As a great folk singer once said in a song about New England, I’m here to talk about the draft.
All right, now that I’ve lost the under-60 crowd, let’s get down to business. Major League Baseball’s 2015 Draft. A year’s worth of hype packed into three days, 40 rounds, and 1215 picks. As we’ve come to expect, quite a few New England college products heard their names called, some of them in the earliest rounds. There’s no question it’s a talented bunch (just ask the world champion Giants), but how does it stack up to draft classes of the past?
To answer that question, I’ll take a look at the past quarter-century’s worth of drafts to see how 2015’s class compares. That takes us back to 1991, something of a landmark year for the region. Maine hosted the final Northeast Regional in Orono, losing to Clemson in the final. After that, true regionals became a thing of the past, something that threw a brick wall in front of New England teams’ hopes of replicating the many College World Series appearances of decades past. 1991 also marked the first national title for LSU, the poster child of the Southern-dominated gorilla ball of the 90s. So, since that fateful year, how good has New England been at turning out professional talent?
I’ll look mostly at class size and quality, but I’ll delve into a few other issues, as well, like D2 and D3 draftees and how individual programs fared. (I drew the data from the always handy Baseball-Reference.com, and I’m happy to send my Excel file along to anyone who’d like to take a closer look. For a full list of New Englanders picked, head to Mill City Sports.) Let’s get started.
As I tweeted during the draft, the 20-round pace was just off last year’s strong class, and things picked up even more after that. In the end, 26 New England college products were selected. That’s good. In fact, it’s the biggest class the region has had since the draft was cut from 50 to 40 rounds after the 2011 edition. Here are the numbers from 1991 to the present day:
A few things jump out here. First, the overall trend is a good one. Apart from a monster 1993, draft classes since the early 2000s have tended much bigger than ones before. Not since 1997 has the region produced fewer than 15 picks, and in the last decade, the average has been in the mid-20’s. Not bad for a region that, at least in D1 and D2, doesn’t get much respect from the rest of the college baseball world.
Second, the trend has been remarkably steady. Things were a little more volatile in the 90s, when you could have 13 picks one year, 31 the next, and 16 the year after that (as happened from 1992-94). Since 2004’s class of 25, draft classes have tended to stay pretty close to that medium. The region hasn’t just been producing strong crops of talent, it’s been doing it consistently. There have been booms (2011) and busts (2007), but otherwise, the mid-20s have been the rule.
Third, and finally, this isn’t the biggest class the New England college scene has ever seen. That honor goes to the UConn-fueled 2011 class of 34. Or does it?
Remember, these are just the gross numbers, and like I said earlier, the draft was cut down to 40 rounds from 50, a substantial 20% reduction. That’s a drop of around 300 picks. Before then, it was even bigger. In 1996, it got up to 100 rounds (not every team made a pick in each one) and 1739 picks. That’s more than 500 more than 2015’s. So let’s index the class-size numbers to this year’s draft size and see what we get. (In this graph, getting 10 picks in a class of 100 gives you the same bar as 20 picks in a class of 200.)
Lo and behold, when you account for the size of each draft, this year’s class looks pretty special after all. Accounting for the ~300 fewer picks the 2012-2015 drafts have had to work with, it’s directly on par with the big year in 2011. 1993’s class still looks good, but it has to pay for the fact that it came out of a draft of over 1700 picks.
In some sense, that 2011 class has to be considered the biggest. 34 guys getting phone calls from major-league teams beats 26 any day of the week. But still, adjusted for draft size, 2015’s class is tied for New England’s biggest ever.
There’s another important point to come out of this. The small upward trend we saw in the first graph is actually a substantial one. Remember how we’ve consistently produced mid-20s classes since the mid-2000s? That might show up as a flatline in the gross numbers, but when you factor in the 300 fewer picks, New England colleges’ capacity for producing pro-level talent has improved pretty significantly over the past five years. We’re churning out the same size classes with 20% fewer opportunity to get picked.
So the class size is trending upward, but what about the highest caliber of player? It’s a good question. Let’s take a look solely at top-10 round picks and see how things shake out.
As @JoshuaKummins noted on Twitter, not as strong a draft at the top tier. It did include a supplemental first-rounder in Boston College‘s Chris Shaw, but he and Bryant‘s Kyle Wilcox were the only two guys to go in the top 10. In that respect, this class lies in the bottom third in the scope of the last 25 years. If, however, you’d agree that UConn‘s Carson Cross (14th rounder) is a top-10 round talent, you can upgrade this to a mid-tier draft in producing marquee talent.
