WVU’s Mazey Sees Some Positives In Minor League Contraction
The proposal by Major League Baseball to contract its minor league system has been met with condemnation by many in the public realm.
From local politicians to the hot dog vendor at those minor league ballparks, all have voiced their disapproval for the MLB plan to eliminate 42 of the system’s 261 minor league teams. Further slashing could happen beyond that, and league will be reorganized to make those remaining club fit better geographically, thus lessening travel costs.
Three of the four minor league teams in the state of West Virginia are in immediate jeopardy, as clubs in Charleston, Bluefield and Princeton are on the list of those to be cut. Only the short-season class A team in Morgantown seemingly safe for now.
Surprisingly, though, one of the key faces for baseball in the state of West Virginia – albeit at the college, not professional, level – isn’t necessary against the idea of contraction.
Mountaineer baseball coach Randy Mazey believes that fewer minor league opportunities would mean more youngsters would resist the professional option before they are ready and instead would focus on the college level.
“I’m excited to see them do that, because that will make college baseball better, and it’s what’s right for the kids,” said Mazey of minor league contraction. “The kids get caught up chasing their dream, and they make decisions with their heart rather than their head and forego a good opportunity to play college baseball and instead sign a minor league contract with literally no idea of what they are getting into when their chances of failure are nearly 100 percent.”
The COVID-19 virus is going to change the 2020 MLB draft, which will likely move from June to sometime in July and will be significantly shortened, from the normal 40 rounds to as few as five or 10 rounds.
But even prior to the world-altering virus, there was a proposal to cut back on the 40-round draft to no more than half that length.
With fewer minor league teams, pro baseball wouldn’t need as many picks to fill rosters. Such changes would make it tough for under-the-radar prospects, who usually populate those later draft rounds, from catching the brass ring to the Majors.
“I’ve done the research, and a high school kid drafted in the 27th round, the chance of that kid making the Major Leagues is really, really slim,” explained Mazey. “There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but I think Major League Baseball is doing what is right. Ninety-five percent of those high school kids who signed beyond the 20th round aren’t going to see the Big Leagues and they aren’t going to use their college tuition money. They aren’t going to have a college degree.
“I’m not sure if Major League Baseball had that in mind when it thought of this, but I do think the result will be much better for a lot of kids.”
Players drafted in the first couple of rounds can sign for life-changing money. Last year’s first overall pick, catcher Adley Rutschman of Oregon State who was selected by Baltimore, received a signing bonus of $8.1 million, and WVU pitcher Alex Manoah, who was the 11th overall choice going to Toronto, received a signing bonus of $4.55 million. The final pick of the second round, Lake Travis (Texas) High School pitcher Jimmy Lewis to the L.A. Dodgers, inked for $1.1 million, but the third round draft choices averaged in the $500,000 range. That’s still good money, but by the time taxes are taken out, it alone is certainly not enough to set up a young player for the rest of his life.
And the further down the draft you go, the less the signing bonus. West Virginia had seven other players besides Manoah drafted last year, going in rounds eight through 34, and they received a signing bonus average of just over $80,000 each. Those in the bottom few rounds usually are in the $5,000 range.
Obviously Major League Baseball isn’t being magnanimous with its minor league contraction proposal, looking out only for the interests of young athletes who have little chance of cashing in on professional riches. Instead, the MLB is focused on its own pocket book, jettisoning the late round prospects who have very little opportunity of ever developing into Major Leaguers, as well as the minor league teams they would play for.
The COVID-19 shutdown has altered many facets of life at the moment. The proposed MLB Draft changes weren’t likely to take place for a couple years down the line, but this year’s draft also will be different, though all the details have not yet been announced.
“I know nothing other than what I read,” Mazey said of this year’s MLB draft. “It may go off on schedule, or it may get pushed back. It may be five rounds or 10 rounds or maybe 20 rounds; I don’t know.”
Mazey himself was drafted twice. The first time he was an 11th round pick of the Baltimore Orioles in 1984 when he was coming out of United High School, which is near Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He spurned that opportunity and instead went to college, attending Clemson where he ultimately was drafted again, going to the Cleveland Indians with a 28th round pick in 1988.
“It was a different time when I was drafted out of high school; we didn’t have computers,” he recalled. “I found out I was draft by the Orioles when they called me on our house phone.”
Mazey turned down Baltimore in ’84 but he did sign with Cleveland after his college career was completed. His minor league career lasted just two years (1988 and 1989), though, and he did not progress above the Class A level.
His playing days over, Mazey got into coaching, first as an assistant at Clemson (1990-93), then from there climbing the ladder to Charleston Southern as head coach (1994-96), followed by assistant stints at Georgia (1997), East Carolina (1998) and Tennessee (1999-2002) before a return to ECU as head coach (2003-05). After his time with the Pirates concluded, he moved on to an assistant’s role at TCU (2006-12) before being hired as West Virginia’s head coach in 2013.
Along the way he’s learned a lot about college baseball, and one of the big things a successful college coach has to learn is how to manage his roster. Division I programs are allowed 11.7 scholarships, which can be split up, though none can receive less than a quarter scholarship. NCAA rules also limit a maximum of 27 student-athletes receiving scholarship funds and a roster that can be no larger than 35.
Those numbers can be expanded for college baseball in 2021 to take into account the fact that spring-sports athletes from 2020 can receive an additional year of eligibility to make up for the one cut short.
But still with 13 new recruits coming in to WVU this fall, three current seniors who now have the option of returning in ’21 – Kevin Brophy, Dillon Meadows and Braden Zarbnisky – as well as juniors Jackson Wolf, Tyler Doanes and Paul McIntosh who previously were thought to be likely MLB Draft selections this summer but now may not be – West Virginia’s roster is something Mazey is more focused upon than ever.
“We have to project whether they will be gone,” WVU’s coach said of his juniors and seniors. “You can’t get caught holding the bag. You can’t think they’re coming back but they actually leave and we didn’t sign anyone to replace them.
“We have two or three incoming freshmen who are slotted in that sixth to 10th round (draft) area, so we’re going to have some guys who may or may not be on our team,” Mazey added. “That creates a roster management issue. At the same time, we may have five really good players back. We’ll deal with whatever happens. College baseball coaches have roster questions every year, and we figure it out.”