Record Draft Numbers For WVU Baseball, And What It Means For The Program

Brandon White
West Virginia outfielder Brandon White makes an over the shoulder catch in deep center field

Record Draft Numbers For WVU Baseball, And What It Means For The Program

As if further testament was needed to its success over the past few seasons, West Virginia’s baseball program set a new record in the 2019 MLB Draft when it saw eight players selected by as many different major league clubs. There are several different takeaways to be analyzed from that achievement, and more to look at in terms of what it means for Randy Mazey’s club in 2020 and beyond.

First, the makeup of the draft class bears scrutiny. Only two of the eight draftees, Ivan Gonzalez and Darius Hill, have reached the end of their collegiate eligibility. The other six — Alek Manoah, Nick Snyder, Kade Strowd, Brandon White, Chase Illig and Sam Kessler — all have one year remaining at WVU. Strowd has already announced that he is forgoing his final year of eligibility to turn pro, and it’s likely that others will follow.

West Virginia pitcher Nick Snyder delivers to the plate

There are numerous factors that go into that pro vs. college decision — draft position, fit with team, potential salary, desire to play a final year with collegiate teammates, continued skill development (likely in a starting or primary role) and the chance of improving one’s draft position dramatically are just a few. But without question, the decisions of those remaining five will have a large bearing on West Virginia’s prospects in 2020.

Three-fourths of WVU’s starting rotation — Manoah (first round), Snyder (11th round) and Strowd (12th round) — were all picked, and both Manoah and Snyder are everything but a lock to begin their pro careers. Manoah, or course, is already on his way to the Blue Jays organization. Snyder would have a chance to improve his position if he returned, but as a pitcher, he, like Manoah and Strowd are premium targets, and it’s hard to see him coming back.

Center fielder Brandon White (17th round) is an interesting case, but again, odds are that he departs. No WVU player drafted in the 20th round or higher has ever turned down a draft selection and returned to school, and while records are made to be broken, it’s clear that the Los Angeles Angels, who picked him, are intrigued by his Gary Maddox-like defensive coverage. Should he decide to go, the Mountaineers have a huge hole to fill in the outfield, although Austin Davis did show some promise with a leaping catch at the wall in WVU’s final game of the 2019 season.

The final two draftees are the two most likely to return, but again, reasons can be found for them to depart. Catcher Chase Illig (29th round) was injured and did not play this year, but catching is such a valuable position that the New York Yankees saw fit to take him three-fourths of the way through the draft. It’s definitely a bird in the hand, two in the bush situation for Illig, who could get a start on his pro career, or return to hone his game and perhaps move up the charts in 2020. The same is true for pitcher Sam Kessler (34th round).

It’s also instructive to note that of the 91 draft selections of Mountaineer players prior to this year, only nine chose to return to WVU for another season of competition. Of course, the majority of those were seniors whose eligibility had expired, but it’s still indicative of the allure of the pros. Those Mountaineers who turned down their initial draft selection include Billy Biggs, Blake Smith, Harrison Musgrave, Sean Carley, Ryan McBroom, Darrell Whitmore, Jerry Reynolds (WVU’s only three-time draftee), Stan Posluszny and Tyler Kuhn. McBroom, Musgrave and Carley all returned to WVU after the 2013 draft to form the nucleus of the 2014 team, but as the percentages show, that was a definite rarity.

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If West Virginia loses all of those juniors, it’s going to take a significant chunk out of next year’s team. The Mountaineers are also at risk of losing  pair of their verbal commitments who were drafted, although judging solely on their draft positions, WVU looks to have a better chance of hanging on to one or both of them.

Pitcher/outfielder Daniel Batcher was selected in the 33rd round by Toronto, while catcher/infielder Matt McCormick was tabbed in the 40th round by the Cincinnati Reds. McCormick has confirmed that he will be coming to WVU, while Batcher has not yet announced his plans.