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Like all of his 2020 classmates throughout New Jersey and in most of the country, recent Christian Brothers Academy graduate Pat Reilly lost his senior baseball season to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He is also among a select few talented players in the U.S. who could miss out on something else this week due to the COVID-19 fallout: hearing his name called in the Major League Baseball Draft.

MLB cut its First-Year Player Draft by 35 rounds and more than 1,000 picks in 2020 as a cost-saving measure for its clubs and those 1,000-plus eliminated picks means 1,000-plus young players will not hear their name called or see their name appear on the big board.

Reilly was almost certain to be one of those players chosen in a normal year, although as the No. 181 prospect in the 2020 draft class by MLB Pipeline, his name will still be in the conversation as a Day 2 pick on Thursday. With a commitment to Vanderbilt University and an incomplete prep resume to boost his reputation, however, Reilly has every incentive to go to pitch at one of the country’s best programs and try the draft when he is eligible again in 2023.

CBA senior Pat Reilly. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

“At this point, my focus is on being ready to go down to Nashville and try to contribute as much as I can in my freshman year,” Reilly said. “As far as the draft goes, I’m definitely going to listen. I know some guys have said they are totally pulling out from the draft process but if a team wants to make an offer, I’m going to keep an open mind. Given the way this draft is structured, though, teams can’t afford to waste any picks so they are going to need to know they can sign whoever they pick.”

That sort of leverage combined with MLB teams facing even more pressure to make use of a limited number of picks means Reilly’s chances of being selected are much slimmer than they would be in a normal draft year.

“I would expect some more concrete offers either the day before or the day of the draft but at this point, I’m not expecting too much. It also depends on the team. Teams like the Yankees only have a few picks, while the Pirates, Padres, the Orioles and a few others have a bunch. The teams with more picks and pool money would be the ones more likely to take a shot if they like me enough so that’s probably the group we’ll be keeping an eye on.”

Given his rise to prominence over the last two years, though, Reilly is grateful to be in the situation he currently finds himself. He entered high school with the dream of one day playing college baseball at the University of Virginia, but after the summer of 2018 – following a sophomore season at CBA in which he pitched only two varsity innings – major-conference programs like Virginia were not offering the 6-foot-3 right-hander.

Reilly was, however, getting plenty of interest from more mid-level programs and he struck up a good relationship with the coaching staff at Northeastern University in Boston, led by head coach Mike Glavine. He gave his non-binding verbal commitment to play for the Huskies before his junior season of high school ball.

“I’ve always considered myself to be a high-academic guy so that’s why I made the decision to commit to Northeastern,” Reilly said. “I started getting offers in the fall of my junior year and there wasn’t anything jumping out at me. I threw at an event in Fort Myers (Fla.) and (assistant) coach (Nick) Puccio, I guess, saw me there and reached out. Once I got back to New Jersey, my dad and I drove up to Boston to visit the campus and I loved it. I called coach Glavine and told him I wanted to be there.”

The 2019 high-school season opened with Reilly as the No. 3 starter on an impressive CBA staff but after his first start, not only did he become the Colts best pitcher – he became one of the best pitchers in all of New Jersey.

Reilly struck out 16 with no walks in a two-hit shutout of then-defending Group III runner-up Allentown, a sparkling outing that ignited a Shore Sports Network All-Shore First Team season. He followed the Allentown gem with a win over St. Peter’s Prep (one run, one walk, seven strikeouts in six innings) and a memorable 1-0 win over Wall and two-time Shore Sports Network Pitcher of the Year Trey Dombroski in which Reilly fanned 12 in six shutout innings.

Reilly sat in the low 90’s with his fastball for most of the season according to radar guns at a number of his team’s games and rather than continue into the summer season, Reilly did not pitch and instead worked on his strength while giving his arm a break.

He picked back up in September to prepare to pitch at the Perfect Game World Wood Bat Association World Championship in Jupiter, Fla. in October.

“There were some pro scouts taking notice at the Autism Awareness event against St. Peter’s in North Brunswick,” Reilly said. “For the most part, though, I didn’t get invited to any of the big events in the summer, so I really just tried to rest my arm and mentally and physically gear myself up for Jupiter. I got back on the mound and was throwing 90-to-93 indoors in shorts so at that point, I felt like I was in a pretty good place.”

CBA senior Pat Reilly. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Reilly had experience at the WWBA Championship prior to his junior season and one year later, he created a major buzz by topping out at 96 miles-per-hour with a sharp slider and an impressive overall performance.