Overall, though, this graph is pretty encouraging. Nearly a hundred top-10 round picks in the 25 years. The best classes produced six, even seven players of this quality. As we’ll see below, they came from all different kinds of programs, and many went on to bigger and better things.
D2 and D3 Draftees
I’ve always held the Division 2 and 3 talent of our region in pretty high esteem, and in this draft, as in most others over the past 25 years, the experts agreed. Let’s start with a look at what percentage of each draft class D2 and D3 players have made up:
As you can see, D2 and D3 programs have made significant contributions to the region’s draft classes. More than a quarter (26%) of the draftees in the time I looked at hailed from such programs. There’ve been down years, sure, but ever since a monster year in 2013 powered by 10 D2 selections, they’ve beaten their 15-year average in draft share.
That includes this year, where a group of seven headlined by Amherst‘s Mike Odenwaelder made up better than a quarter of the draft class. It was a down year for D2. Pro-talent stalwarts Franklin Pierce and Southern New Hampshire, who’ve made their mark on the draft scene for the past ten and five years, respectively, went 0-fer (unfairly, I felt), and D2’s two draftees came in the final two rounds: Merrimack‘s Frank Crinella in the 39th and Post‘s Michael Costello in the 40th.
A banner year for D3 more than made up for that, however. Their five picks are a high in the 25 years we’re looking at, and they included two top-30 rounders (Odenwaelder and Worcester State‘s Ben Libuda in the 26th). It didn’t end the way anyone wanted it to on the field, but in the draft, this was a great year for D3.
“Those Northern schools should just cut their programs… Good college baseball is only played elsewhere… You won’t go far unless you go D1… Those Northern boys might play well against each other, but once they face real competition, they won’t have a chance… College baseball in New England isn’t worth watching.”
If we had a dime for every time we heard a statement like this, we could pay Dansby Swanson’s signing bonus. Part of the reason I started a twitter account and later a blog about New England college baseball, of all things, was that I hate it when people say things like this. The national media. Scouts. Other fans. Even some people right here in New England. Sometimes it’s spoken, sometimes it’s implied, but this sentiment is always there.
The good news? It simply isn’t true. In looking at this data, I discovered something quite by accident. Of the 22 draft classes from 1991 to 2012, 21 have produced Major League Baseball players. 13 of them have produced more than one. 2002’s class of just 16 had six. 45 Major Leaguers in 22 years. Not from the Cape Cod League. Not from the NECBL. From the colleges in the six tiny states that the rest of college baseball treats like the butt end of a bad joke.
And it’s not just the top-round guys from the same couple schools. They hail from 10 different D1 programs. Eight of them come from D2 and D3. Everyone from first-round studs like UConn‘s George Springer (2011) to Ivy Leaguers like Yale‘s Craig Breslow (26th round, 2002) to lower-division guys that no one gave a second look like Merrimack alum and 38th-rounder Dennis Tankersley (1998). New England colleges produce Major League talent with remarkable consistency. And when you look at the high-round picks in recent drafts– the Mazzilis, Newcombs, and Shaws of the world– it doesn’t show any signs of slowing.
Boston College had its best draft since some of the vets of its last NCAA team went pro in 2010. Supplemental first-rounder Chris Shaw (31st overall, Giants) became the Eagles’ highest pick since MLBer Tony Sanchez went 4th overall to the Pirates that year. If a hamate bone injury hadn’t slowed him down midseason, he might well have gone higher. A big 2014 with Chatham down the Cape bolstered his draft status, and a 2015 line of .319, 11 HR, 43 RBI (despite starting just 38 of BC’s 54 games) couldn’t have hurt, either. He’s joined by three teammates, P John Gorman (31st round, Athletics), P Jeff Burke (32nd round, Giants), and 2B Blake Butera (35th round, Rays). Burke, who’ll be joining Shaw in San Francisco’s farm system, also suffered from injury this year, but managed 30 K in 39 IP while healthy.
BC’s Boston neighbors each added a pair of draftees. Northeastern had multiple names called for the fourth time in the past five years, outfielder Michael Foster (16th round, Cubs) and first baseman Rob Fonseca (Mariners, 21st round). The pair’s efforts in helping NU to a 3rd-place finish in the CAA landed them both on the all-conference third-team, and they’re the earliest pair of picks the Huskies have had since 2006, when MLBer Adam Ottavino headlined a four-man class. Meanwhile, Harvard had two draftees of its own. Tanner Anderson (20th round, Pirates) logged four saves on the year, while fellow senior Mike Martin (33rd round, Athletics) hit .353 in Ivy League play. Anderson is the Crimson’s highest draft pick since third-rounder Ben Crockett highlighted the New England draft class of 2002.
