Welcome and congratulations, Mick Abel. You are now one signature away from officially being a professional baseball player and a member of the Philadelphia Phillies organization.
A year ago that would have meant a trip to Citizens Bank Park to meet some of the big-leaguers you one day hope to join as a member of the Phillies. That would have been followed by some summer training in the heat and humidity of Clearwater, Fla., before pitching in a handful of Gulf Coast League games against rosters filled with fellow high school picks and teenagers who signed out of the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and other Latin countries.
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If you did really well, you might have even made your way to Williamsport, Pa.,where you would have faced some of the kids who were drafted out of college this season. Let me tell you, historic Bowman Field is an antique treasure and the people in Williamsport really love their baseball.
Had it not been for COVID-19, you might have been one of the last Crosscutters affiliated with the Phillies. It sure appears as if the charming New York-Penn League could be wiped out by baseball’s desire to save money. Chopping 40 minor-league teams is reportedly on commissioner Rob Manfred’s to-do list once the owners and players union figure out a way to get big-league baseball back on the field this summer.
Something else that’s not going to be there for you this summer is the full amount of the roughly $3.8 million signing bonus your slot selection says you will be paid. This year baseball is handing out promissory notes. Yeah, that virus is messing with everything. You’ll get $100,000 now and the full amount by July 2022.
As for the present, nobody knows exactly when or how your professional career is going to begin.
“Yeah, I don’t know the answer to that,” Phillies first-year scouting director Brian Barber said Wednesday night. “I don’t think anybody really does right now. It’s obviously a disadvantage for any player to not be able to go out [and play].”
Abel, of course, is not the only player affected by the uncertainty created by the coronavirus. His three new teammates taken by the Phillies in the third (Arkansas shortstop Casey Martin), fourth (South Florida pitcher Carson Ragsdale), and fifth rounds (Georgia Tech outfielder Baron Radcliff) on Thursday are sitting in the same docked boat. This is a brutal way for all of them to (not) start their careers, but there’s a new normal on the horizon, for future draft picks anyway.
The draft is never going to be 40 rounds again and the path to the big leagues is never going to be quite the same again. That’s sad in so many ways.
Teams will spend this weekend looking to sign undrafted free agents, but they are not allowed to sign any player for more than $20,000, which will likely serve as a major incentive for the best remaining high school kids to go off to college.
“I always thought the biggest advantage about having guys come up through your system rather than having them go to college was from the pitching perspective,” a National League executive said Thursday.
“You get to closely monitor their innings and when it’s their turn to pitch. You don’t have to worry about guys being overused. It’s also helpful from a position-player standpoint that you are honing skills rather than worrying about schoolwork. But college is good for a lot of them, too, because it is a place where they can go and grow up.”
The elimination of the short-season New York-Penn League would also be a game-changer for the development process. Second-year players stuck in the heat and the grind of extended spring training love being able to leave Florida and play in a ballpark under the lights with fans. And sometimes a kid who was overmatched at the Phillies’ first full-season stop in low-A Lakewood could rebuild confidence by finishing strong in Williamsport.
That facet of development is about to disappear.
“You’re looking at [spring-training] complex baseball, two single-A teams, one double-A team, and one triple-A team,” the NL executive said. “It’s going to leave out a lot of kids.”