The Major League Baseball draft is a conflicting time for college programs.
On one hand it’s a matter of prestige to have players selected and a positive selling point to recruits hoping to someday take the next step in their own careers.
At the same time, it can also be the source of some short-term difficulty if too many players, especially top recruits, have their names called.
In the case of East Carolina, this year’s draft was more the former than latter.
Sure, the Pirates’ top signee was the third overall pick, whose $6.7 million bonus slot all but eliminated any possibility of MacKenzie Gore setting foot on campus.
But let’s be honest, opposing teams had a better a chance of scoring against Gore than coach Cliff Godwin had of ever seeing the Whiteville left-hander throw a pitch in an ECU uniform.
And Gore’s high school ERA was a miniscule 0.19.
Far more important to the Pirates’ immediate future is the fact that while their next two highest rated recruits — Gavin Williams and Spencer Smith — were both drafted, neither went high enough to entice them into signing professional contracts.
Williams, a right-handed pitcher out of Cape Fear High School, was the 30th round selection of the Tampa Bay Rays. Smith, a power hitting catcher from Northern High in Durham, went in the 37th round to the Texas Rangers.
Both players were ranked among the top 150 in the nation by Baseball America, but scared teams away by setting too high of a bonus number. It’s a similar situation to the one that helped send freshman All-America Spencer Brickhouse and fellow prospect Trey Benton to Greenville instead of rookie ball last June.
Brickhouse ended up hitting .310 with 10 homers while splitting time between first base and DH. Benton faded late in the season on the way to a 3-4 record and a 4.18 ERA. But he showed flashes of a potential ace while striking out 74 hitters over his first 71 college innings.
With those two locked up for two more seasons and the battery of Smith and Williams set to join them — along with a solid group of other recruits and talented holdovers such as Dwanya Williams-Sutton — the Pirates have the kind nucleus capable of fashioning a quick turnaround from this year’s disappointment.
It’s a heartbreak that didn’t end with a season-ending loss to Houston in the American Athletic Conference tournament championship game for seniors Travis Watkins, Eric Tyler and Charlie Yorgen.
All three had hopes of being drafted in the later rounds, but were passed over.
The only current Pirate to get the call was fellow upperclassman Evan Kruczynski, who went in the ninth round to the St. Louis Cardinals.
That might seem like something of a comedown for a player who was projected as a possible first- or second-round pick last year before passing up the draft in an effort to help pitch ECU to the College World Series.
But considering the injury that threw Kruczynski’s final season off the tracks, the team that selected him and his lack of leverage as a senior whose eligibility is expired, the ace left-hander couldn’t have asked for a better situation.
The Cardinals have a long track record of nurturing and developing home-grown talent. They also have a positive history with former Pirates. Seth Maness was taken by St. Louis in 2011, two rounds later than Kruczynski, and he advanced quickly through the team’s system. He is now in his fifth Major League season after signing a free agent deal with the Kansas City Royals.
Although Kruczynski’s gamble of coming back for his senior season didn’t pay off with a trip to Omaha and will likely cost him money, his dream of playing professionally is now a reality. From here on out, his performance on the mound — not his draft round — will be the only thing that matters in determining how far that dream takes him.
It’s an opportunity that has already helped raise the prestige of the Pirates’ program while providing Godwin and his staff with a positive selling point to future recruits hoping to someday take the same step in their own careers.
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