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What are the possible ripples from MLB’s rule changes?

There will be intended and unintended consequences from the recent rule changes and proposals. How will that ripple through the college level?

Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Major League Baseball is changing some rules. As people in general, and baseball fans (possibly) in particular, don’t like changes, the edits are a bit unpopular. Most of us will stick around to see how the changes tease out. This piece is about which players in the amateur ranks gain and lose value from pending rule changes.

For most baseball fans, players hit the collective radar once they debut in MLB. Or, more accurately, when they play in a significant situation for or against the fan’s primary rooting interest. However, from an organizational standpoint, very few players arrive as unknowns in MLB or the upper-minors. Whether the premise is agreed with or valued, the best shot at “obtaining at a team-beneficial cost” is often in the draft or international spectra. To locate enough players (of any professional value at all) to their “first contract”, the 30 systems are in tune with discovering talent.

With the new rules, which amateur player types become more valuable? If some become more valued, some have to go in the reverse direction, as well. Players won’t go from “premier” to “incidental”. Fourth-round talents will jump to second, or tumble to the seventh. It figures to be mild adjustments, normally. Here are my assessments.

Middling lefty relievers will be significantly less valued. To an extent, some of the options might even disappear. College games have had a pacing problem, on a par with MLB games. Bench originated mound conferences were already limited to three at the college level. Colleges added the six-trip limit the year after MLB did. With the five-trip limit incoming to pro ball, look for it to come to college.

However, that won’t limit lefty relievers in college. The three-batter limit in an inning limit figures to be in college soon, as well. If a college coach knows he’ll have to bring in his lefty reliever for three hitters, some of those opportunities will dry out. Since the reliever with an 11 ERA won’t get the second or third look in the competitive phase of games, they won’t develop. Some will transfer to smaller schools, and develop there. Some lefties, who needed to fail at the college level before coming to a degree of usability, will disappear from rosters entirely. Lefty relievers being selected on their handed-ness will lose quite a bit in their draft value with these rule changes.

Catchers should increase in value, especially if they represent being two-way types. With the increased use of “body toning methods,” catchers are becoming two-way threats at college. Learn to call a game. Tone up the forearms. Suddenly, a third-day selection goes in the fifth-round, and gets a valid chance to be a backstop in A-Ball. If he can hit a bit, he’s in Double-A with a chance at a cup of coffee, somewhere, for someone.

That teams won’t be able to trade for the backstop from a non-contender in August makes it more beneficial to advance two-way catchers to the upper minors as early as possible. The seventeenth rounder makes more sense in the twelfth round, since the full development picture isn’t clear until six years later. Especially if the bat and glove both represent. Then, results determine advancement.

Guys that slug will matter more. The primary case is North Carolina’s Matt Busch. The bat figures to be useful at the MLB level in four years. The position he’ll play is in question. Three years ago, that limits him to having value with 15 teams. Now that teams will add a bench bat across the board, teams will have a Busch (Matt Stairs?) type of bat on their bench as often as possible. Given a chance, he might succeed. Perhaps one bat on either side of the plate is added per team, if the designated hitter expands. Guys that hit are far more valuable now than two months ago. If they hit left-handed, all the better.

Base runner only-types have less value. Terrance Gore types matter in a one-game scenario. On the other hand, if a team has no more players on the bench than four or five for an entire season, Gore is of less value. It’s really hard to prioritize a college player that runs, but doesn’t represent as a hitter. Those types will still have a level of value, but less.

College starters from obscure colleges take an upward bump. If organizations are running away from lefty relievers, the valid starting pitcher has more draft value. Injuries and ineffectiveness will make many of those choices moot, but the Friday guy from a third-tier conference could turn into a 94 MPH arm in Advanced-A or Double-A. The college lefty who is lit for an .850 OPS by college righties will be left on the board for the “why not?” right-hander who can pitch three or four innings.

Defense-first outfielders will be of less value. The Cubs have lived that specialty diet since 2012. Mark Zagunis (third round, 2014) is the basement level of the bench bat that every team ought to have on their bench soon. While the player being an outfielder isn’t essential, having a spare/usable bat from both sides seems a no-brainer. College outfielders that can hit seem of far more value now than the fringe outfielder that is a utility type with limited pop. While the bat might be the last part to develop in a prospect, the Cliff Floyd-type looks of more value in the future than the Jacob Hannemann.

Middle infielders with limited offense divot a bit. The designation for assignment wire is occasionally loaded with the infielder who doesn’t hit much. Those types of players will always have value, but they’d appear to have less, soon. Why will a team want to have two bench infielders that can’t hit? They won’t, when a September bench only has four or five names on the offensive side. One will be a catcher. The spare pieces like Mike Freeman, or anyone less reliable with the bat than Tommy La Stella, will stay in Triple-A unless injuries happen.

You might have your own ideas on which types of players add or lose value with the rule changes. What will be interesting is when a contending team in September has a scourge of six-to-eight day injuries. Not enough for an injury list stay, but enough to limit the team to a two player bench, or a four pitcher bullpen. That will be on the Commissioner. It will be a fun press conference. If he gets the praise, he also gets the blowback.