Cade Horton has been on enough baseball diamonds to know the feeling. It’s a unique combination of confidence and uncertainty.
The Norman High shortstop and Oklahoma signee has no idea what will happen when he sits down with his family to watch the Major League Baseball Draft this week.
“It’s a nervous feeling not knowing what’s going to happen,” Horton said. “But it’s also exciting feeling.”
This year’s draft is an anomaly, shortened to five rounds as part of the ongoing MLB negotiations to begin its season, with the backdrop of a pandemic.
The minor league system integral to new draft picks has been stalled, with many players being released.
OU coach Skip Johnson said it best two months ago after the coronavirus shut down the season prematurely: The scenarios that would unfold were uniquely different for his game, which holds its draft in-season.
“Baseball is different from football, any sport,” Johnson said, “because they don’t have to deal with the Major League Draft.”
High school prospects had less evaluation this spring due to a shortened season. But Horton said he isn’t sweating it. He utilized the portal MLB extended for players to provide game video, in lieu of lost scouting opportunities.
“I was able to take videos of me hitting, fielding ground balls and throwing bullpens,” Horton said. “That really did help being able to have that, them being able to provide that tool for us. It helped a lot.”
High school prospects choosing between the pros and college face a layered decision. The minor league season is unclear. And though MLB will eventually provide slot bonuses for draft picks, teams are allowed to pay a maximum of $100,000 up front, with half the remainder to be paid July 1, 2021 and the other half July 1, 2022.
Prospects eyeing the college route must weigh the NCAA’s decision allowing schools to apply for one-year waivers for spring-sport athletes. It came with good intentions, but figures to create logjams on college depth charts next year, with players who would have otherwise exhausted eligibility returning for another season.
Horton, a strong-armed quarterback who has also signed with OU football as a preferred walk-on, understands the landscape. It’s certainly “weird,” he acknowledged.
“But it really doesn’t affect my decision,” he added.
He and close friends Jace Bohrofen and Dax Fulton are in similar situations. Though all attended separate high schools, they grew up playing on elite youth teams together. They have all signed with OU and each could be drafted.
Fulton, a 6-foot-6 left-handed pitcher from Mustang, is the highest projection and could be off the board within the first 30 picks.
“Ever since we were little he’s always been the big, tall lefty,” Horton said. “He used to not be very coordinated, but he kind of grew out of the clunkiness and grew into the dominant left-handed pitcher like everyone thought he’d be.”
At Westmoore, Bohrofen has been considered the state’s best high school hitter the past two years.
“Ever since we were little, just with how pretty his swing is, I’ve always known Jace was going to be great,” Horton said. “Ever since we were 5. Just the way he swung the bat.
OU signee Ed Howard, a star shorstop at Mount Carmel (Chicago), is another projected first-rounder who many believe will be picked Wednesday when the first 37 picks will be unveiled. The remaining rounds will take place Thursday.
OU junior right-hander Cade Cavalli’s situation is more certain. He’s expected to be a top-20 pick, making it less likely he returns to college. MLB.com projects him as the 15th overall selection, which comes with a slot bonus of $4.2 million.
Teams know plenty about Cavalli before the year. He further benefited from the platform at the Shriners Hospital for Children College Classic in Houston before the coronavirus outbreak. A plethora of scouts watched him strike out 11 batters against Arkansas.
“I think Cavalli, with what he did at Minute Maid and what he’s done so far,” Johnson said in March, “(teams) already have a preconceived thought on where he’s going in the draft.”
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Times: Wednesday, 6 p.m. (Round 1); Thursday, 4 p.m. (Rounds 2-5)
TV: ESPN, MLB Network (Wednesday); ESPN2, MLB Network (Thursday)