The Major League Baseball draft is unlike the NBA or NFL drafts. With more than 1,000 draft eligible players, there are many ways for this event to play out. Players have the option of going pro out of high school, or they can continue on to their selected college team even after having been drafted by an MLB team, so long as they don't sign a contract. And, players on the college roster can be drafted and return to school, much like LHP Andy Suarez did in 2015 by returning to the Canes after deciding not to sign with the Washington Nationals after they drafted him in the 2014 draft.
MLB recently changed the draft pick compensation system, providing a cap for what each team can spend on the signing bonuses for their picks through the first 10 rounds of the draft. This is the 5th year since the switch, and there's finally starting to be a consensus feeling of understand of how things are going to work.
There's all kinds of machinations about signing draft picks for more or less money than what is projected for their draft pick (over or under "slot"), but that's largely beside the point for our discussion. Just know that certain players (High Schoolers and college Juniors, mainly) will be signed for more than their slot value to get them away from their college team and into the professional organization, and others (college seniors, mainly) will be picked a bit ahead of their talent level in the top 10 rounds, then signed for way under slot, because, in that case, the organization has all the leverage.
For our considerations, the top 8 rounds are the "danger zone". The extremely vast majority of players, whether high schoolers or college athletes, drafted in the top 8 rounds of the MLB draft sign professional contracts. By my count, in the 2015 MLB draft there were 5 players taken in the first 8 rounds who didn't sign. 2 were College players, the other 3 were HS players. As a general practice, MLB teams have usually spoken to players they might potentially pick in the top 8 rounds to get a sense of their signability. If a player has made it clear he won't sign, he'll probably fall down past the 10th round. He might still get picked, but it's symbolic and nothing more. If you get a 1st round talent in the 27th round, rest assured that player isn't signing.
The last thing I'll say before we preview the draft-eligible prospects connected to Miami: the deadline for draft picks to sign a with the MLB team that selects them is 11:59:59PM on August 15th or until he returns to/enrolls at a JUCO or 4 year college. So, for whichever Canes player or signee gets drafted, there will be a tense waiting game to see if they'll sign and play professionally, or elect not to sign and sport the Orange and Green of The U.
Now, let's look at the draft-eligible prospects for Miami
C Zack Collins
Hometown: Pembroke Pines, FL
Draft History: 27th round by the Cincinnati Reds in 2013
Obviously, the MLB draft conversation starts with C Zack Collins. Named 1st team All-American by Baseball America, Collins has an elite offensive game that will translate well to professional ball. He has power to all fields, hits for a good average, and has a well-trained eye for the strike zone, as evidenced by his NCAA-leading 69 (nice) walks so far in 2016. Collins figures to be a middle of the lineup power hitter for many years to come.
What makes him so highly coveted, however, is his glove. Catcher is a premium position, and having a premium bat at that position is a huge win for whatever team can have it. Collins isn't a Gold Glove Catcher by any means, but he's improved greatly in his time in Coral Gables. If he can stay behind the plate at the professional level, something more and more analysts are predicting to happen, then Collins' already elite offensive skills get become all the more valuable.
Collins is highly rated by everyone who follows baseball. Baseball America lists him as the 16th best prospect heading into the MLB draft, and several mock drafts have him being drafted as early as 6th and no later than 20th. One writer said his best comparable is Reds 1B Joey Votto, one of the best hitters in the Majors. As a Junior, Collins will be eligible to return to Coral Gables in 2017, but I'm of the opinion that his time as a Hurricane will end when Miami's season ends. He's going to be a high draft pick and, unless the team that picks him tries to sign him for WAY under slot value, he's going pro. Done deal.
RHP Bryan Garcia
Hometown: Miami, FL
Draft History: Undrafted out of High School
Garcia is an interesting case. He is the Canes' all-time leader in saves (41 heading into Super Regionals) and has been a steady performer since he stepped on campus in 2014. Garcia has a power arm (he can touch 96mph with his fastball) and uses 4 pitches in his arsenal. His value, however, is less clear than Collins'.
Garcia could stay in the bullpen in professional baseball, but with starting pitchers have a much higher value to teams and organizations (the difference between 200+ innings and 60 innings matters), Garcia could be converted into a starter. There have been plenty of college relievers who were drafted and transitioned to starting roles in the professional ranks, and Garcia may follow that route.
Baseball America lists Garcia as the number 161 draft prospect, which would put him squarely in the 5th round of the draft. If drafted there or higher, it's a virtual certainty that Garcia will sign and go pro.