Connecticut put together its biggest class since its monster 10-pick group in 2011. C Max McDowell (Brewers), 2B Vinny Siena (Mets), and P Carson Cross (Cardinals) all went within 50 picks of one another in the 13th and 14th rounds. (UConn also had three selections in 2012, but L.J. Mazzili returned for his senior season in 2013.) Cross, a Brentwood, NH native, was named the AAC Pitcher of the Year after a 10-2, 2.29, 108 K campaign. Being drafted marks a successful return from the arm surgery that sidelined him for all of 2014. Siena also had a successful season, hitting .362 to lead the team. McDowell, the highest pick of the group as a 13th-rounder, becomes the Huskies’ highest draftee at catcher since MLBer Brian Esposito went in the 5th round in 2000.
Bryant may not have matched 2014’s banner draft, but the Bulldogs will send a pair of players to the pro ranks. 6th-rounder Kyle Wilcox (Mariners) gives the Rhode Islanders New England’s second-highest draftee for the second straight summer. He went 7-3 with a 3.24 in 2015. Senior righty Trevor Lacosse (23rd round, Marlins) completes Bryant’s draft class. As a few NEC followers noted on Twitter, the two become the fifth and sixth arms from Bryant’s inaugural 2013 tournament team to get drafted.
Five other D1s had a single player hear their name called. UMass Lowell shortstop Danny Mendick became the Riverhawks’ first Division I draftee when the White Sox took him in the 22nd round. Mendick, the only Riverhawk to start each of their 43 games, hit .321/.408/.455 with 14 steals en route to a first-team all-AEC selection. Juniors Joe Purritano of Dartmouth (30 RBI, .500 SLG) and Mike Wallace of Fairfield (6-4, 3.84, 6 CG, 50:12 K:BB) both went in the 30th round. Rhode Island marked its fourth straight year in the draft (matching a program record) when the Padres selected Yarmouth, ME native Lou Distasio in the 32nd round. The junior went 4-3 with a 3.47 and 37:9 K:BB in A-10 play and earned the Rams’ upset win over North Carolina earlier this season. Finally, Holy Cross shortstop and first-team all-Patriot Leaguer Nick Lovullo was picked in the 34th round by the Red Sox.
In D3, Amherst had multiple draftees for the first time ever. It’s also the first time a D3 school has done that since Trinity’s near-perfect season in 2008. A 16th-round selection by the Orioles for junior outfielder Mike Odenwaelder (.380, 7 HR, 30 RBI) headlined D3’s record five-pick class. The slugger was the NESCAC Rookie of the Year as a freshman and became the first player to win back-to-back Player of the Year honors as a sophomore and junior. He was also named the 2014 FCBL Most Valuable Player in a summer spent with Torrington. Robert Lucido (40th round, Blue Jays) didn’t play for the Jeffs in 2015, as @CACSportsBlog pointed out, but did appear in limited action with Amherst in each of the three seasons prior. He also spent a couple summers with Silver Spring-Takoma of the Cal Ripken League, where he made the league all-star team.
A trio of other D3 players heard their names called. Worcester State’s Ben Libuda (of Auburn, MA) went in the 26th round to the Braves. The 6’7” senior lefty went 5-3 with a 2.30 and helped lead the Lancers to an NCAA Tournament appearance as a junior in 2014. He becomes WSU’s highest draftee since Tim Stronach went in the 22nd round in 2006. Wesleyan’s Donnie Cimino went in the 37th round to the Cubs after a senior season saw him lead the Cardinals in hitting. In 2014 and 2015, he helped the program to its first back-to-back NCAA trips ever. And in the 40th round, Rhode Island College’s Matt Foley was drafted by the same Marlins organization that took fellow RI college product Trevor Lacosse. Foley led the Anchormen in a slew of offensive categories, including hitting (.453) and home runs (11).
In D2, Merrimack’s Frank Crinella became the Warriors’ third draftee in the last six years, going in the 39th round to the Orioles. The East Longmeadow, MA native, an NECBL all-star with the Valley Blue Sox a summer ago, hit .338 with 18 steals for Merrimack this spring. The Orioles also accounted for D2’s other draft pick, selecting Post’s Mike Costello in the 40th round. Costello, whose 4-2, 2.13 campaign helped the Eagles to a second-place finish in the CACC, becomes the program’s first major-league draftee.