One of the toughest questions in the annual Major League Baseball Draft is determining the value and future production of high school pitchers and position players.
Waterloo High senior slugger Jordan McFarland finds himself in that category as he waits to see when and where he is selected in the draft, which begins Thursday with the first-round picks.
The first round begins at 6 p.m. Thursday and will be carried live on the MLB Network. Rounds 3-10 will begin at noon Friday, with rounds 11-40 set to begin at 11 a.m. Saturday; those will all be updated and streamed live on MLB.com.
McFarland (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) has a rare combination of size, strength and the ability to hit for average and power. The University of Arkansas recruit also has speed and athleticism, but will that be enough to get him drafted where some scouts and coaches project, anywhere from Rounds 3 to 5?
“I’m pretty unsure just like everybody else,” said McFarland, who hit .500 this season for Waterloo with 10 doubles, six home runs, 31 RBIs, 37 stolen bases and 49 runs scored. “All I can do now is wait. It’s definitely a unique process and for sure it’s humbling.”
Pro contract or college career?
While some major league teams prefer drafting and developing college talent, others tend to use some of their high picks on high school players.
I’m pretty unsure just like everybody else. All I can do now is wait. It’s definitely a unique process and for sure it’s humbling.
Waterloo senior Jordan McFarland
“I think high school players are a premium pick,” said Jason Wood, a Granite City native and baseball agent with Arland Sports in St. Louis who also serves as an adviser to McFarland and other high school players. “They have a lot of leverage. These teams have pool of money and you’re seeing a bigger part of the pool going to the high school players because they have a lot of leverage.
“You’ve got to pay the guys that have the most leverage.”
The leverage Wood speaks of is a college scholarship. The better the scholarship, the more leverage a player has.
Even before the draft, the dance begins. Teams talk to high school players and their parents and advisers wondering what it might take for them to forgo the scholarship and begin their professional career.
When Wood and his agency represented former Highland High All-American Jake Odorizzi, that number was just over $1 million. That’s what Odorizzi, now a pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays, got as a signing bonus from the Milwaukee Brewers when he was the 32nd overall pick in 2008 following his senior year at Highland.
“I try to find my players the best possible deal, but more importantly than the best deal financially it’s finding the right organization,” Wood said. “If they get into the wrong organization it’s career suicide, so you’ve got to get them into an organization that has a history of developing high school pitchers. or in Jordan’s case, high school hitters.
“You have to balance all those things out.”
According to area high school and college coaches who speak with scouts on a fairly regular basis, other metro-east high school players with a chance to be drafted are Waterloo High senior pitcher Tyler McAlister and Edwardsville High pitcher Trey Riley, with O’Fallon left-hander Brad Harrison also a possibility.
McAlister (8-3, 0.60 ERA, 62 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings) signed with Missouri State. Riley (2-3, 3.59 ERA, 32 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings) signed with Oklahoma State and Harrison (12-0, 0.47 ERA, 124 strikeouts in 89 2/3 innings) signed with Southern Illinois University Carbondale. McAlister and Riley have fastballs clocked at or above the 90 mph range.
Parkland College freshman right-hander Brady Schanuel, a 2015 Belleville East graduate, has been projected by some as a potential top 10 draft pick. Schanuel was among the national junior college leaders in wins, strikeout average and earned-run average this season when he helped Parkland reach the Division II Junior College World Series.
Schanuel, whose fastball was clocked as high as 95 mph and routinely sits at 89-93 mph, was 10-3 with a 1.83 ERA and nation-leading 131 strikeouts in 83 2/3 innings for the Champaign-based junior college.
His strikeout average of 14.09 per game ranked third in the nation and his 10 wins ranked sixth nationally.
“The scouts I’ve talked to, it’s such a wide range (of draft rounds) that I really don’t have much of an idea going into the draft,” Schanuel said Wednesday. “It’s really exciting and really humbling, to say the least. Everybody that’s helped me get to this point I’m grateful for.”