RF Willie Abreu
Hometown: Miami, FL
Draft History: 14th Round by the Cincinnati Reds in 2013.
A tall, rangy outfielder with great power potential and a cannon for a throwing arm, Abreu definitely has several tools that are intriguing to MLB organizations.
Abreu will swing and miss often, but a power LH bat can be very tempting for a team to pick. When he connects, though, Abreu can hit the ball a long way. Just ask soon-to-be 1st round pick Zack Burdi from Louisville about that.
WILLIE WALK OFF BOMBA CANES WIN pic.twitter.com/xRXwMvrwtV— alex herron (@Captain_Cane) March 19, 2016
Baseball America lists Abreu as the number 207 prospect for the upcoming draft. That equates to Abreu being a 7th round pick. If he's picked there, it's hard to see him coming back to school for his senior year.
LF Jacob Heyward
Hometown: Miami, FL
Draft History: 38th Round by the Atlanta Braves in 2013.
Jacob Heyward is an interesting prospect, because he has 4 of baseball's classic 5 tools. But, the one he's missing -- being able to hit for average -- is a big one, depending on the team that picks him, that is.
Heyward, the younger brother of Chicago Cubs OF Jason Heyward, can hit the ball a mile. He plays solid defense in LF, although he can make some interesting choices on how to play balls from time to time. He can run fairly well, and his throwing arm is a bit above average. But, that whole "making contact" thing....that's the issue that MLB organizations are going to have to fix, or deal with. If Heyward is hitting 25+ HR in the future, a low batting average may be something a team is willing to deal with. Otherwise, he may be a career minor leaguer, or platoon player.
Baseball America lists Heyward as the number 291 draft prospect for 2016. That equates to being a 10th round draft pick. As I said, the real "danger zone" to look for is the top 8 rounds, but I'd still keep an eye out for Heyward at this spot. With his brother having just gotten a huge 8 year, $184 Million contract with the Cubs, Jacob may not be rushed to make the jump to the professional ranks. Last year, the 291st pick carried a slot value of $152,700 for the signing bonus. Is that enough to get Heyward to skip his senior year in Coral Gables? I'm not sure, but it's something he'll think about.
According to Baseball America, SS Brandon Lopez and LHP Danny Garcia are the 432 and 465 draft prospects, respectively. Lopez is a senior, so he has no choice but to go to the professional ranks. And, with 40 (!!!!) rounds in the MLB draft, there's a good chance he'll be drafted. Garcia is a junior, so the door is open for him to return, but the question then becomes will his draft stock ever be higher than it is right now? If not, he may choose to go to the professional ranks, even if he's drafted outside of the top 8 round "danger zone".
No other Canes player is ranked in the top 500 draft prospects according to Baseball America. So, if anybody leaves, chances are they were just ready to move on from college life.
2016 Signing Class
Jim Morris and his staff have done a great job on the recruiting trail over the course of his tenure. This is true for the 2016 class as well. Miami has the 9th ranked recruiting class according to scouting service Perfect Game, with 15 total signees, and 3 top 100 players. That's a lot of talent, and high end talent to boot. Any school in America would be happy with that haul, and Miami should be ecstatic with this group.
But...there's a catch.
As I said earlier, HS players are draft eligible. So, there's a chance (and in a couple of cases, a virtual certainty) that several of the players in this recruiting class will be drafted quite high in the MLB draft and never make it to campus. Who? Let's take a look.
LHP Jesus Luzardo
Hometown: Parkland, FL
Luzardo is a prep lefty with immense talent and nasty, filthy, disgusting stuff. That's a compliment of the highest order, I assure you. With a fastball that can touch 97MPH, a change-up that keeps hitters off balance, and a curveball that makes even the best hitters look foolish, Luzardo has everything you could want in a pitcher.
The 6'1" 205lb Luzardo is ranked as the #45 draft prospect by Baseball America, 50th in the Baseball America top 500, and has a prospect rating of 10 by Perfect Game. There is, however, a catch:
Only weeks into his senior season at Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS, Luzardo felt a strain in his arm. He was soon removed from the game, and after testing, was found to have a torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament. Luzardo underwent Ligament Replacement surergy, named "Tommy John" after the first player to have the procedure successfully performed on him, and has been recovering ever since.
Luzardo's final line from his senior year: 4-0, 0.66 ERA, and 31 Ks. Those are great numbers, and indicative of the talent he has.
