Baseball – Red Bank Catholic Ace Shane Panzini Headlines MLB Draft Hopefuls from the Jersey Shore
Last year’s truncated Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft froze out hundreds of players throughout the high-school, college and junior college ranks who would have been selected during a typical season and there were Shore Conference players and alumni who were either likely or certainly affected.
After conducting a draft that lasted only five rounds in 2020, Major League Baseball is opening its draft up to 20 rounds in 2021 – significantly longer than a year ago but only half as long as the 40 rounds the draft lasted prior to 2020. The first round – 29 round one selections and seven competitive balance picks – is Sunday, rounds two through 10 are scheduled for Monday and the remainder of the draft will be completed on Tuesday.
In addition to running for 20 rounds for the first time, this year’s draft is also later in the summer than it has ever been. MLB made the decision to push its draft to July in order to include it as part of its All-Star Game festivities, which will be held in Denver beginning on Sunday. The Home Run Derby is slated for Monday night and the All-Star Game itself will be on Tuesday night – both at Coors Field.
Last season, Christian Brothers Academy alum and current Vanderbilt University right-hander Pat Reilly would likely have been drafted in a longer draft, but the shorter draft and lost high-school baseball season significantly impacted Reilly’s appeal to MLB clubs given his strong commitment to Vanderbilt and he was not selected.
Despite the draft only lasting 20 rounds instead of 40, there is highly likely to be more Shore Conference flavor this season, headlined by 2021 Shore Sports Network Player of the Year Shane Panzini. Here is a closer look at four Shore Conference alumni who could be on the draft radar – most likely starting with day two on Monday.
Shane Panzini, RHP, Red Bank Catholic
Panzini entered the 2020 season with opinions of his potential as an MLB prospect varying among the many scouts who have watched him since late last summer on the travel circuit. Three prominent online publications – MLB.com, Baseball America and FanGraphs – have ranked him anywhere between No. 46 in the entire class to No. 241 and while those publications are not run by scouts, feedback from scouts is a significant source for those rankings.
Panzini improved over the course of his senior season at Red Bank Catholic, culminating in a brilliant seven-inning effort to beat unbeaten Bishop Eustace – then the No. 1 team in the state – on June 7. In that game, Panzini’s fastball touched 97 and sat 93 to 96 throughout the game and he featured a wipeout slider that played as well that day as it had all season.
Following that game, in which Panzini allowed one run on three hits with 12 strikeouts and one walk while also clocking a towering solo home run, one scout speculated that Panzini might have improved his stock from projected third-rounder to a second-round pick.
Since then, Panzini has turned in impressive showcases in a private workout at Camden Yards in Baltimore and in and later at a USA-Baseball-organized draft showcase in Cary, N.C.
While it is considered a longshot for Panzini to be a selection on day one of the draft, teams have routinely come to terms with players considered to be later-round talents and taken them earlier in order to save money early in the draft with the hopes of using a higher-percentage of their spending pool later in the draft.
The Boston Red Sox were a recent example of this, taking high-school second baseman Nick Yorke (ranked the No. 139 prospect by MLB.com) with the No. 17 overall pick and paying him $900,000 under the MLB-recommended signing bonus for that slot in the draft. The deal is beneficial for the Red Sox, who paid third-round pick Jordan Blaze $1.1 million over his slot value later in the draft thanks to the money saved in the first round, while Yorke got a higher signing bonus than he likely would have been offered as a pick in rounds two-through-five.
Coincidentally, Panzini has a near-identical MLB.com ranking compared to Yorke’s in 2020, with Panzini coming in at No. 140 on MLB.com’s latest rankings.
More likely, however, Panzini is going to be a potential second-round target for the teams that are especially high on him and a third, fourth or fifth-round possibility for the teams that are not as interested.
Once Panzini hears his name called – and it is extremely unlikely that he will not – it will then start the clock on his decision to either sign a professional contract or to honor his commitment to the University of Virginia. Should Panzini be selected in either of the first two rounds, it would likely be with an agreement for a signing bonus in place that would be satisfactory for both Panzini and the team that drafts him.
If Panzini lasts beyond the third round, he could fall to the middle-to-late rounds of the draft if teams know they won’t be able to meet his asking price. As a recent example, current Vanderbilt ace and former Delbarton star Jack Leiter was considered a first-round talent in 2019 but with his father, Al, and his representation floating what was rumored to be an asking price consistent with the compensation of a top-10-pick, teams past on him all the way until round 20. The New York Yankees finally selected Leiter, who indeed opted to play at Vanderbilt, where he has developed into a likely top-five pick for this year’s draft.
