For the first time since 2013, the Major League Baseball draft has come and gone with no Georgia Southern Eagle selected to move on to the professional ranks.
In the weird sports year of 2020, that will probably end up being great news.
Due to high school and collegiate seasons nationwide being shut down by the coronavirus pandemic — and with MLB still trying to negotiate a path through which to hold its season — this week’s draft consisted of just five rounds rather than the traditional 40 rounds. In a normal year consisting of around 1,200 total draft selections, it seemed all but certain that senior outfielder Mason McWhorter or junior college transfer starting pitcher Jordan Jackson would have been scooped up by someone.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty on our team and, I’m sure, with all teams,” GS coach Rodney Hennon said in an interview prior to the draft. “I know that a lot of our guys are hopeful to be drafted someday and losing a season hurts that chance.
“That said, I think they’ve all responded positively. Aside from not being able to play our season, everyone is still in the right mindset and looking forward to the next time they can practice and play.”
In response to the lost season and the truncated draft, the NCAA announced in March that seniors for the 2020 season will be granted an additional year of eligibility. The decision not only paves the way for this spring’s five Eagle seniors to return — all of whom Hennon is hopeful will do so — but also sets the stage for what could be the most experienced Georgia Southern squads ever to take the field in 2021.
McWhorter and Steven Curry have been mainstays in the Eagle lineup since their freshmen seasons, while catcher Matt Anderson has fought through injury issues to also be an everyday starter. Tyler Owens and Braxton Johns were this season’s two senior pitchers, with Owens allowing just one earned run in 17.2 innings of work prior to the season being called off.
In addition to those five players, the 2020 Eagles roster also included 14 juniors, many of whom have also been big contributors as lowerclassmen. After navigating 2018 and 2019 — and making the Sun Belt Conference title game in 2019 — with some very young squads, it seems likely that the 2021 Eagles will be one of the most veteran teams in the country, even as others also bring back seniors for an extra season.
More importantly for the individual players, next spring will also be a chance to make up for lost time and get another opportunity to improve their draft stock for next summer. Four Eagles made this week’s draft board watchlist on mlb.com. Assuming a return to the full 40 rounds in next year’s draft — and a Georgia Southern roster that will feature more than two dozen draft-eligible players — it’s easy to envision the Eagles’ starting lineup and most of the pitching staff making the 2021 draft board.
Fans and players alike will always wonder what could have become of the 2020 Eagles and their 11-5 start, but as sports slowly creep back towards normalcy, the idea of an even better showing next spring is something that can get everyone excited.