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After a Cancelled Season, Where Does ‘Canes Baseball Stand Ahead of the MLB Draft

There may be more questions than answers for Hurricanes Baseball heading into 2021.

Credit: Miami Athletics

May 29 would have been the start of NCAA Regionals, where Miami would’ve been hoping to host the Coral Gables Regional for the first time since 2016. However, the coronavirus pandemic caused the ‘Canes season to end after just 16 games, with Miami in the top-10 of most polls sitting on a 12-4 record.

The future of the Hurricanes’ program has become a lot less clear in the ensuing months. The 2020 team will go down as one of the great “what-ifs” in program history. Despite an extended year of eligibility from the NCAA, the Hurricanes will no-doubt lose talent from the roster in this week’s MLB Draft. The Hurricanes seem especially likely to lose pitching talent, with Brian Van Belle, Chris McMahon, and Slade Cecconi, the entire weekend rotation, all likely to leave for the professional ranks.

Miami could be one of the programs most hurt by the pandemic. The entire program had built towards 2020 since the Hurricanes first missed the NCAA Tournament in 2017. Despite a weekend sweep to Florida the season was off to a dream start. The ‘Canes had established themselves as a top team. In what turned out to be the last game of the season Miami beat top-15 ranked UCF on the road for a statement win.

Projecting where the Hurricanes will stand will become yet more clear after the draft this week, but the likelihood of the ‘Canes having to completely rebuild their starting rotation is high. That challenge alone will be significant when and if college baseball returns in 2021. Miami quite possibly had the best starting rotation in the country through the first 15+ games of the 2020 season, and the drop-off in performance next year could be sharp, especially in February.

Miami has four Top 100 prospects in this year’s draft, which begins on June 10. Chris McMahon and Slade Cecconi both sit on the edge of the first round. McMahon’s draft stock in particular has gone up this week, with multiple mock drafts moving him firmly into the first round.

Miami’s talent level should remain high in 2021, especially on offense, where the potential losses are significantly lower. However, the Hurricanes still stand a chance of losing two talented position players in Freddy Zamora and Alex Toral. Zamora would’ve been a first round pick before tearing his ACL ahead of this season, but has slipped to the 100th ranked prospect after not playing this year. This year’s MLB Draft will only be five rounds, due to the COVID-19 crisis, and as a result Zamora could slip down the order due to teams not wanting to take a risk with limited picks, on the other hand, a contending team might take a chance on a first round talent in the fourth or fifth round. Alex Toral, ranked as the 185th best prospect, is a borderline pick in this year’s draft. Toral’s good start to the season, a final few games that saw him get in his groove, plus his power potential could see him similarly selected in the fourth or fifth round.

Brian Van Belle is a more unique situation. Van Belle, a fifth-year senior, is unlikely to be drafted in this shortened draft. Under new NCAA rules that provided another year of eligibility for players, Van Belle could, technically, come back to Miami. The likelihood of Van Belle taking that route is low though. Van Belle is coming of off a dominant one and a half seasons at Miami. Several teams will be interested in signing him as an undrafted free agent, especially since teams can sign an unlimited amount of undrafted free agents in this modified 2020 draft format.

MLB team draft behaviors could be different due to this unique situation as well. The first round and first competitive balance round behind it will remain largely the same as in a traditional draft, where teams will take the best players available that fit their needs. However, in the third, fourth, and fifth rounds, MLB teams, especially those rebuilding, will be looking to maximize value due to lesser quantity. This could decrease the value placed on high school players, since college players tend to be more consistent in making the major leagues and producing at the big-league level as compared to high school players, which tend to be more “boom or bust”.

Alejandro Rosario, the Hurricanes top-ranked prospect in this year’s recruiting class, and the 71st ranked player in the draft, will most likely head straight to the professional ranks if MLB teams don’t perceive any signability issues. If Rosario isn’t drafted, or chooses not to sign, it would be fantastic for the Hurricanes, who would benefit immensely from getting the ultra-talented right-hander into the program. Yohandy Morales, the 131st ranked prospect, a shortstop, is also likely to go in the first two rounds. It’s likely that he will head straight to the professional ranks. Victor Mederos, who ranks 99th on the prospect list, is another right-handed pitcher who could also hear his name called in the draft, and is similarly likely to go to the professional ranks. Samuel Infante, a shortstop who is ranked as the 149th best prospect, could also be drafted this week. If any of their names are called, or any Hurricanes commit’s name is called, they will be signing. This year MLB teams are not going to risk drafting a high-school or collegiate player who isn’t going to sign; they are simply too limited on the number of picks they have to risk that.

This year’s MLB Draft will be unique and is difficult to predict. It’s difficult for fans, media, and MLB teams to evaluate college players heading into this draft due to the shortened season. It becomes even more difficult to evaluate high school players, since most high schools hadn’t played a game before schools had closed due to the health crisis. As a result, professional teams might, and will, have wildly different evaluations and opinions from player to player depending on the information available to them. Because of the limited rounds in this draft, the Hurricanes should be able to hold their recruiting class mostly intact, which will help replace the talent they will lose this week. Next year’s roster, and the long term future of the program heading into the next few seasons, will become far more clear after the end of this week, but next year’s roster could be significantly different from the one that took the field last season.