The Nationals got an extra day to try to sign New Jersey righthander Sean Black, but he walked into class last week at Seton Hall, ending three months of negotiations between the Nationals and their second-round pick.
Black, the 59th selection in this year's draft, became the highest drafted high school player to attend college when he spurned the Nationals' final offer. Though college was a strong pull for Black, the biggest negotiating snag was money, and the Nationals balked at Black’s high asking price, believed to be close to $1 million.
Black, 18, skipped his first day of classes, delaying his decision a day for a possible deal to materialize, but it was clear the Nationals were not going to budge. He will be eligible to re-enter the draft following his junior season at Seton Hall.
Black did not immediately return calls to his cellphone and home telephone. His adviser, Adam Katz, also did not return calls.
“If it’s true, it is disappointing, because we would’ve liked to get it done,” said Dana Brown, the Nationals’ scouting director. “We really liked him.”
Black, a converted shortstop, appeared on the draft radar screen late in his high school career, touching 95 mph as a senior at Lenape High in Medford, N.J.
His commitment to Seton Hall was perceived as strong, and the 6-foot-3 righthander made it clear to teams that it would take a significant signing bonus to keep him from going to college.
Black said the Red Sox called during the supplemental first round and offered an $800,000 bonus. Black was clear: He was preparing to go to school. As part of an ambitious draft plan, the Nationals gambled and grabbed Black with their third pick, one of six high schoolers Washington took with its first six picks.
“The money (the Red Sox offered) was still good, but we just didn't think it was enough for me to miss out on college," Black told the Philadelphia Inquirer the day he was drafted. “I'm going to school, and hopefully I'll be going through this in three years in the first round.”
Though Black’s tone changed over the next three months as he flip-flopped between college and signing with the Nationals--he visited RFK Stadium in June for a game against the Yankees and seemed optimistic a deal could be struck--he stuck to his lofty price tag.
Among Washington's first eight draft picks, Black was the only one to go unsigned. The Nationals paid out more than $6 million in bonuses to their top five picks and 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Esmailyn Gonzalez ($1.4 million), a free agent whom they signed this summer. They dropped $750,000 to sign high school shortstop Stephen King, their third-round choice, going beyond the recommended slot, as they did when they signed fourth-rounder Glenn Gibson ($350,000).
According to a source, Washington was willing to sign Black for more than the recommended slot--the last three No. 59 picks received an average signing bonus of $585,000--but not the $1 million Black sought.
“We wish Sean and his family nothing but continued success,” Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said in a statement released by the team. “We respect the Black family’s decision.”
While the Nationals lamented the loss of Black, the pitcher’s appearance on Seton Hall’s South Orange, N.J., campus was a boost to Pirates coach Rob Sheppard’s program.
“It’s a credit to him and his family," Sheppard said. "He’s mature well beyond his years. There’s no question he will be able to help us as a freshman.
“Sean and his family were true to what they had told us throughout the whole process,” Sheppard said. "I think he reached his projections a little sooner than people thought. I think that kind of sudden rise he made surprised a lot of people, including him. Speaking with Sean and his family, Sean really had a strong interest in going to college. He liked our school and liked our coaching staff and feels he will develop even better here because he’s in college.”
--TODD JACOBSENAngels Agree With Boman
FREDERICKSBURG FREE LANCE-STAR
There's something about the Angels and University of San Diego pitchers. The Angels failed to sign lefthander Brian Matusz, their fourth-round pick in 2005 out of an Arizona high school, and have yet to sign another USD signee from Arizona, righthander Jason Jarvis.
However, they retained the rights to Jarvis, who didn't enroll at USD and instead joined Chandler-Gilbert (Ariz.) CC. And they got it right with one Toreros pitcher, signing lefthander Nate Boman, their ninth-round pick in 2006, for $400,000.
Boman signed just before classes at San Diego were set to start Sept. 7. He missed his junior season with shoulder surgery but pitched in the Cape Cod League for Yarmouth-Dennis, going 3-2, 2.94 in 34 innings with a 38-18 strikeout-walk ratio. He helped Y-D win the league championship, winning his only playoff start.
The Toreros had hoped to get him back for his redshirt junior season, as his 8-2, 2.27 career mark included the best ERA in school history.
"We wish him good luck," San Diego head coach Rich Hill said. "We would like to thank Nate for his contribution to the USD baseball program."
Boman will report to the Angels' instructional league later this month to begin his pro career.Junior College Defections
While Black and others honored their original four-year college commitment, there were other high-profile players from the high school Class of 2006 who opted to attend junior college, preserving the right to sign with the team that drafted them. Righthanders Matt Latos and Jordan Walden were not only two of the hardest throwers in this year's high school class, they entered the spring as arguably the top two prep pitching prospects in the country.
Latos, who had committed to Oklahoma, chose to attend Broward (Fla.) Community College near his Margate home. He was drafted in the 11th round by the Padres, and San Diego retains its right to negotiate with him up to a week before the 2007 draft.
Latos' stock plummeted this spring as a senior at Coconut Creek (Fla.) High, largely because of an on-field attitude that turned off scouts. His stuff is outstanding--headlined by a fastball that sits near 93 mph--and he could command a hefty, six-figure signing bonus next year if he shows improvement in his makeup and feel for pitching.
Walden won't be the next flamethrowing Longhorn. He had committed to Texas, but instead will attend Grayson (Texas) Junior College in hopes of improving his value. The Angels drafted Walden in the 12th round. He flashed 99 mph heat in the summer prior to his senior year, but pitched inconsistently this spring at Mansfield (Texas) High, and clubs grew wary of his bonus demands, precipitating his slide.
--ALAN MATTHEWSDRAFT DOTS
• While first baseman Matt LaPorta
has returned to Florida for his senior season, he's not the highest drafted player who could do so from the 2006 draft. Righthander Blair Erickson
was the Cardinals' 10th-round pick and had not signed as Baseball America went to press, but still had the option to sign. Classes at UC Irvine were scheduled to begin Sept. 22. Erickson, who saved 40 games in his first three seasons with the Anteaters, is the highest unsigned pick for the Cardinals. He reportedly turned down a $200,000 offer from the Cardinals to return to school.
• St. Louis also did not sign 15th-rounder Lance Zawadzki
, a shortstop out of San Diego State. However, Zawadzki tranferred to NAIA Lee (Tenn.) rather than return to SDSU. The Aztecs did get righthander Bruce Billings
back as a senior, as the Phillies didn't sign Billings, a 31st-round pick. Billings has won six games each year for the Aztecs and has 245 strikeouts in 239 career innings. Zawadzki slumped to .243/.332/.379 as a junior after hitting .335/.401/.548 with 10 home runs as a sophomore.