Tigers draft stock watch: Moving MLB Draft to July has benefited Manfred, not much else

Detroit News

Being commissioner has its conveniences in professional sports, especially in baseball, no matter how inconvenient The Commish’s decisions and whims might be.

Consider the MLB Draft, which this year runs July 9-11.

Rob Manfred decided three years ago that All-Star Week, well into July, would be a jim-dandy time to showcase all those blue-chip college and prep players MLB teams each year choose to stock their rosters.

There would be a sense of pageantry, he decided, a means for making the All-Star Game more of a days-long festival, preceding even that annual exercise in tedium, The Home Run Derby.

And, so, Manfred went ahead with plans that would turn the MLB Draft into a Sunday-through-Tuesday affair, rather than the early-June shopping spree it long had been — and to nearly everyone’s advantage, it might be added.

Who benefited?

Let us count the parties:

▶ College and prep players: Most of them by Memorial Day already have shut down for the year, or are within a few days of doing so. It was a nice advantage for them, just as they were mopping up their spring schedules, to have MLB teams decide in a week or two which of them were going to be plucked.

If they were to sign, they could get on with their first summer of professional baseball and get a jump-start on their careers.

If they were to decide (high-schoolers) to not sign with a team and instead opt for that college scholarship, they could get busy preparing for college and making a normal, speedy transition when school generally starts in August.

If they were college players, likewise, they could quickly sign and march straight to Low Single A or wherever and gain an invaluable first summer of development and pro-baseball orientation.

None of them needed a month of down-time from May through June, which is the reality for most players who aren’t working in The College World Series.

College coaches also were big beneficiaries of a June draft as they worked to figure out who was signing and who was opting for pro ball. July — oh boy: That scheduling change has pinched the colleges in excruciating ways as they try and bolt together plans for the coming year, which for them begins with autumn practices.

▶ Scouts: A terrible price has been paid here. Scouts needed badly to be done with the draft in June. That’s because, already, they’re scouting for 2024. The Cape Cod League, where college baseball’s best players each summer convene, begins next week — a month before the 2023 MLB Draft kicks off!

Merging their 2023 and 2024 scouting seasons into July gridlock is an insult to their professional and personal lives. But, of course, this seems not to have been a consideration when absolute authority has been invested in one man.

▶ Development coaches and staff: They always relied on June’s draft to identify their new personnel, get them processed and orientated to professional baseball’s culture, and — oh yes — teach them some bedrock professional baseball while the summer still offered meaningful chances to learn and to compete.

All of it is gone — the sanity, the benefits, the widespread interests of so many parties — because Manfred, probably influenced by Roger Goodell’s stage appearances at The NFL Draft — decided he, too, needed more spotlight than June was allowing.

It could, and should, be moved back to June.

But anyone laying wagers there can figure on when that will happen:

Not until a new commissioner, perhaps less in love with the camera than Manfred, arrives to restore a happier balance to baseball’s year.

Detroit News ranking of the top 10 amateur baseball talents as they currently sit leading into the 2023 MLB Draft, set for July 9-11.

1. Wyatt Langford, OF, University of Florida, 6-1, 225, RH batter: Consider his Saturday game against Vanderbilt. Consider his 3-for-5 dramatics against the eventual SEC Tournament champion and a team with the greatest brand name in college baseball. Along with a double, Langford hit an enormous home run, with an exit velocity of 117 mph. This is superstar stuff. And one more reason why the Pirates have to be in euphoria with July’s first overall draft turn. Last week’s ranking: 1

2. Dylan Crews, Louisiana State University, outfielder, 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, right-handed batter: A mild May it was for Crews, until you ponder a few reminders: 58 games on the season, .420 batting average, 15 homers, .567 on-base percentage, 1.277 OPS, with 58 walks and 38 strikeouts. He also has been hit by pitches 12 times, which is another window into how Crews is being approached, and what he yet has done as a superlative college hitter. Might not get him the second overall nod in July, but he’s too good to not be listed in the top two of this year’s draft crop. Last week’s ranking: 2

