No one knows quite what to expect from next week’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
Not Chase Boster, who has the résumé to be chosen in the first few rounds — but might have to wait a while.
Not Jono Haught, who hopes that putting up huge numbers at a small school will impress pro scouts.
Certainly not Josh Gardiner, who saw an injury derail his draft stock—and a memorable senior season at Radford University.
“I’ve been involved with this for years,” said Wayne Riser, the University of Mary Washington’s veteran coach, “and you never know what’s going to happen.”
More than 1,200 players will be chosen in the three-day, 40-round process that begins Monday evening. Even in the age of analytics, it’s an inexact science that can hinge on gut reactions and “signability” rather than sheer talent.
Most experts believe Boster will hear his name called early. The right-handed pitcher from Colonial Forge High School recently wrapped up a stellar junior season at Marshall University (7–1, 2.95 ERA). He has the stuff (a 95-mph fastball) and the size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) that drew interest from scouts representing all 30 major league teams.
But he also has the leverage of being able to return to school for his senior season if he’s not satisfied with the round in which he’s chosen (and the accompanying signing bonus). That could discourage teams who don’t want to risk wasting a high pick on a player who doesn’t sign.
“I know what Chase is worth, and he’s got an idea,” said Marshall pitching coach Josh Newman, who pitched for the Colorado Rockies and Kansas City Royals. “If a team does draft him, I hope they give him what he’s worth.”
Any team that drafts Boster will get a smart, hard-working, hard-throwing pitcher who seems to be improving. He earned a spot in Marshall’s starting rotation as a freshman, but jumped onto scouts’ radar last summer, when he went 5–2 with an 0.74 ERA for the West Virginia Miners in the Prospect League, a summer wooden-bat league.
Boster throws what Newman calls “a heavy fastball” and has developed his slider and change-up. He’s also worked on the subtler aspects of his craft, such as changing speeds, working both sides of the plate and holding runners on base.
“I feel like I matured a lot,” said Boster, who was named second-team all-Conference USA on the filed and first-team all-academic. “I got a lot of experience my freshman and sophomore years, and that helped a lot. I developed an off-speed pitch that I use a lot more, and I tried to throw inside as well.
“ I worked hard. I knew I could be good, but I didn’t think I’d be in this position.”
Newman said he’s been told that Boster could be chosen as early as the second round, although Baseball America magazine rates him as the No. 257 prospect, which would fall early in the ninth round.
Under baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, the final second-round pick is slotted for a signing bonus of $879,500, while No. 257 would fetch $165,00.
Boster declined to say whether he has a number in mind, below which he wouldn’t sign. But he’s been getting counsel from Newman, who rejected an offer from the Cincinnati Reds after his junior season to return to Ohio State.
“I still made it to the big leagues. So it can be done,” Newman said. “He put himself on the map. He did it all. I wish I could say that I’m the pitching coach that made it happen, but it’s all Chase Boster.”
HAUGHT IS QUITE A CATCH
Haught doesn’t enjoy Boster’s leverage after graduating from UMW last month, and his offer will be modest if he’s picked at all.
But the Courtland High School alumnus has several assets—not least playing the sport’s most difficult position.
“He’s a left-handed hitter who plays catcher and has some pop,” Riser said. “He’s got a skill set and plays a position that’s pretty valuable.”
Haught was named a second-team Division III All-American by Rawlings after batting .457 with a school-record 10 home runs and 52 RBIs. He traveled to Hagerstown, Md., last Tuesday to work out for the Washington Nationals, and said about a dozen teams showed some level of interest.
“Catchers in general are hard to come by. It’s nothing you can teach somebody overnight,” Haught said. “And being a lefty-hitter catcher is another A-plus.”
He hopes to become the third UMW player to be drafted, following pitchers Jason Pierson (1992) and Jeff Hootselle (1997).
Like Boster, he has good size (6 feet, 205 pounds) and a strong work ethic. His defense is improving, but gets overshadowed by his bat.
“I think I can get better. I have room to improve,” Haught said. “My footwork can get quicker; I can strengthen my arm and improve my movement behind the plate, blocking balls. It never stops.”
Riser raves about the way Haught reshaped his body and became a far more disciplined hitter as a senior, rarely chasing bad pitches even after opponents stopped challenging him late in the season.
“In my 25 years of coaching, he’s one of my all-time favorites,” Riser said.
Gardiner’s hopes of playing in the NCAA tournament were shattered—along with his left kneecap—when he fouled a pitch off the joint in Radford’s game against West Virginia on May 29.
The senior from Culpeper’s Eastern View High School initially shook off the pain and drew a walk. But when he took his spot at second base in the next inning, the pain and swelling were too great.
X-rays confirmed a fracture, and Gardiner’s season was over. He was a spectator as the Highlanders won the Big South tournament title and made their first NCAA tournament appearance.
“It was kind of tough to hold all my emotions in,” he said. “I had honestly poured everything I had into the season.”
Despite missing the final month, Gardiner was named first-team all-Big South. He ranked second in the league in batting (.368) and fourth in stolen bases (18).
Generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, he was considered a likely draftee before his injury. He’s a big fan of Dustin Pedroia, who won an American League MVP at 5–9 and 175.
He’ll have to wear an immobilizer for at least another week, and he won’t be playing for another month or more. That could hurt his draft stock, although he said at least one team has expressed interest in him as a “senior sign” free agent.
“Some people say I still have a good chance [of being drafted],” Gardiner said. “Maybe I’ll be a senior sign. It really doesn’t matter, as long as I’m still playing.”
Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443