THE TREND THAT MIGHT CHANGE BASEBALL AS WE KNOW IT

The MLB Draft has never been the primetime sporting event that many fans of the league hope for it to be one day. This has always been due to the fact that the players drafted will not see MLB playing time for another three to four years – in the best case scenarios. However, the 2020 Draft had a greater trend that might shorten the time it takes players to reach the show, while also increasing the talent that college baseball fans will see on fields across the country.

The first high school player drafted this year was Robert Hassell at eighth overall to the Padres. This is far from just three years prior when each of the top three picks hailed from high school, not college. This trend towards more mature collegiate prospects rather than the raw high school arms and bats might just be a passing fad because of the circumstances of this draft, but I don’t believe this to be the case. I believe that, because of the various changes that are bound to occur as a result of the pandemic and its impact on professional sports, high school baseball players will become more likely to end up on college fields rather than in major league farm systems. 

This is a bold claim for anyone to make, especially after seeing last year’s second overall pick, high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., have success despite foregoing his offer to play at the University of Oklahoma. The problem with players such as Witt and many other aspiring baseball stars who have been drafted out of high school is that many casual baseball fans see the success stories, but neglect to see those who fail before reaching the peak. 

According to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), only about 27.5% of high school players chosen in the first round of the draft ever make it to the MLB. This number, compared to the 39.3% of college players who reach the show, demonstrate that many high school prospects just fail to pan out at the same rate as collegiate athletes. This difference is only exacerbated when you look beyond the first round. High school players drafted within the 2nd – 5th rounds reach the MLB about 14% of the time, much less than the 25% of college players able to do the same. 

The sheer fact that college players are more likely to make it to the MLB is not the sole determining factor behind my belief that more high school players will choose the route of higher education rather than the minor leagues. 

High school players who are drafted in the early rounds of the draft also tend to demand higher pay than those in similar positions coming out of college. For many MLB teams, it’s easier to pick a player with less negotiation leverage, such as those from college, rather than dealing with the threat of losing a top draft pick for nothing in return. The Houston Astros know this story all too well as their No. 1 overall pick from 2014, Brady Aiken, decided against signing with the team because of an offer that was lower than slot value. There are stories like these every single year from the draft. Nick Lodolo was the 41st overall pick in the 2016 MLB draft, but did not sign with the Pirates. Instead, he played three years at Texas Christian University and was drafted 7th just three years later.

College baseball is also a growing sector of the NCAA and, now more than ever, it is a legitimate option to spur playing in small towns for major league clubs, in order to shine in large collegiate conferences. This natural cycle is mutually beneficial for players and colleges alike. The colleges are able to brand their new star athletes to sell more seats and gain more exposure for their school and program. This exposure then leads more high school prospects to ignore the glamorous cash that the draft has to offer, delaying their entry into minor league baseball and playing competitive baseball for a much wider audience in college instead. 

The MLB is often seen as the league for old men. The demographics of its fans might support this narrative. However, recent draft trends suggest there might be a change on the horizon – one that many people might not recognize at first, but will, no doubt, change the way that the game is viewed and grows. If more collegiate programs are able to gain the notoriety that Vanderbilt, Florida, and South Carolina have established, the door for baseball to regain its status as America’s Pastime might not be too far away. 

Nelson: LSU’s Next Man Up

How does a college football team replace the most productive college quarterback the nation has ever seen? 

This is the question Louisiana State and head coach Ed Orgeron will be asking themselves come the beginning of the 2020 season. Joe Burrow, the number one overall pick of the NFL Draft, passed for the third-most yards of all time and the most touchdowns, while only throwing six interceptions in the process. It is the best performance anyone has seen out of a college quarterback for as long as many can remember. As for everyone in college, though, moving on is just part of the game. Roster turnover is nothing new for LSU’s four-year veteran head coach. The next-man-up mentality is one of the few pertinent ideas that every college coach knows. 

Who is that next man up for LSU at quarterback? 

Well, ladies and gentlemen, meet Myles Brennan.

PHOTO CREDIT: The Advocate

Before arriving in Baton Rouge, Myles Brennan tore up high school football in neighboring Mississippi. He was named Mississippi Class 4A Mr. Football his senior year in the Magnolia State. Despite these accolades, he was still only ranked the tenth-best quarterback in his recruiting class and the only blue-blood college football program to offer him a scholarship was his future team, the LSU Tigers. 

During his freshman year in the Bayou, Myles did not get much playing time only getting snaps once a game was too far out of hand. Even with this small sample size, the future did not look terribly bright, as Brennan threw two interceptions on only 24 passing attempts with a completion percentage under 60%. 

Not exactly the showing you hope for out of your four-star quarterback recruit if you are the LSU coaching staff. 

Myles played only one game his sophomore year before Joe Burrow stole the show during Brennan’s junior year. This junior year, despite backing up a legendary college quarterback, was a glimmer of hope for many LSU fans and coaches. Brennan still only was able to jump into games once they were all but over, still Myles made the most of his opportunities. His small sample size still limits the conclusions that are able to be drawn, but on an increased number of attempts, his interceptions decreased from his small freshman year stint. In order to see what Brennan brings to a revamped Tiger offense next year, I took a look at the few snaps he took in college and made some broad conclusions about what LSU can expect from the heir to Joe Burrow. 

The thing that stands out on tape for me is Brennan’s mind. I think this is and will be his greatest asset heading into whatever college football season we see this upcoming fall. 

Brennan is cool under pressure, something that many hope to see in young quarterbacks. There were a few plays where, even as a freshman, he was willing to stay in the pocket for routes to develop even with edge rushers bearing down on him. With this pressure, he also did not panic a bad throw that ended up sailing to the other team, rather, he was keen to find checkdowns to let his receivers make moves after the catch to get the yardage they needed. This ability will allow him to lessen the interceptions he throws next year and let his talented skills players take the burden of getting yards down the field. 

The second skill that truly stands out in this limited tape is Brennan’s ability to trust his receivers. LSU had some of the most talented running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends in years past, and will have some of those players returning for Myles’ senior year. Jamarr Chase is the number one receiving talent college football has seen in the last 10 years and is even threatening for the number one overall pick next year. Myles will need to rely on Chase and others to carry the load for him this season. Brennan has shown the ability to trust his receivers enough to throw the ball up to them when they’re covered one-on-one and if he continues this, it will lead to many scores for the Tigers next year. 

Brennan is not superbly talented with his arm, but where he does excel is similar to where Burrow excelled. Myles does not have A+ arm strength, but he is able to push the ball down the field when he finds it necessary. Myles is able to find tight windows and generally puts the ball in a spot where his receivers can do the rest of the work. 

Will Myles Brennan be able to pull off what Joe Burrow did last year for LSU?

The answer will probably be no. However, if Burrow taught college football fans one thing in his Heisman season, it is to never count out a quarterback until he is given the chance to shine.