The format may be atypical, but Florida’s presence will still be felt in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft – although the first Gator likely to be selected has yet to set foot on UF’s campus.
Florida signee Zac Veen out of Spruce Creek High is expected to be the first high school prospect selected and one of the first 10 picks off the board when the draft begins at 7 p.m. today on MLB Network and ESPN. This year’s format will see just 160 amateurs selected across five rounds due to the coronavirus pandemic – a far cry from the league’s standard 40-round format, which resulted in 1,217 amateurs being selected in 2019.
Thirty seven players will hear their names called Wednesday between the first round and Competitive Balance Round A, with the selection of the final 123 draftees beginning 4 p.m. Thursday.
While Veen may very well be the lone Gator selected in the first round, three of UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s players could hear their names called Thursday, with junior right-handed pitcher Tommy Mace receiving the most pre-draft buzz. Anthony Telford, Mace’s pitching coach, told the Tampa Bay Times he expects Mace to be drafted within the first two rounds; meanwhile, MLB.com has Mace ranked as the 69th overall prospect in the draft.
Fellow UF pitcher Jack Leftwich is pegged by analysts as the second Gator off the board, with Prospects365 having the junior taken by the Los Angeles Dodgers with pick No. 100.
Rounding out the list is Williston native Austin Langworthy, who has a solid chance of sneaking into the fifth round. If he does wind up undrafted, Langworthy, who is set to graduate from UF in the fall, still has an opportunity to return to Florida for another season thanks to an NCAA Division I council’s vote allowing players an additional year of eligibility.
As for the draft itself, the Detroit Tigers will select first overall for the second time in three years after finishing with the worst record last season, and the consensus among draft analysts is that Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson is headed for Michigan as the first pick off the board.
There may be a limit when it comes to 2020 draft selections, but the league’s 30 teams have plenty of leeway when it comes to the signing of undrafted players. The new format allows teams to sign an unlimited number of undrafted players for $20,000 – no small chunk of change, but a figure that ultimately pales in comparison to the six-figure bonuses players drafted within the first 10 rounds typically receive.
While those figures aren’t ideal news for draft-eligible players sitting just outside the fifth round, that news should come as a relief for O’Sullivan when it comes to getting Florida’s incoming freshman signees on campus. However, it remains a possibility that one or more of the remaining signees, including third baseman Coby Mayo, right-handed pitcher Colby Halter, third baseman Sterlin Thompson and left-handed pitcher Timmy Manning, could forego a Florida career if they hear their names called Thursday.
The minor league baseball season, already postponed several times, is in jeopardy of cancellation, while the MLB Players Association and the league remain mired in contentious negotiations.
ESPN and the MLB Network will televise the draft, which begins at 7 p.m. today. Coverage continues Thursday on MLB Network and ESPN2 at 5 p.m.