'Is it worth it?': Condensed MLB draft throws curve into Southern Nevada baseball

Posted Monday, 25 May 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

If Nevada amateur baseball legends Bryce Harper or Kris Bryant were eligible for this year’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, not much would have changed for the sure-thing prospects. They would sign a pro contract, collect a multimillion-dollar signing bonus and begin their foray into minor league baseball on their path to the big leagues. But MLB condensed its draft format this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, slashing the number of rounds from 40 to five and capping the signing bonuses of undrafted players at $20,000. That means players like Dax Fellows, a College of Southern Nevada sophomore infielder and Silverado High graduate, could face the choice of his life in two weeks. With fewer draft choices available and limits on bonus money, players like Fellows are slapped with the reality that achieving their dream of pro baseball might not pay the bills. “Is it worth it?” Fellows said. “If there’s an opportunity to go now, do I take it now or do I stay in college and try one more year and see what happens? It’s a tough decision.” Minor league salaries are abysmal, as some levels pay as little as $300 per week. The big paycheck that comes with being drafted — even a 10th-round selection had a slot value of $142,200 last year — is less of a bonus and more of a lifeline. “My whole thing when talking about the draft was being able to live off my signing bonus for a little bit until you can either sign a big contract and get a little more money, or just decide this isn’t for you and then start a real job,” Fellows said. “Not having that big signing bonus to live off — it’s really hard for me to say yes because I know it’s not going to be the easiest situation in the world to live off. “It’s a little bit conflicting for me, but it does definitely play a big role in deciding whether I want to stay another year in college or just go for it.” It’s not just college players.  High school seniors are also eligible for the draft, which has seen a Las Vegas-area prep player picked every year since 1985.  Some, like Bishop Gorman outfielder Carson Wells, were hoping to boost their draft stock with a strong spring season. But that was canceled because of the pandemic. Wells, who is committed to the University of Southern California, said under normal circumstances it was “50-50” whether he would attend school or turn pro if he was selected. That’s assuming a 40-round draft and a senior year in which he could showcase his talents to scouts. Instead, Bishop Gorman’s first games were rained out, and Wells never got to play an inning of his senior season. “I had a really good summer and leading up to this season I was playing pretty well,” Wells said. “I felt like it was going to be a really big season for me with how I had been playing. It really sucked that I didn’t get to show what I had.” Wells is still leaving all options open but is focused on college with the hope of re-entering the draft when he is eligible again in 2023. UNLV has had a MLB draft choice in the last 36 drafts dating back to 1984, including at least two players selected in each of the past seven drafts. If there were 40 rounds, that streak would likely continue. But without a blue-chip player this year like they had last year in No. 14 overall selection Bryson Stott, it’s doubtful that it does. “It’s a different scenario for us for sure,” UNLV coach Stan Stolte said. Recruiting is another issue entirely.  CSN baseball coach Nick Garritano would love to be recruiting those players right now. The Coyotes have 16 players on their roster who played high school in the valley in the last two years, including Fellows. Garritano is doing what he can with Zoom meetings and virtual face-to-faces, but he also knows that without games to watch, players are going to slip through the cracks. “This COVID situation is definitely affecting everything under the moon, including recruiting,” Garritano said. “I could not imagine being a senior in high school who was going to bank on my senior year to hopefully parlay that into some college opportunity, and now there’s not a baseball game being assembled.” The shortened draft could also end up helping junior colleges like CSN. If a player enrolls at a Division I college, in most cases he isn’t eligible for the draft until after his third season. At junior colleges, all players are eligible every year. Undrafted high schoolers who want another crack at the draft next year, presumably when things are more normal, will find junior college that much more appealing. “Our mindset right now is we’re not looking for this to be long-term. It’s a phase we’re going through,” Bishop Gorman coach Gino DiMaria said. “I think (junior college) is going to become very popular right now.” That brings us back to Fellows.  After going undrafted out of Silverado two years ago, he took the junior college route hoping to catch the eye of professional scouts. But an injury derailed his freshman season in 2019, and the pandemic this spring shelved his sophomore campaign. “For me and where I was at, not being able to finish the year was kind of rough,” Fellows said. “To cut the draft back to five rounds, for me was kind of like, maybe this isn’t the year.”

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