STATE COLLEGE - Philadelphia Phillies second-round draft pick Dylan Cozens homered Tuesday for the Gulf Coast League Phillies.
No big deal you say? Well, there's a bit of a significance to it. In year's past, there's probably no chance Cozens, selected out of Chapparal High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., would have even been signed by this point. But through new draft signing procedures and deadlines implemented this year by MLB, more players are signing faster than they have in the past. And more players are getting their careers started earlier.
The Williamsport Crosscutters have benefited from the windfall of the old draft ways in which the deadline for major-league clubs to sign their draftees was Aug. 15. Under the new rules that deadline has been moved up to July 13. Because of the old rules, some of the Phillies' top high school draft picks from last year's draft didn't get any time in the Gulf Coast League like Cozens is getting right now.
Players like Roman Quinn, Larry Greene and Mitch Walding all didn't sign until near the August deadline a year ago and, in turn, were sent to instructional league in Clearwater in September. On the flip side, Tyler Greene, the Phillies' 11th-round selection from a year ago, signed in late July and played 17 games and got 58 at-bats in the Gulf Coast League before instructionals. Greene ended up starting the 2012 season in low-A Lakewood before his struggles at the plate had him sent back to extended spring training.
The Crosscutters have eight players currently in Williamsport who were selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft just two weeks ago. With MLB establishing a spending limit for each team's first 10 rounds worth of draft picks, teams were more reluctant to go over the recommended limit to players for fear of being penalized both monetarily and with the loss of draft picks.
The Phillies have already signed 10 of their first 12 picks from this year's draft - all of which came within the first 10 rounds - and are currently better than $260,000 under their draft budget, according to numbers compiled by Baseball America.
"I love it. I couldn't imagine waiting around until Aug. 15," said Cutters first baseman Chris Serritella, a fourth-round selection who signed for less than the recommended slot bonus as the 158th draft pick. "You get into the system and you're working out with a team and you're adjusting to what pro ball is like. I couldn't imagine sitting around for two months and just working out by myself back home."
"I had planned on signing right off the bat and get right out here and get acclimated as soon as possible," said Cutters pitcher Hoby Milner, a seventh-round selection out of the University of Texas who signed for slot money. "It's working out for me."
The Crosscutters have been the benefactor of the old draft rules in recent years by having players like Anthony Hewitt, Zach Collier, Jonathan Pettibone, Kelly Dugan and Kyrell Hudson come through Williamsport to start their pro careers. But the question is what system is best for the players and the organization.
The organization definitely benefits by having much of the leverage in contract negotiations, pointing to what amounts to a pretty hard draft cap. And the early signing period benefits the organization because it gives them the opportunity to get their players progressed through the system quicker.
"It benefits you as far as getting started earlier, but for the high school kid it puts you at a disadvantage money-wise," Walding said. "But it helps the college senior out. They can get in and get some more money. But when it comes to getting your career started, it definitely helps you out."
Walding couldn't help but wonder just where he'd be had he been subject to the new draft rules.
"I could have played a whole other season, and if you get your career started earlier you don't know where you could be now," Walding said. "I think it happened for a reason, so I'm happy with the way things turned out."
SPEED KILLS: Of all the superlatives you could have thrown at Roman Quinn after his professional debut Monday, 'Wow' was really the only one you needed.
His 1 for 4 night on the surface was really nothing to squawk about, but for a two-batter sequence in the first inning, he had a stadium full of people who may not have ever heard his name before Monday night believing they just saw the second coming of Rickey Henderson. Quinn is the next in a long line of speed-first players to come through Williamsport in recent years - think Kyrell Hudson, Aaron Altherr and Jiwan James - but none have excited a crowd the way he did in the Crosscutters' season-opening 6-2 win over State College.
Quinn bounced a ground ball to shortstop in his first at-bat and his speed down the line forced a quick throw from Spikes shortstop Jodaneli Carvajal. The baseball sailed over the head of leaping first baseman Jared Lakind and into the Crosscutters' dugout, giving Quinn an extra base.
Six pitches later, Spikes starting pitcher Jason Creasy bounced a breaking ball in the dirt and as soon as the ball bounced Quinn took off for third. Catcher Ryan Hornback rushed his throw to third and sailed it into center field and Quinn scored easily.
It was a run born entirely out of the use of Quinn's legs. Which is exactly what the Phillies thought they would get from the 19-year old when he was drafted last year.
It was reported during the 2011 draft where Quinn was selected in the second round that he had the best pure speed of anyone in the draft, a true 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Boy, did he show that off Monday night.
"He's special," Cutters manager Andy Tracy said after the game. "He's going to have some rough nights, but tonight was a plus night for him."
It was the only run Quinn scored last night, but it was enough to make an impression on those in attendance. Guy Cipriano of the Centre Daily Times who has covered the New York-Penn League for the better part of 10 years tweeted after that first inning that, "Williamsport's Roman Quinn is the fastest New York-Penn League player in the last decade."
Quinn thrilled the crowd again in his second at-bat when he rolled a ground ball to first base, as routine a play as there is in baseball. Lakind fielded the ball cleanly and ran to first to tag the base on his own, but Quinn nearly beat him there. And just about everyone in Bowman Field except for base umpire Sam Vogt thought Quinn actually beat the play.
This wasn't a case of Lakind being lackadaisical in getting to the bag. This wasn't a case of Creasy being late to cover first base. This was a case of a player's exceptional gift shining through and his opponents being caught a bit off guard by it.
"He's phenomenal. He has amazing speed," Cutters catcher Chace Numata said. "When he puts the ball in play, it's a chance for a base hit."'
"When Roman is up there, he's one of the most exciting players to watch," Cutters first baseman Brock Stassi said. "That kind of speed is incredible. He almost beat out a ground ball to first base. It's not too often you see that."
Quinn is also in the process of learning to play shortstop, but looked like a veteran at the position last night. He nearly came up with a leaping, full-extension catch of a Alex Fuselier hump-back line drive in the first inning. He fielded a ground ball deep in the hole on the backhand side in the seventh inning and threw a seed across the diamond missing the out by less than half a step.
But his best play came in the third inning with the runner from first stealing second on the pitch. Quinn ran to second to cover the bag as Fuselier rolled the pitch up the middle. Quinn had the sense to keep his right foot on second base as he stretched to reach the grounder and then fire to first for a double play.
It's clear his defense is going to be a work in progress and not every night is going to be as exciting as Monday's season opener. But like a big power hitter, Quinn has the potential to make something very special happen every time he steps foot in the batter's box.
Just don't blink, you might miss it.