Former Alton High left-handed pitcher Bryan Hudson went to the Chicago Cubs in the third round (82nd overall) last season following his senior year with the Redbirds. He signed with the Cubs and is pitching in their minor-league system.
Anticipation and nerves
McFarland said he has left all the draft talk and negotiations on the back burner, leaving that to his parents and adviser. He said he wants to concentrate on what he has control over, which is playing baseball to the best of his ability based on years of training, hard work and is own natural talent.
The showcases, the summer tournaments, high school games and batting practice in front of scouts are over.
I think high school players are a premium pick. They have a lot of leverage. These teams have pool of money and you’re seeing a bigger part of the pool going to the high school players because they have a lot of leverage.
Jason Wood, player agent/adviser from Arland Sports
“That’s about the only thing I’ve been able to control throughout this whole thing is how I’ve performed,” McFarland said. “I could go early or it might not even happen at all. I honestly wish I knew what was going to happen just to get it out of the way, but we’re all excited, my parents and everybody involved is.
“We’ve been waiting for this for a while.”
St. Louis University baseball coach Darin Hendrickson is also in the talent evaluation business, needing to make good calls on high school players he brings in on scholarship.
“The game has changed a lot and scouting has changed so much,” said Hendrickson, a standout pitcher at Granite City and later SIU Edwardsville who coached previously at Central Missouri State, Forest Park and Fontbonne. “Teams are putting a lot of resources into different kinds of evaluations. Some people copy each other models.
“When they come and recruit our guys, one scout may love him and one guy may not even have him turned in.”
Both Wood and Hendrickson said the money slotted by MLB into draft bonus pools has a lot to do with it. Draft picks in the top 10 rounds are assigned monetary values and if a team chooses to go over that mount, they are assessed a penalty.
According to a recent MLB.com story, the Cincinnati Reds have the largest bonus pool for the opening 10 rounds at $13,923,700. The Pirates, Padres, Braves and Rockies are all above $11 million, according to MLB.com.
The first overall pick in the 2015 draft, Dansby Swanson, got a signing bonus of $6.5 million from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Wood said some teams consider Midwest high school hitters a bit more of a risk than those in the southern region of the U.S. or California.
“Midwest hitters are very hard to judge because the competition isn’t as good ... they don’t spend all year developing because of the weather,” Wood said. “(McFarland) is an elite athlete, off-the-charts speed and hand-eye coordination. If Jordan played in Florida or California, he’d probably have another 10,000 swings under his belt and he’d probably be a lock for the first round to be honest with you.
“He’s just an elite athlete. I personally think Jordan’s best days are ahead of him.”
Hendrickson said the St. Louis region has been a solid producer of talent. Players like Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer, Odorizzi, Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard and Scott Van Slyke of the Dodgers are recent examples. Piasa Southwestern High grad Jason Isringhausen had a long career in the majors, as did Nashville High graduate Kirk Rueter and many others from the region.
“They’re battle-tested here and there’s a lot of good coaching and good teams and exposure,” said Hendrickson, who sees big-league talent on a daily basis as a St. Louis Cardinals batting practice pitcher for the past 20 years. “But it’s still a jump from high school to pro ball, I don’t care where they’re going. There’s some really gifted people out there that are very, very hungry to get there.
“Having been around every level of baseball my whole life, you kind of see who sticks. You’ve got to find the guys that truly love the game.”
And as far as recruiting and scouting baseball talent? If there was an exact working model every major-league team would be doing it.
There are many stories of first-round draft busts and late-round superstars.
Former Dodgers and Mets all-star catcher Mike Piazza was a 62nd round pick. Former Cardinals stars Keith Hernandez (42nd round) and Albert Pujols (13th round) were passed on by numerous teams, as were Hall of Famers Ryne Sandberg (20th round) and John Smoltz (22nd round).
“There’s no exact science to scouting or recruiting for that matter,” Hendrickson said. “We all miss on guys and we hit on guys. I don’t think anybody’s got it all figured out but with the money they invest and the resources, they’re going to make sure they’ve done their homework.”