Halo Effect Affects Draft Decisions

Louisville catcher Will Smith played his way into the first round of the 2016 draft, thanks in part to the scouts on hand to see his touted teammates (Photo by Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)

Nate Fernley got drafted thanks to the halo effect, though in truth his talent had something to do with it.

Now the coach at El Camino (Calif.) JC in Torrance, Fernley prepped at Millikan High in nearby Long Beach, primarily playing third base. He saw the halo effect in person back then as scouts flocked to see his high school, attracted by lefthander Nick Bierbrodt.

Fernley wasn’t throwing hard enough to get drafted at that time in 1995, but a year later Bierbrodt went in the first round as one of three Milliken players drafted. The Braves picked Fernley in 1996 out of Long Beach CC, but he opted for Brigham Young instead.

Signed by the Indians as a nondrafted free agent in 2001, Fernley played pro ball for three seasons before winding up coaching near his boyhood home. And he sees the halo effect in action now as a coach.

“It definitely happens—scouts come to see one guy, and they wind up noticing someone else, and that guy makes enough of an impression to get drafted, or to get a four-year scholarship offer,” Fernley said. “It’s very much a result of how being selfish in the team concept can be good for everybody. If you do well, you can be a good teammate and help them realize their dreams.”

The halo effect happens all over the draft landscape. Last year it was most prominent at Louisville. Outfielder Corey Ray came into the year as a big deal, as did unsigned first-round pick Kyle Funkhouser and 100-mph throwing Zack Burdi. As national crosscheckers and scouting directors flocked to see them and lefthander Drew Harrington—who wound up as the Atlantic Coast Conference pitcher of the year as a junior—they kept seeing Louisville’s athletic catcher Will Smith handle the pitchers’ disparate stuff.

Scouts took note of Smith’s agility, his plus speed to first base and improving bat. The more they saw him, the more they liked his overall package of tools and performance.

It culminated at the ACC tournament, where scouts saw that Smith compared very favorably to the other catchers in the league—Miami’s Zack Collins, Virginia’s Matt Thaiss and Clemson’s Chris Okey. Smith wound up being drafted by the Dodgers with the 32nd overall pick and signing for $1,772,500.

Just weeks earlier, scouts thought Smith would be a third-round pick at best. The halo effect earned him about $1 million.

Hamm Handed

That kind of salary bump isn’t likely for Fernley’s El Camino players, but he has experienced it both ways with his 2017 team already.

His recruiting pitch to catcher Trevor Casanova, a SoCal native who had played his freshman season at Lane (Ore.) CC, was that he would handle enough velocity for scouts to evaluate him behind the plate. Casanova, a lefthanded hitter who runs well enough to lead off for El Camino while showcasing an above-average arm, agreed and has been a magnet for scouts, who turned out in heavy numbers for El Camino’s Feb. 9-11 series at Bakersfield JC. It was the last weekend before the Division I season started, so it was prime time for area scouts to bear down on junior college players and maybe even have them crosschecked.

With that heat on hand, sophomore righthander Cassius Hamm was at his best. He went past his pitch limit in throwing a no-hitter, striking out 16 while walking four. Moreover, Hamm’s fastball picked up velocity as the game went on. His 86-89 mph fastball had ticked up, with a scout telling Fernley that Hamm hit 92 in the eighth inning. The third-year sophomore, a kickback from D-II Chico State (Calif.), located his best pitch, a firm 12-to-6 curveball, well all night.

“A lot of guys got a look at him,” Fernley said. “His breaking ball was really consistent and he located it. Now he’s had an avalanche of offers and interest. He can probably start at the Division I level.”

Scouts who stuck around for the whole weekend saw Hamm’s teammate Taylor Rashi, a 6-foot-4, 210-pounder who throws a bit harder consistently, toss eight scoreless innings with eight strikeouts. Fernley believes both pitchers will get drafted, and they might owe a small part of it to the halo effect.

“It’s real,” Fernley said. “I hope I just saw it again.”

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