football Edit

Monday will provide some needed clarity for college baseball

We’re in an unprecedented time in the world of college baseball. The 2020 season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic and with it comes a myriad of questions from player eligibility to scholarship increases.

With the NCAA Division 1 Council set to vote Monday on eligibility relief for college baseball players, a plethora of complications that come with the decision. co-editor Aaron Fitt visited with Volquest to discuss the impending news and the long-lasting fallout from the cancelation of the 2020 season.

One question was answered late last week, as MLB announced Thursday that the the 2020 draft — one that will take place with no college or high school baseball seasons — would take place in July and be just five rounds.

“In all likelihood we’re in for a bumper crop of talent in college baseball the next couple of years,” Fitt said. “There will be less players that go out and play pro ball. More players returning to college than usual. That’s a certainty.”

The decision to cut the draft to just five rounds will lead to an abundance of top talent, especially juniors, returning to college campuses in the fall. For Tennessee, it could have a big impact as well.

Lefty pitcher Garrett Crochet is a near lock to sign a professional contract. The Ocean Springs, Mississippi native is a one of the Vols’ best ever draft prospects, being projected to go in the Top 15. However, the shortened draft could make an impact on Tennessee juniors Al Soularie and Zach Daniels.

Soularie will almost certainly still be drafted, but how the pay works out could leave the possibility of him coming back to school for his senior year.

After playing sparingly his first two seasons in Knoxville, Daniels had a breakout junior season hitting .357 with four homers and a team high 18 RBIs. Daniels is likely not a top five round draft pick but exhibits high upside.

The 2020 draft being an extremely deep one and how teams will view high school prospects without a senior season will also play a role.

“I think fewer high school kids will sign (professionally),” Fitt said. “The shortened season particularly affects high school prospects because there’s more risk involved taking a guy out of high school and I think clubs will be more hesitant to invest a first-round pick on an 18-year old kid whose season hadn’t even started yet.”

With possibly less high school players getting drafted and signing with big league teams, it will cause a talent infusion into college baseball as they receive more of the top prep players. However, as difficult as it is for coaches to predict which players and signees will go pro, schools oversign during the fall signing period.

Now, with both more signees and current players expected to be on college campuses next fall, it could create a mass movement of both recruits and graduate transfers looking for new homes after the draft — creating a new recruiting period towards the end of the summer.

“I think that’s going to be huge this year, no question about it,” Fitt said. “Especially if they allow seniors to get relief, which I don’t think is a certainty. I think there is a lot of momentum right now for not providing any eligibility relief for anybody. … If they provide eligibility relief just for seniors, you’re going to see a lot of fifth year guys that are going to move around.”

While an extra year of eligibility isn’t as sure-fire as it appeared a few weeks ago, it still seems likely that seniors will be granted an extra year after the NCAA Division II council and NJCAA gave an extra year of eligibility to all players. Still, the situation is a tricky one with less committed baseball conferences not wanting to shoulder the load of giving additional scholarships.

How scholarships and roster limits will be handled remains the biggest question if relief is provided for seniors. Whether they extend the 11.7 scholarships to a different set number, or whether the NCAA would just allow seniors to keep their scholarships while allowing schools to sign a normal sized signing class will hopefully be answered Monday.

“My guess is if they do any kind of relief it will be just for seniors, and probably the corresponding scholarship relief would also just apply to the seniors you got,” Fitt said. “I think that’s the way they’ll go, but you’re also just rewarding teams with more seniors. It’s all a sticky wicket with so many things to consider. Best of luck to those people who have to figure it out.”

Tennessee is one of those teams with less seniors, with only three carving out a role in 2020, and none starting. Fitt, however, doesn’t necessarily see that as a huge negative for the Vols.

“You can make an argument that it would almost be easier for coaches that didn’t have a lot of seniors,” Fitt said. “You’ve already got your recruiting class lined up. You’re probably going to get more guys back from the draft in your junior class then you expected. You’re probably going to have more freshman and juco guys come in then expected.

“It’s going to create a roster crunch and maybe you’re better off if you don’t have seniors that you have to accommodate on top of it.”

The effects of increased quantity and quality in college baseball could continue for years to come, potentially leading to a transfer scene that more resembles football and basketball. With the potential increase in transfers Fitt sees it as the perfect opportunity for the NCAA to begin allowing one-time immediate eligibility waivers.

“I think they’re going to have to,” Fitt said. “There’s just no way around it. There’s going to be too many players headed to one school. The only way to fix that is allow players to go to another school. There’s already been talks of doing that (immediate eligibility), so I think it makes sense to go ahead and do it now.”

It’s a strange time in college baseball with an abundance of unanswered questions due to the coronavirus.

Hopefully, Monday will begin to provide some clarity for the sport.