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With shortened MLB draft, Louisville baseball coach lobbies for expanded rosters at collegiate level

By Russ Brown
Kentucky Today

This is always an unsettled time of the year for University of Louisville baseball coach Dan McDonnell, trying to manage his roster for the next season while making educated guesses about which of his current players will be drafted and leave school, and who among talented high school recruits will chose professional baseball over college.

Only this time it’s even more uncertain due to the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic that has McDonnell in a holding pattern while he awaits word on the draft from Major League Baseball officials and answers on other questions from the NCAA, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the UofL administration.

It’s like playing a game of musical chairs without knowing the number of chairs that are going to be available when the music stops.

Louisville baseball coach Dan McDonnell wants expanded rosters at the collegiate level next season. (UofL photo)

“There’s always uncertainty at this time of the year preparing for the draft and what seniors in high school or junior college kids are going to show up and which of your current players are going to sign,” McDonnell said during a media teleconference Tuesday afternoon. “The big caveat this year, the curve ball thrown at us right now, is
there could be as few as five rounds and maybe we’ll get to 10 rounds.”

Louisville, the preseason No. 1 team in the country and ranked No. 5 with a 13-4 record when the season came to a screeching halt in mid-March, has four seniors and 11 juniors on its 2020 roster. McDonnell was expecting to see as many as eight of the juniors, along with all four seniors, sign with pro teams.

But that was with the usual 40-round MLB draft. Now, with all pro baseball suspended in both the majors and minors, the draft will be no more than 10 rounds and probably only five. That means that instead of 1,200 players getting drafted, there will be just 150 if there are five rounds or 300 in 10 rounds. The draft is tentatively scheduled to be held between June 10 and July 20.

“So the challenge will be our junior class when you break down all our prospects,” McDonnell said. “We obviously can’t lose all our juniors in five rounds, but we feel like we could lose most of them if there are 10 rounds. It’s never an exact science.”

Among the juniors, southpaw pitcher Reid Detmers and right-hander Bobby Miller are still expected to be drafted. Three other juniors — lefty Michael Kirian, infielder/outfielder Lucas Dunn and outfielder/catcher Zach Britton — could conceivably be selected in a 10-round draft. Senior Luke Smith (RHP) could go in the first five rounds. The other three seniors — infielder Justin Lavey, outfielder Danny Oriente and lefthander Adam Elliott — are potential picks in a 10-round draft.

Blurring the roster picture even more is that the NCAA has extended an extra year of eligibility to seniors whose spring sports seasons were cut short, meaning all four UofL seniors could return if they aren’t drafted. Then there are 16 recruits signed for the 2020-21 season. So it’s easy to see a roster that could easily balloon far past the current NCAA restrictions.

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Division I baseball is a partial scholarship sport with a 35-man roster limit and a maximum of 11.7 scholarships to be divided among 27 players. All players on athletic financial aid must receive a minimum of a 25 percent scholarship.

It’s a good thing McDonnell has a mathematics degree and a master’s degree in business administration, especially now. Still, he says he and his peers throughout the country need some decisions as soon as possible about roster relief and expansion.

“There’s going to be 300-plus more really good juniors in college baseball that have to come back,” he said. “Plus, it’s going to be hard to deny a (recruit) a scholarship when he signed it in November. We’re going to need some form of relief, whether we get more scholarship money or not. When you say more scholarship money, that scares a lot of people. I get it.

“But even without more scholarship money, we need roster spots and we need expansion on the roster. Let’s not tie college baseball’s hands and say you can only have 35. That worked in the past, that’s not going to work now.

“You’re just hoping that, you say the NCAA, ADs, conferences, everybody takes in all the information and tries to do the right thing. Give the student-athlete the option, and that’s what we’re hoping for when we say relief. Give us more than 27 (scholarship) spots, give us more than 35 (on the roster).

“Give us some relief and that’s what hopefully we find out in the next week or two. We’re hoping the draft is around June 10, don’t know if that will happen, and we’re hoping to get an answer on roster relief and scholarship relief. The sooner the better for everybody.”

BENEFIELD TRANSFERRING: Sophomore infielder Andrew Benefield from Murfreesboro, Tenn., has entered the transfer portal. He played in 14 games in the abbreviated season, starting six, and hit .286 in 28 plate appearances. McDonnell said Benefield saw the Cardinals’ infield as being “too crowded,” and wanted to go to a place where he could get more playing time at shortstop or second base.

Russ Brown covers University of Louisville sports for Kentucky Today.

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