MLB picks must decide on college or pros

Players from or coming to North Carolina will weigh their pro options

Brennan Malone, a right-handed pitcher from Matthews, puts on a Diamondbacks jersey after being selected 33rd overall last Monday in the MLB Draft in Secaucus, N.J. (Julio Cortez / AP Photo)

College basketball has its one-and-dones. In baseball, many of the top prospects don’t even make it onto campus before leaving to cash their first professional paycheck.

It’s a none-and-done system that has been in place for years and will likely to cost NC State, North Carolina and Duke the most prominent members of their 2019 recruiting classes, while potentially affecting several other Division I programs around the state.

The Wolfpack, Tar Heels and Blue Devils all had signees selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft last week. With bonus slots valued at $2 million or more, there’s plenty of incentive for high school pitchers Blake Walston and Brennan Malone, along with outfielder Sammy Siani, to skip school and head straight to the minor leagues.

State commit Walston, a left-hander from Wilmington’s New Hanover High School, and right-hander Malone, a UNC pledge from Matthews, were both taken by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Walston was the 26th overall selection while Malone, who attended IMG Academy in Florida, went seven picks later.

Siani, meanwhile, was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates at No. 37 in the compensation phase of the first round. A native of Glensville, Pa., he is the highest-rated member of Duke’s incoming class.

Of the three, Malone was the most motivated to sign judging from his draft night comments moments after his name was called by Diamondbacks legend and Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson.

“It’s kind of crazy; like a dream, almost,” Malone said in an interview with MLB Network, calling his selection a blessing. He signed on Tuesday for his slot figure of $2,202,200. “I love this organization and I’m ready to get started.” 

Siani, described by Duke coach Chris Pollard as “without question, one of the best players in all of the country in the 2019 class,” also appears headed for pro ball based on the example of his older brother.

That is, assuming the Pirates write a big enough check.

Mike Siani signed with the Reds as a fourth-round pick last year rather than playing collegiately at Virginia. But he did so for $2 million, nearly four times his slotted number. Since that same $2 million figure also happens to be Sammy’s bonus value at No. 37, that’s where his negotiation will start rather than finish.

Money could also be the determining factor in Walston’s decision between the Wolfpack and Diamondbacks.

The 6-foot-4 left-hander, who recently pitched New Hanover to its second straight 3A state championship, is slotted at $2.6 million. While that’s a lot of money, especially for a teenager still a month away from his 18th birthday, there are some that believe he can make even more as the potential top overall pick in 2022 if he goes to college and spends the next three years maturing.

Arizona, however, own the largest bonus pool of any team in the majors. So even with four first-round picks to sign, it can still afford to overpay a prospect if that’s what it takes to get him in the organization.

And that’s what it appears the Diamondbacks are prepared to do with Walston.

“We weren’t taking guys because we thought we could sign them, we were taking guys because we know we can sign them,” Deric Ladnier, the team’s scouting director said on a draft night teleconference. “Maybe there were guys that were over the price of the value of the player is, but the demands of what they wanted was really not an issue.”

High school players enrolling at four-year colleges must wait until after their junior (or redshirt sophomore) seasons before becoming draft eligible again.

While most lower round picks end up going to school rather than signing, these next few weeks will present some nervous moments for college coaches as they wait to see who and how many of their recruits will be available to them in the fall.

And virtually everyone in the state is affected.

In addition to Malone, UNC’s Mike Fox could also lose left-handed pitcher Davidjohn Herz from Fayetteville’s Terry Sanford High, the eighth-round pick of the Chicago Cubs.

Four other Tar Heel recruits were drafted: right-handed pitcher Joseph Charles from Celebration, Fla. (25th round, Mets); Fayetteville right-hander Isaiah Bennett (36th, Padres); Walston’s catcher at New Hanover Ryan Smith (36th Diamondbacks); and Fort Mill, S.C., shortstop Tyler Causey (37th, Brewers).

State’s draft list includes Thomasville outfielder Noah Soles (19th, Diamondbacks) and Baltimore shortstop Jose Torres (24th, Brewers), while Duke recruit Chad Knight, a catcher from Somerset, Pa., was taken by the Yankees in the 31st round.

Wake Forest (Blake Loubier, RHP, Winter Springs, Fla., 13th, Red Sox), East Carolina (C.J. Mayhue, RHP, Shelby, 36th, Mariners), Charlotte (Tyler Driver, RHP, Wake Forest, 18th, Mariners) and NC A&T (Marc Church, RHP, Atlanta, 18th, Rangers) also had recruits selected in the draft.