The arm injury and Tommy John surgery works for and against Luzardo's draft stock. MLB teams have far superior medical and rehabilitation departments than even the best colleges. Players get round the clock treatment from the best specialists round the clock. So, a MLB organization would be wise to draft Luzardo and have him do his rehabilitation in their facility with their doctors. The negative side is that even though Tommy John surgery has become nearly routine, teams can't be 100% sure Luzardo returns to his previous form. This is far less of a concern than it once was, but is a concern nonetheless.
If Luzardo is picked in the top 2 rounds, as is projected by every baseball outlet I've seen, there's virtually no chance he ever sets foot on campus in Coral Gables. And, just that quickly, one of the crown jewels of the 2016 recruiting class is gone. Baseball sucks sometimes.
SS Luis Curbelo
Hometown: Carolina, Puerto Rico
A 6'3" Shortstop with good hitting technique and solid defensive skills, Curbelo is another player who may be on the fast track to professional baseball. A Puerto Rico native, Curbelo signed with Miami in his senior year at Cocoa HS.
Baseball America tanks Curbelo as the number 95 overall draft prospect, and number 99 in the top 500. Those rankings equate to a 3rd round draft pick, which would make it very tough to see Curbelo making it to campus in the fall.
With Brandon Lopez graduating, adding a player of Curbelo's abilities to play SS would be a big move for Miami. I'm afraid, however, that Curbelo is too good and will never be the Canes' Shortstop.
SS Colton Welker
Hometown: Parkland, FL
Yeah, another Shortstop, another player on the MLB draft watch list for Miami. Welker isn't as athletic or physically imposing as the aforementioned Curbelo, but he's a solid player with a bright future.
Welker was HS teammates with Luzardo, and led Stoneman Douglas to their first State Championship in school history in 2016. Welker hit .512 with 6 HR as a senior, and was a steadying influence for the Eagles throughout the season.
Baseball America ranks Welker 168th on their top 500 list, which equates to a 6th round pick. That's squarely in the "danger zone" and if picked there, Welker would probably be headed to play professional baseball.
For Miami, losing both Curbelo AND Welker would be a tough pill to swallow. When you add in the fact that SS Brandon Lopez is graduating and there's no ready-made replacement for him on the roster, the impact of losing these two top HS players would be massive. Miami should hope that Welker is dead-set on playing collegiate baseball so he's not picked as high as his talent would normally dictate.
C Mike Amditis
Hometown: Boca Raton, FL
Zack Collins is a sure-fire 1st round pick, most likely in the top 15. To replace him, Miami was able to get Boca Raton HS standout Mike Amditis to sign with the team.
Ranked the number 113 recruit in America by Perfect Game, Amditis has big power potential and a solid defensive game at the catcher position. Baseball America ranks Amditis as the number 200 draft prospect in this class. This equates to a 7th round pick, so "danger zone" is in play.
No matter who Miami was going to play at Catcher in 2017, there would be a big step down from the production that Collins has provided this year. But, Amditis is as good a player as any to come in and try to join the lineup as they work to collectively approximate the amazing numbers Collins put up.
RHP/SS Gregory Veliz
Hometown: Key West, FL
Veliz is a prospect who could play the field at Shortstop, or find success on the Mound. Perfect Game ranks Veliz as the number 126 recruit in the 2016 class, and has him as a better pitcher than position player.
Baseball America has Veliz as the number 304 prospect for the 2016 MLB Draft, a 10th round pick. If Veliz is picked there, he's a borderline guy who could be on Campus in August or headed to Pro Ball. Miami has to hope he comes to Coral Gables. Losing 3 players who could play shortstop wouldn't be the greatest thing for this class, or this roster.
Super duper incredibly ridiculously early 2017 Lineup
I know that I'm going to regret doing this, but here's what I THINK the Canes' 2017 lineup is going to look like:
C: Mike Amditis
1B: Christopher Barr
2B: Johnny Ruiz
3B: Edgar Michelangeli/Romy Gonzalez
SS: Colton Welker
LF: Ryan Alvarez
CF: Carl Chester
RF: Nicholas Baldor/Gabriel Lozada (incoming freshmen)
DH: Randy Batista
Starting Pitchers: Michael Mediavilla, Jesse Lepore, Andrew Cabezas, Devin Meyer
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Miami is going to have a very talented team in 2017. But, some of the top talents both from the roster (Collins) and from the recruiting class (Luzardo, Curbelo) figure to be taken in this year's Major League Baseball draft. Exactly whom, and by which MLB Team, will begin to become clear when the draft starts on Thursday afternoon.