How draft changes will likely benefit Georgia Tech baseball for 2021

The decision by Major League Baseball to shorten the draft to five rounds will have an impact on Georgia Tech, almost certainly for the better.

It is standard for coach Danny Hall to lose multiple juniors to professional baseball every June. But with the draft limited from the standard 40 rounds, it raises the likelihood that draft-eligible Yellow Jackets players who would typically get drafted and make the jump will instead return (all college players after their third season or who are 21 are draft eligible, but they can retain their eligibility if they don’t sign).

Hall said that outfielder Baron Radcliff and shortstop Luke Waddell, both juniors, are likely to be selected and sign.  Both are in the top 225 of Baseball America’s top-500 draft prospects list.  There are 160 picks overall.

Others  who likely would otherwise have been selected in a standard 40-round draft, particularly outfielders Michael Guldberg and outfielder Colin Hall (the coach’s son) and pitchers Andy Archer and Brant Hurter, are still candidates, but not nearly as likely. Hurter, Guldberg and Archer are also in the top 500.

“If they don’t go in the five rounds, I would be pretty confident that our guys will come back, and it is going to deepen our roster, for sure,” Hall told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “That’s a good thing. You’re disappointed that kids didn’t have the opportunity to go through the draft, kind of see where they’re at, but nobody saw this coming.”

An additional rule for this year’s draft is also significant, that the maximum signing bonus that an undrafted player can be offered is $20,000. Last year, for example, the slotted signing-bonus value for the last pick of the 10th round was $142,200. The rules were put in place as a cost-saving measure for team owners, whose revenues have been slashed by the games postponed or, perhaps, canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Those guys know, if they (stay and) get their degree and walk out, they’re very aware of what the average starting salary is (for a Tech grad),” Hall said.

Moreover, Hall may also be the beneficiary of the draft’s impact on the Yellow Jackets’ high school signees. Catcher Kevin Parada, pitcher Marquis Grissom Jr. (Counterpane School in Fayetteville, son of the former Braves outfielder), outfielder Jake DeLeo and outfielder/pitcher Brad Grenkoski (Kell High) are all in Baseball America’s top 500, but this year’s circumstances could also play a factor.

The draft has shifted toward college players in recent years, Hall said, and that balance could adjust even more in this draft because scouts saw high school prospects play very little or not at all this spring. Scouts could at least watch college players for a month this spring, to say nothing of fall practice and their previous college seasons.

“I think if you’re going to spend good money on a prospect, you want to know that he is a definite prospect,” Hall said. “I think that will help the college player that got out of the gate good (this spring) and (scouts) got a chance to evaluate him.”

Hall also has four seniors who have the option to return next year because of the NCAA’s decision to grant all spring sports athletes an extra year of eligibility due to the cancellation of their seasons. Middle infielder Austin Wilhite appears to be the only one who might take advantage of it.

Pitcher Jonathan Hughes, who graduated this past semester, has indicated to Hall that he will sign a contract whether he is drafted or not, and Hall said he’s convinced that Hughes will get offered an undrafted free-agent deal at the least. Outfielder Paxton Rigby, another graduate, plans to attend grad school. Infielder Jackson Webb, also a graduate, plans to look for a job if he isn’t offered a chance to play professionally.

Wilhite has indicated to Hall that he would come back if he doesn’t get the opportunity to sign.

If, for instance, Archer, Guldberg, Colin Hall, Hurter and Wilhite all return, that’s a significant boost for a team that earned one of the top four seeds for the 2019 NCAA tournament regular season and had begun the 2020 season at 11-5. All have been productive in the lineup or on the mound.

“So we’re in pretty good shape,” Hall said. “We’re pretty well-equipped to handle it either way.”