A new landscape in baseball requires the development of new ideas.
Enter the New Balance Baseball Future Stars Series powered by Program 15’s upcoming Pre-Draft Combine, set to be held in Lake Charles, Louisiana between June 29-July 4, 2021.
“The point of this is to put players in an environment that’s both beneficial for them and for clubs,” NBBFSS CEO Jeremy Booth said in a phone interview.
“The focus is to make sure that clubs get what they need in a last look before their meetings, and that players have a chance to be seen by people that understand what they need to be seen doing. The idea is that these guys will have track records where they’ve been seen before – this isn’t a long, stretched out thing – and this will provide a chance to a get a high-profile and neutral, yet favorable look. We’re putting players in a position to do things that matter for them – analytically, athletically, game-wise – and environments that are respectful to where they are after their season.”
As part of that, the event will be comprised of two separate sessions, one for college players between June 29-July 1, and another for high school players between July 2-4.
“It’s divided into those two sessions, and I was just going to do one for high school, but I was asked about college and I’ll do that as well,” Booth said. “These aren’t going to be big, huge events in scale, there won’t be 200 kids per event. They’re two separate events, and my thinking is there will be about 80 players per — maybe 100 in one or 60 in the other — but we’re going to see where this takes us.”
College players are seen by every scout in every area. This event is for those who feel an opportunity like this can help their draft stock whether you’re a high 1st rounder or someone fighting for a higher position. With this format, players can still maintain their flexibility to meet with as many clubs as possible during the teams workout process. Protecting that process is important for both player and club.
“I expect to get a lot of good arms, and I expect to see a lot of those guys who are more toolsy and guys that people just want additional looks at rather than ones they’re more comfortable with,” Booth said.
The high school side of the event, however, is built on a bit of a different approach, one that speaks to how the COVID-19 pandemic greatly affected opportunities. While perspective across the country may vary on where exactly the progression of that pandemic is, the fact remains that many players are still greatly impacted with restrictions on how much they can play based on their geographic location.
“I think we can all agree that we’re not out of it yet,” Booth said. “So, there’s going to be some seasons that aren’t going to happen. The state of California, that looks in doubt. Illinois, looks in doubt. Massachusetts could be pushed to the very, very end…Virginia, Washington, North Carolina, I can go on here. There’s going to be players that are going to have short, short looks. Players that are going to be seen need to be in a situation that allows them to be highlighted properly. This isn’t a showcase, this is going to be a competitive environment. This isn’t something where we do seven steps and it’s infield velo and all that, we’re not interested in that. We have all that stuff, but the formula is so different than just taking all that data as a standalone. We’re going to let these kids play. We’re going to test them out athletically and we’re going to give them something to shoot for. And it will be invite-only.”
To that end, there’s an intensive player nomination form — https://futurestarsseries.com/pre-draft-combine/ — already up on the FSS website that can help players who are not familiar with FSS events get an opportunity to attend.
“Some of the players you may see are guys like Ian Moller, Braden Montgomery, Ryan Spikes, Orlando Pena, Roc Riggio, Grant Fontenot…I’d be surprised if Caedmon Parker wasn’t there, I’d be surprised if Chris Bernal wasn’t there, I’d be surprised if Joey Spence wasn’t there,” Booth said.
“Basically, take the National Team from International Week and some of the World Team and put that together, and you’re going to have those guys that have put themselves firmly in the first few rounds of the draft. Around that, however, I think of a guy like Jake Michel, who didn’t make the National Team, but is up to 95 and now with a breaking ball…once you come through our events, I consider you family and a part of what we do, and I want people here who are winning players. I’m not interested in sexy, I want winning players that scouts like to see and like to sign; Eric Silva, Blake Burke, Anthony Solometo, that type of kid.”
As this is a new event to the Future Stars Series, there are plenty of questions that will likely be asked between now and the end of June. For starters, some clarification on the genesis of the event itself may be relevant here; as it turns out, Booth had been approached over the past several years on putting together a similar event, but the current climate of the game at the amateur levels made it a must in 2021.
“We have a very involved and accomplished advisory board, and all of their opinions are listened to, whether it’s domestic or international,” Booth said. “This was something that everybody feels like needs to happen. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do, but has been pushed forward based on the COVID situation.”
In regards to eligibility, or for the inevitable folks that will suggest such an event is the sort of “money grab” that continues to plague amateur baseball, players will not be charged to attend.
“If we do anything, it’ll be to protect someone’s eligibility and cover the nominal costs with gear and a shirt, hat, pants, shoes and all of that with it being a New Balance event and they can’t be out there in other gear,” Booth said. “We’ll work with the NCAA to figure all of that out.”
The plan is for the event to be free, unless there’s no other choice, so as to protect player eligibility.
Surely, if the recruiting restrictions are different by the time the summer rolls around, NCAA programs will already have plenty of representatives in Lake Charles given that the event overlaps with the annual Grad Class National Tournaments. With a bevy of big league teams already in attendance for those tournaments as well, it only made sense to have the Pre-Draft Combine overlap.
“With the Draft going back to the July 15th, we’re all condensed now in a scouting summer,” Booth explained. “There are events that other places will do…so, there’s a calendar where it all fits together, and there’s no reason why if we’re going to have those types of Class of 2021 Draft talent on site for a week that we can’t put that all in a situation where clubs can’t get the opportunity to look at the 2022’s that are coming through as well in the same place…it’s a good opportunity to see both groups at once.”
From a club perspective, the value is immeasurable. But unless it’s also that way for the player, the event doesn’t make sense to put together. Given the importance of some of those last looks prior to a life-changing and career-altering few days like the MLB Draft, and there seem to be no concerns on that end.
“There will be some development aspects that we’ll still pass along, but this is purely to promote, get exposure for players and give them a chance to play in an environment that’s beneficial to them, let’s them get seen the right way and is run by people who’ve done it,” Booth said.
“We’ve been there, we’ve done it. We’ve been in these situations before the draft, pre-draft workouts. This is something that people have been looking for on the club side, and the players can have a chance to do it with people that actually care.”
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