and Swanson, who both played in last year’s CWS, could attend the draft. The final draft day would end before the CWS begins and, with just eight teams still alive in college baseball, distractions would be kept to a minimum.
Several weeks passed after the final committee meeting before Major League Baseball announced its dates.
“We had very good discussions and then, all of the sudden, there was radio silence, and it came out publicly that the draft was on a certain date,” Corbin said. “We all looked at each other and said, ‘What just happened?’ ”
What exactly happened?
“Major League Baseball picks a date that’s best for them and their TV and the MLB schedule,” said Craig Keilitz, executive director of the American Baseball Coaches Association, who sat on the committee as well. “There were discussions about (Omaha). It just didn’t work.”
Choosing a draft date that accommodates everyone is nearly impossible. In fact, college officials didn’t all agree on the Omaha idea. Mainieri sat in on one of the committee meetings. He called it “eye-opening.” Coaches can’t seem to agree on where they’d like the draft.
Most college coaches want the draft immediately after the regular season ends — usually late May — Keilitz said. Others argue against that because too many college teams’ seasons are still going then.
Some, like Mainieri, want the draft after the completion of the College World Series, around July 1. Others argue against that because that date leaves too much time for pro clubs to court — and eventually sign — high school prospects.
They all agree on one thing, though: They don’t want the draft overlapping with NCAA postseason events.
“I hope we can get to the point sometime soon here that we can come to an agreeable time that’s in the best interest of both college and pro baseball,” said Virginia coach Brian O’Connor, also a member of the committee. “Unfortunately right now, especially this year, it’s at a difficult time for the college athletes. I hope, at some point in time, that we can get to a point that it’s least intrusive to everybody.”
For MLB, the draft becomes intrusive if it’s too late. Anything beyond mid-June would overlap with Class A short-season and rookie-ball seasons. Both of those seasons, for example, begin on June 17 this year, just a week after the draft. If the draft date changed, these teams’ seasons could start later, said Jonathan Mayo, a reporter for MLB.com covering the draft and the minor leagues.
“That would have to be addressed,” he said. “I don’t know there would be enough to fill the rosters of those clubs (without draftees). (Each) team has at least one rookie and short-season club. That’s at least 50 players. It would be a logistical thing.”
Having it in late May could also pose a problem from a scouting perspective, Mayo said.
“It would shorten the amount of time scouts have to see players,” he said. “Talking to them like I do, they always say there’s not enough time to see everybody as it is now.”
MLB Network televises the draft — another factor in its timing. The first day of the draft has landed on a Monday or Thursday in nine of the past 10 years. The 2009 draft began on a Tuesday; it was the only draft in the past decade that did not conflict with the NCAA postseason.
Why not keep it on such a schedule?
“My guess is, it’s because of TV,” said Kendall Rogers, national baseball reporter for D1baseball.com.
Mondays and Thursday are known to be good ratings days for television.
Prettyman, the NCAA administrator overseeing the sport, is hopeful for future meetings with MLB about the subject.
“We need to renew some of those conversations and talks,” he said.
It’s unclear whether the same committee will reassemble and meet over the summer.
Some of those on the committee included Corbin, O’Connor, Leech (who has since left the NCAA), Keilitz, NCAA administrator Randy Buhr, Oklahoma State coach Josh Holliday, Kansas City Royals general manger Dayton Moore, Yankees special assistant Jim Hendry and USA baseball senior director Rick Riccobono.
There were no minutes kept at the meetings, Prettyman said. It was only an exchange of ideas where notes were taken, he said.
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, now in his second year, created the committee to help open dialogue between college and pro baseball. That’s another sign, Rogers said, of positive things to come.
“Rob Manfred is going to be good for college baseball. Previous administration, they weren’t against college baseball but …” he said, trailing off. “All signs look good in terms of him working with college baseball.”
It’s not so easy.
“You’re talking about moving two mountains towards each other,” Mayo said. “It seems often that the two sides make decisions and do things completely independently of each other, and it often can be counter-productive.”
‘Something’s got to be done’
LSU’s starting catcher is Mike Papierski. You probably knew that.
How exactly Papierski got to LSU is something you might not know.
In fact, he may not be at LSU had the Tigers not lost the 2014 Baton Rouge regional to Houston. How’s that?
The story begins with Mainieri in his office watching Texas play Houston in a super regional game — the same one in which his team would have been playing had it beaten Houston a few days earlier.
At the same time, the second day of the MLB draft had started.
