In the sports world, remnants of various leagues’ seasons are making plans for a comeback. NASCAR returned this past weekend in Darlington, South Carolina and multiple media outlets have reported MLB’s proposal to resume play includes a date in early July.
The sport’s draft, with a regular duration of 40 rounds in a normal year, has been cut to five rounds and will only span two days, June 10 and 11, instead of the normal three.
For ECU baseball, a shortened draft potentially means less players selected from the program in 2020.
“It will leave some players on ECU’s team that maybe would have been drafted that won’t be drafted,” ECU head baseball coach Cliff Godwin said. “Specifically at East Carolina, some of our incoming guys still have the opportunity to be drafted but maybe they don’t get drafted and they do make it to school. Maybe if it was 10 rounds, they don’t make it to school.”
In recent years, Pirate baseball has had a number of players selected outside of the top five rounds that would have found themselves undrafted free agents in this year’s circumstances. Just last year, five of the seven ECU baseball players taken in the MLB draft were selected after the fifth round, including names like Spencer Brickhouse, Trey Benton and Evan Voliva.
This time around the Pirates have a handful of potential draft picks, both on the current roster and high school commits who have yet to play a single inning at Clark-LeClair Stadium. Koen Moreno, Josh Moylan and Robert Ready headline the crop of 2021 ECU commits that are ranked in Baseball America’s top 500 draft prospect rankings a month before the event is set to take place.
Moreno, a right-handed pitcher from Panther Creek High School in Cary, North Carolina, is ranked No. 157 on the list and is sandwiched around two veterans of the program in junior right-handed pitcher Gavin Williams and junior left-handed pitcher/first baseman Alec Burleson.
“If they’re drafted in the top five rounds, then they will most likely sign and move on and if they don’t, then they’ll have an opportunity to come back and play for us,” Godwin said. “I think the two guys it really affects the most are Alec Burleson and Gavin Williams. The draft is a very inexact science. You’re talking about different organizations and different people who have different views on players.”
Burleson and Williams were in different places baseball-wise when the season was canceled. Picking up where his All-American season ended last year, Burleson slashed .375/.440/.547 with three home runs and 12 RBI in 2020. Across 64 at-bats, the junior only struck out three times while posting a 4.24 ERA in 23.1 innings pitched (four starts) on the mound.
Williams, who Burleson was filling in for as the Friday night starter, suffered a finger injury in a spring intra-squad scrimmage. Slated to be something of a defining year for the 6’6” righty, Williams pitched in only two games, amassing just three innings before COVID-19 interjected.
“Gavin and Burly both have just taken it day-by-day,” Godwin said. “When you’re in a time like we’re in right now where everything is uncertain -- really until last week you didn’t know how many rounds in the draft there was going to be.”
The length and all other parameters surrounding the draft have been hammered out by Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association. Every player selected in the five round event will receive $100,000 of their signing bonus with 50% of the remaining amount deferred until 2021 and the other half deferred until 2022. Undrafted free agents will be capped at a $20,000 signing bonus, a far cry from the $125,000 UDFA’s have earned in the past.
Burleson and Williams hope to hear their name called in June while guys like junior outfielder Bryson Worrel and junior left-handed pitcher Jake Kuchmaner have a shot to sign as undrafted free agents.
Whatever happens on June 10 and 11, Godwin said, at least a couple Pirates figure to finally have their childhood dreams of playing professional baseball come true. While not under the best circumstances, all their hard work has afforded them the opportunity to further their baseball careers.
“They’re excited about the opportunity,” Godwin said. “Everybody’s dream is to play in the major leagues. By being drafted that high, you’re one step closer to being in the major leagues. Now, there’s still a lot of work that still has to go into it. We just try to tell them to take it day-by-day, be prepared that if your name is called you’re ready to go out and do whatever the organization asks of you.”