With Major League Scouts and college coaches packed in to watch the action, Reilly shot up toward the top of the list for most of the personnel in attendance and that meant an opportunity to revisit pitching at his dream school.

Ultimately, however, it was not UVA but rather “VU” that pried Reilly away from his verbal commitment to Northeastern. With several SEC schools floating interest, Reilly did not have to wait long for the right offer. First, though, Reilly had to call Glavine to let him know that the new offers rolling in would be too good to pass up.

“That was the hardest thing I have ever had to do,” Reilly said of decommitting from Northeastern. “I just thanked him for believing in me and told him I was sorry I had to back out. He understood and he told me he appreciated that I reached out to him. I think he knew after I pitched in Jupiter, the offers I was getting were going to be too good to pass up.”

A week after decommitting from Northeastern, Reilly was in Nashville for an unofficial visit to Vanderbilt, during which he met with Commodores coaches and players. He spent time with members of the current pitching staff, including potential 2021 No. 1 pick Kumar Rocker and Delbarton product Jack Leiter – the highly-touted son of Al Leiter. When he met with head coach Tim Corbin in his office - who will be part of MLB Network's Draft broadcast on Wednesday night - Reilly had his mind made up.

Once Reilly committed to arguably the best country in the program at producing Big League pitchers – a list that includes David Price, Walker Buehler, Sonny Gray, Mike Minor – the preparation began for a senior season at CBA.

Reilly and the Colts returned a senior-heavy core for 2020 and with Virginia Commonwealth University commit Braedin Hunt joining Reilly at the top of the rotation, CBA would have been among the favorites in Monmouth County and the Shore Conference, as well as a threat in the NJSIAA Non-Public A Tournament. On top of the potential of the team, Reilly would have been pitching in front of a throng of scouts, many of whom still made time to watch him workout prior to the start of spring practice and again during a bullpen session during the first and only week of practice.

“It’s disappointing for everybody because we had such a good group of seniors and we were really looking forward to playing together for one last season and hopefully winning a championship,” Reilly said. “It would have been fun to pitch in front of all the scouts and go through the process of a normal draft but for me, I just wanted to compete with my friends from school and try to go out with a couple of championships.”

CBA senior Pat Reilly. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Since the suspension of the season, Reilly has continued to work out and throw bullpens in an effort to keep himself as sharp as pitching a season would have. What he and other pitchers in the same boat now lack in competitive innings in which to develop, Reilly made up for it by working on his overall strength. He has also worked a lot on his mechanics with the help of Rapsodo technology, which gives pitchers detailed analysis of their pitch movement.

“I was able to get out and work with the Rapsodo and fine-tune some things with my delivery and my mechanics,” Reilly said. “I found out I was tipping my slider, so it was good to find that out now. There isn’t a whole lot we can do but if there is something small I can do, I just do that and try to get better.”

Reilly has also had a chance to work and talk with some of CBA’s past draft picks. He has been in contact with North Carolina senior and all-time Shore Conference wins leader Luca Dalatri, San Diego Padres right-hander Jimmy Yacabonis has shared some tips on throwing his slider with him and former Phillies draft pick Kyle Slate works closely with Reilly, especially now that restrictions related to the pandemic are being lifted.

“I got to talk to Luca a little bit and I work out with Slate all the time,” Reilly said. “I had a great conversation with Yacabonis too and he showed me a couple things I could do with my grips, especially with my slider. I feel like that’s a pitch I’ve really been able to fine-tune and I was looking forward to using it more this year.”

It is still possible a Major League team takes a chance on Reilly – more than a dozen have been in touch with him over the past several months. Teams will only be allowed to offer undrafted players $20,000 each so in order to convince prep players like Reilly with strong college commitments to sign, it will require using a draft pick and allocating enough of their signing-bonus pool money to break that commitment.

It also helps that Vanderbilt’s developmental program for pitchers is regarded as comparable to those of most Major League organizations and maybe even better than a few.

“I’m very fortunate to have an opportunity to pitch at one of the best programs in the country and maybe the best when it comes to developing pitchers,” Reilly said. “I would love to have the opportunity to be drafted this year but with everything that’s going on with the draft and the pandemic, I also know the stars would really have to align for me to get drafted and to sign. The way I’m thinking about it, I want to go down to Vanderbilt, earn my spot there and hopefully, in three years, it won’t be a matter of if I’ll get drafted, but how high.”