Mainieri’s phone rang. It was LSU signee Bobby Bradley, a speedy outfielder from Gulfport, Mississippi. Bradley spilled the news to Mainieri: He planned to sign with the Cleveland Indians in the third round of the draft for $900,000.
Papierski was in the same signing class as Bradley and, like Bradley, was a highly touted prospect with potential for selection in the first five rounds.
Knowing this, Mainieri made a call.
“I immediately called Michael Papierski in Chicago and took the (scholarship) money I had dedicated to Bobby Bradley and passed it on to Michael Papierski to enhance his scholarship,” Mainieri said.
LSU’s 2014 signing class was littered with stars. It ranked No. 1 nationally and included a half-dozen of the nation’s best pitching prospects. Because of the limited scholarships available to baseball programs — 11.7 scholarships parceled out to 27 players — Papierski was scheduled to receive very little scholarship money as a freshman, he said.
Until Bradley signed, that is.
“It made a big impact on my mom and dad’s decision,” Papierski said of the extra money.
“Imagine if we were playing in that super regional and I didn’t have the ability to make that transaction?” Mainieri asked. “It’s quite possible Mike Papierski would have signed and we would be without our starting catcher today, two years later.”
Mainieri and other coaches are chock full of these types of stories.
Last year, the LSU coach remembers one player — former catcher Chris Chinea — fighting back tears during an afternoon practice in preparation for the College World Series. Day 2 of the draft had passed hours before, and Chinea had not been picked.
“I saw firsthand last year how excited guys were when they were selected and how stressed out and disappointed they were when they didn’t go on Day 1 or 2 of the draft,” Cannizaro said. “They come to practice the next day, and guys’ spirits are down and they’re checking their phone.”
Herb Vincent, the former LSU administrator who now oversees baseball for the SEC, understands the coaches’ complaints. But the SEC has no role in determining the draft date; Corbin served as the league’s representative in that committee meeting.
“I think it’s disruptive to the NCAA baseball tournament,” Vincent said. “You could imagine if they had the NFL draft in December.”
Corbin doesn’t have to imagine that scenario when it comes to college ball. He lived it last year, huddled near that dugout in Illinois. Instead of celebrating a CWS trip, the coach peered into a phone with Swanson and the others as the Commodores star was picked No. 1.
“We’ve got enough common sense,” Corbin said, “to say, ‘Something’s got to be done.’ ”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @RossDellenger.
IN THE DRAFT: College vs. high school
Over the previous five years, high school players made up exactly half of the picks in the first round of the MLB draft with 121 total, just eclipsing college players. The numbers aren’t too surprising. Scouts often target high school players because of their under-developed potential:
Draft years 2011-15
College: 45 percent (54% in the top 10)
From the SEC: 9.9%
High school: 50%
From junior colleges: 3%
International players: 2%
ON OPENING DAY ROSTERS: College vs. high school
Despite more high school players getting drafted in the first round, former college players made up 45 percent of the opening-day rosters of MLB clubs in 2015, far out-distancing those who signed out of high school. Scouts often have three more years of data on college players than those drafted out of high school, so it’s only natural for college players to make up more of the MLB rosters.
From the SEC: 7%
High school: 24%
From junior colleges: 8%
International players: 23%
*According to the Houston Chronicle, which cited Major League Baseball
IN OPENING-DAY STARTING LINEUPS: College vs. high school
Despite those first-round draft stats, opening-day lineups in 2015 were mostly made up of ex-college players. In fact, there were more international players in the lineups than guys who signed out of American high schools.
From the SEC: 8%
High school: 26%
From junior colleges: 7%
International players: 28%
*Compiled by The Advocate
Just once in the past decade has the MLB draft not interfered with the college baseball postseason:
June 9-11 (Thursday-Saturday): Round 2 and 3 fall on first two days of super regionals
June 8-10 (Monday-Wednesday): Round 1 fell on final day of super regionals
June 5-7 (Thursday-Saturday): Round 2 and 3 fell on first two days of super regionals
June 6-8 (Thursday-Saturday): Round 2 and 3 fell on first two days of super regionals
June 4-6 (Monday-Wednesday): Round 1 fell on final day of regionals on June 4
June 6-8 (Monday-Wednesday): Round 1 fell on final day of regionals on June 6
June 7-9 (Monday-Wednesday): Round 1 fell on final day of regionals on June 7
June 9-11 (Tuesday-Thursday): Did no interfere
June 5-6 (Thursday-Friday): Round 2 fell on first day of super regionals
June 7-8 (Thursday-Friday): Round 2 fell on first day of super regionals