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Shortened MLB draft could have big impact on Canadian talent

David Calabrese and Cooper Davis are heading into this year’s MLB draft without expectations.

The two Canadian players are still hoping to hear their names chosen by professional teams, of course. They just know the probabilities of that happening are a lot slimmer than in years past.

MLB’s annual draft has been slashed this year from 40 rounds to five. Only 160 players will be selected, down from 1,217 in 2019.

The condensed selection process — an economic measure meant to save the league nearly $30 million (U.S.) in signing bonuses — could be drastically felt north of the border.

“You see a lot of hidden gems from Canada in the draft every year,” said Calabrese, a high school senior and outfielder from Maple, Ont. “A lot of them (are picked) in the later rounds and they end up panning out really well in the minor leagues or in the major leagues.

“So it’s really unfortunate for Canadians that had an opportunity to be selected this year, they’re losing that opportunity.” An average of 21 Canadians have been drafted each year since 2012 when the draft moved from 50 rounds to 40. And plenty of talent has be harnessed by late picks well before that.

Former Toronto Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin of Montreal, a four-time all-star, was drafted in the 17th round in 2002.

And 2004 National League Rookie of the Year Jason Bay of Trail, B.C., was selected in the 22nd round in 2000.

“Canadians are interesting because we’re usually hockey players first, and I guess you could say, we’re not as polished as the American players,” said Davis, a junior at Vanderbilt who’s entering his second draft.

“You see a lot of really good players and guys who go in later rounds that become big time big leaguers, so you never know who you’re kind of missing out on.”

Davis, an outfielder from Mississauga, Ont., was selected by Toronto in the 25th round of the 2017 draft, but chose to go to school instead of signing a pro contract.

He called his first draft experience a “dream come true” and said he feels for kids who won’t get that opportunity this year.

Davis was off to a hot start with the Commodores before COVID-19 suspended the NCAA Division 1 season in March, but he says he’s not too worried about potentially missing out on his second draft opportunity.

The NCAA is effectively granting its spring sports athletes an extra year of college eligibility, meaning Davis will still be considered a junior in terms of athletics in 2021, even though he’ll be a senior academically.

“I think it’s interesting. It’s actually opened up a lot of opportunities,” the sociology major said. “So I think it’s better to look at it that way than thinking about what it did to hurt you.

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