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Undrafted free agents to watch: Pitchers

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Looking at the arms that might sign starting tomorrow.

2019 Major League Baseball Winter Meetings Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

The draft this year was, frankly, a joke. Typically a three-day, 40-round affair, things were cut down to just two days and five rounds this year, leaving a whole lot of players who would normally not only be drafted but also sign hanging in the wind. Starting Sunday at 9:00 AM, these players can be signed as undrafted free agents. It still remains to be seen just how many players will actually end up signing, but my instinct is that it won’t be a whole hell of a lot. Consider that the maximum signing bonus any player here can get is only $20,000 and that any player, even seniors, are welcome back for another year of eligibility with the NCAA next year.

Now, there are some compelling reasons to go pro of course. The biggest is simply to get your career going earlier. The earlier you can start working with professional coaches would presumably be the better. There’s also the fact that the college ranks are going to be more crowded this year than normal, so playing time might not be there back at school in the way you’d like. I think age will end up being the biggest factor here. This is a big factor for teams when drafting, so if a player is already 22 they may decide they’re better off taking advantage of an opportunity to pick their organization rather than taking their chances as a 23-year-old draftee next year when they’d likely be looking at a small college senior signing bonus anyway.

This was my methodology below for the most part. I’m going to look at a handful of pitchers who could be intriguing and at least somewhat realistic as potential undrafted signs starting tomorrow. For the most part, I looked at age, and also considered things like playing time at their school. There are also a few players who have been drafted by the Red Sox before, which may not mean a ton but could point to some sort of relationship between the two sides already. There are no high school players on this list. Shoutout to Baseball America, whose list of best players who went undrafted was a huge help for this. You can check out the list of hitters here.

Trenton Denholm, RHP, University of California-Irvine

Baseball America Draft Rank Class: 97

Between this list and the hitters linked above, this is probably the biggest reach and also the youngest player. Denholm was a top 100 draft prospect according to Baseball America, and he’s also not yet 21 years old. The only reason I’m including him here is that he was drafted by the Red Sox out of high school back in 2017, and therefore could have a relationship with the scouting department that could provide an in. He’s also not a big-stuff kind of pitcher, rather working with solid stuff and good command. I’d expect he’ll go back to school, but if you’re looking for a dream this could be it.

Jack Leftwich, RHP, University of Florida

BA Rank: 157

Leftwich is also on the younger end, though not quite as young as Denholm, still being a few months away from turning 22 that. He also doesn’t have that Red Sox connection. Leftwich’s issue is his school, as the University of Florida had one of the best undrafted pitchers, Tommy Mace, certainly going back to school. They also always have big recruiting classes, which could mean Leftwich’s role in 2021 may not be what he’d want. Again, this is a longshot, but given how weird everything with this situation is nothing seems totally impossible.

Mason Erla, RHP, Michigan State University

BA Rank: 170

Erla gets us back to our sweetspot on the older end of the class, just a few months away from his 23rd birthday. The righty had a very tough 2019, but there were whispers of improvements over the fall and then a very strong start to this season before it was canceled. He’s got a good fastball that gives him a solid base with which to work, though the secondaries could use some improvement.

Brannon Jordan, RHP, University of South Carolina

BA Rank: 185

Jordan isn’t super old coming in just shy of his 22nd birthday, but he’s right on the cusp of where a player might decide to get to the pros now while they can choose their organization. He’s also got some reliever questions and goes to a school that is always bringing in big talent, which again could lead to some playing time questions.

Wil Jensen, RHP, Pepperdine University

BA Rank: 236

Jensen has already seen his career pushed back by Tommy John surgery, which he had to undergo during a huge 2018 in which he was leading the nation in ERA. He went back to school this year and was having another big year before the cancelation. There’s an argument to go back and prove you can do it over a full season, but Jensen is just about 23 at this point. He’s also a command/control pitcher, so getting with professional coaches may be the best thing for his career.

Luke Smith, RHP, University of Louisville

BA Rank: 345

Smith checks off a few of the different boxes you might be looking for in a player that could potentially forgo another year at school for a small bonus to go pro. He’s closer to 23 than 22, he goes to a very talented program, and he doesn’t have a huge ceiling that he can show off next year to move his stock way up.

John McMillon, RHP, Texas Tech University

BA Rank: 357

Another class of players to watch for could be straight relievers, which is where McMillon fits. Obviously the signing bonus that can be offered here is a joke, but relievers could feasibly move the most quickly through the system where there’s a real payday at the end of the road. McMillon has a huge fastball and a good slider. He just needs to work on his control.