Panzini had a record-setting senior year at Red Bank Catholic, striking out a single-season school record 115 batters while going 9-0 with a 0.91 ERA in 61 2/3 innings. The highest any Red Bank Catholic player has been drafted straight out of high school was in 2006, when the Red Sox took Ryan Kalish in the ninth round.
The last Red Bank Catholic player to be drafted right out of high school was Vin Bianchi to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the 35th round of the 2019 draft, with Bianchi opting to attend St. John’s rather than sign. Bianchi and Panzini were teammates for two seasons at RBC and the team’s top two pitchers during the 2019 season.
Justin Fall, LHP, Arizona State (Toms River South)
Fall was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 34th round of the 2019 draft out of Brookdale Community College and rather than signing as a late-round selection, he jumped at an offer to pitch for Arizona State in the Pac 12 for the 2020 season.
While that experience improved his profile for Major League organizations, the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic hurt Fall in that there were only five rounds worth of picks in 2020 with which teams could use and Fall was one of the many players who got squeezed out.
With 20 rounds on tap for this season, Fall is considered a strong possibility to be selected in the first half of the draft. At 6-foot-6 and featuring a fastball that has touched 95 miles-per-hour from the left side this past spring, Fall is a considered a high-upside pitcher with some work to still put in but serious potential if he can do it.
This past season, Fall went 7-3 with a 4.09 ERA in 77 innings, striking out 47 and walking 37. In 19 innings during the shortened 2020 campaign, he 1-0 with a 5.68 ERA, 17 strikeouts and 13 walks.
Fall graduated from Toms River South in 2017, when he was a Shore Sports Network First-Team All-Shore selection after going 6-1 with a 1.67 ERA, 39 hits and 28 walks allowed and 62 strikeouts over 54 1/3 innings on the mound for a 22-5 Indians team. He was also a Second Team All-Shore selections as a junior, when Fall went 6-1 with a 0.99 ERA, 45 hits and 16 walks allowed to go with 60 strikeouts in 56 2/3 innings.
Fall pitched two dominant seasons at Brookdale and was the ace for a Jersey Blues team that reached the Region XIX championship in 2019.
Tyler Ras, RHP, Alabama (Middletown North)
Ras was a highly-touted right-hander coming out of Middletown North in 2018 and was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 33rd round of that year’s draft before heading to Alabama.
In Tuscaloosa, Ras has gotten some time both on the mound and at the plate as a two-way player but he was a pitcher only in 2021 and his future is expected to be on the mound for any organization that signs him.
Ras got an opportunity to pitch on Friday nights this past season and did so with mixed results. He finished second on the Crimson Tide in innings (86 2/3) and went 7-5 with a 5.82 ERA, 59 strikeouts and 24 walks.
According to Baseball America, Ras has touched 96 miles-per-hour with his fastball this season while sitting in the low 90’s for most of his outings. His best secondary pitch is his split changeup, which was an effective offering for him during his career at Middletown North.
Baseball America considers Ras the No. 387 prospect in the class and he would likely be a day three selection who could return to Alabama for his senior year.
Mike Antico, OF, Texas (Colts Neck)
Antico is not on any published draft rankings, but he had the kind of impact at a major program that gets noticed by scouts.
After spending four seasons at St. John’s, Antico spent his final year of eligibility at Texas, where he was a major cog in leading the Longhorns to the final four of the College World Series. During the CWS, Antico went 6-for-19 with a double, a home run, five runs scored, four RBI and a pair of stolen bases while leading off and playing centerfield for the Longhorns.
Antico’s CWS performance was part of an impressive season overall for the 2016 Colts Neck graduate. He hit .273 and was second on the team with a .436 on-base percentage to go with a solid .489 slugging percentage. Those averages included 16 doubles, two triples, 10 home runs 69 runs, 47 RBI and 41 stolen bases in 46 attempts while starting 65 of Texas’s 67 games.
While Antico does not appear on the online rankings, he has the kind of skillset teams covet and as a five-year college player, he is likely to be motivated to sign a contract – making him an appealing possibility on day three and perhaps even late on day two.
While at Colts Neck, Antico was a two-time Shore Sports Network First-Team Selection, hitting .403 with three doubles, three triples and a Shore-Conference-best 31 steals as a senior in 2016. As a junior, he hit .333 with six doubles, five triples, a home run and 29 steals.