3. Paul Skenes, Louisiana State, RH starter, 6-6, 240: One of those rare (cough) defeats for Skenes last week against Arkansas as Skenes lasted 3.2 innings and 88 pitches before being excused. But there was a catcher’s interference sprinkled in among a couple of ground-singles and, well, that’s baseball. He still appears ticketed for the Nationals with July’s second pick. Last week’s ranking: 3

▶ 4. Walker Jenkins, CF, 6-3, 205, South Brunswick High, Southport, N.C, LH batter: All that’s left is for Jenkins to see which of the top four slots he’s destined to fill when those first four MLB teams select. A very possible path to Detroit remains for this super-skilled, and powerful, left-handed slasher. Last week’s ranking: 4

▶ 5. Max Clark, OF, Franklin (Indiana) Community High School, 6-1, 190, LH batter: Some see Clark as being more the Tigers’ choice, thanks to raw speed and responses that compute to a more dynamic athlete. The Tigers might or might not agree, but Clark figures to be selected no later than fifth on July 9. Last week’s ranking: 5

6. Jacob Wilson, shortstop, Grand Canyon University, 6-3, 190, RH batter: A bit of a whisper from Wilson last week in the WAC Tournament: 3-for-13. Scouts won’t care. They’ve seen all they need to see from Wilson, who stands to be the first infielder snagged on July 9. Last week’s ranking: 6

▶ 7. Rhett Lowder, RH starter, Wake Forest, 6-2, 200: You can virtually interpose one Lowder pitching-line from 2023 with another and see scant difference. Consider last Thursday’s work against Pittsburgh: How about seven innings, three hits, a run, two walks and a half-dozen punch-outs, all in 105 pitches? This man is the definition of scouting tedium. Last week’s ranking: 8

▶ 8. Matt Shaw, IF, University of Maryland, 5-11, 182, RH batter: Bit of an off-week for Shaw, and it came at the wrong time. His work in the Big Ten tournament against Michigan State, Nebraska and Iowa produced a 3-for-18 tumble, with zero homers. Ouch. Last week’s ranking: 7

9. Kyle Teel, C, University of Virginia, 6-1, 190, LH batter: The usual last Wednesday, against Georgia Tech, in the ACC Tournament: 3-or-4, including a double and a homer. Nice catcher awaiting a big-league home. Last week’s ranking: 9

10. Jacob Gonzalez, SS, University of Mississippi, 6-2, 200, LH batter: Gonzalez and Ole Miss are done for the year, and so is Gonzalez’s high-wire act as a Top 10 candidate. His left-handed bat and chances for sticking at short are credentials sufficient to keep him on the Top 10’s cusp. Last week’s ranking: 10

Knocking at the door

▶ Colin Houck, SS, Parkview High, Lilburn, Georgia, 6-2, 193, RH batter: The prep season is over, but the scouting appraisals and debates continue, with Houck very likely the first prep shortstop grabbed on July 9.

▶ Arjun Nimmala, SS, Strawberry Crest High, Dover, Florida, 6-1, 170, RH batter:  He probably lands in the Top 20, and very possibly in the Top 15, for teams that can’t resist Nimmala’s splendid upside.

▶ Noble Meyer, RH starter, Jesuit High, West Linn, Oregon, 6-5, 200: Teams are tempted to ignore all that don’t-draft-a-prep-righty talk when Meyer offers such extraordinary size and prowess. Yes, there are plenty of clubs that rue the spell a high-school pitcher cast on their team, but Meyer has a bunch of them convinced he’s worth every bit of a gamble.

▶ Chase Dollander, RH starter, University of Tennessee, 6-2, 210: He was just about everyone’s pick to click as College Baseball Gunslinger of the Year heading into February — a right-handed marvel who was to do what Skenes instead has done in 2023. Here are Dollander’s season numbers: 6-6 record, 4.28 ERA, with 65 hits, 12 homers, and 25 walks in 73.2 innings. Not exactly what was forecasted.

Jack Hurley, CF, Virginia Tech, 6-foot, 185, LH hitter: No grand finale for Hurley in the ACC Tourney: 1-for-7 against Boston College and Clemson.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and retired Detroit News sports reporter.

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