Sabins dealing with hectic roster management as MLB Draft approaches

MORGANTOWN — It is hectic, yet hectic with a purpose, that being the world of roster management for any college baseball coach.

Steve Sabins, in his first weeks as WVU’s head coach has been through it before during his nine years as a Mountaineers’ assistant.

“Now you’re speaking my language,” Sabins said Friday, as he was being officially introduced as the Mountaineers’ manager.

There is a bit of explanation required here, and it will sound like a no-win situation at first, but know that Sabins does have a hefty life raft at his disposal at the end.

In his first season as head coach, Sabins may or may not have WVU’s all-time home run leader in Grant Hussey in his lineup.

The Major League Baseball draft begins July 14 — it lasts 20 rounds and runs through July 16 — and Hussey is eligible to be drafted.

As are infielder Brodie Kresser, outfielder Kyle West and catcher Logan Sauve, who is eligible because he turns 21 just two days after the draft ends.

All of them could also return to WVU for another season.

“I fall asleep every night going in circles about what’s going to happen,” Sabins said. “The biggest thing about roster management is you have draft-eligible players, but you don’t know if they’re going to be drafted or not.”

Older players Sabins may be recruiting out of the transfer portal, well, they too may be drafted.

As could some of the high school prospects already signed by the Mountaineers for next season.

“It’s actually impossible to get down on paper right now what you’re roster is going to look like,” Sabins said. “The transfer portal closes before the MLB draft happens. Basically everyone has to make the decision if they want to be open for a new opportunity, and then the draft happens and reshuffles everything again.

“You have to find this balance of being aggressive but not overly aggressive.”

The key to it all is when a player may be drafted.

A first-round prospect like J.J. Wetherholt — who could technically return to WVU for his senior season, but don’t expect that to happen — is likely to sign for somewhere in the range of $5-10 million.

Players chosen in the second round will be offered between $1.2-2.3 million, and the money continues to drop the later the draft gets, with players picked in the 10th round being offered an average of $180,000 to sign.

Only players selected in the first 10 rounds will have assigned values. Players selected after the 10th round will still be offered a signing bonus, but one that suffers in comparison to those who are drafted higher.

So, take any of WVU’s high-school recruits or the draft-eligible players on the roster, if they are selected in the later rounds they have the option of staying at WVU with the hopes of improving their draft status in the future.

“Essentially, I want whatever our players want,” Sabins said. “Whatever is in their best interest. If they want to sign a professional contract or move on as a free agent, I want to celebrate that with them. If they come back to West Virginia, even better.

“I just need to know the information. I need to know what is the real likelihood of their interest in entering professional baseball and then I can find out what’s the realistic possibility that a pro team wants them to enter professional baseball.”

This is where Sabins — as are all Division I baseball coaches — is granted a lifeline of sorts through NIL funds.

To use Hussey as an example, he may be offered an MLB bonus of $40,000 as a late-round pick, but WVU could offer him so much more through NIL to return for his senior season.

Schools have been taking advantage of being able to offer more through NIL, which has raised the overall talent level of college baseball in recent years.

“It’s absolutely changed the game,” Sabins said. “If you watched the super regionals, it’s the highest-level baseball you can possibly watch.

“It’s fast and its explosive. There’s nothing even close to it except for the MLB playoffs. It’s the best (college baseball) has ever been, and part of that has to do with the leverage.”

Sabins’ theory is it allows a player to bet on himself by taking the NIL deal and going back to college and then possibly improving his draft status for a bigger signing bonus in a future draft.

“NIL is an opportunity for kids to go to school and put away some money,” Sabins said. “I think some people would look at it as having two signing bonuses essentially.”