Story and Photos by Rich Chrampanis
The MLB Amateur Draft started on a Thursday night at 7pm and over 1,200 high school and college baseball players heard their name called and realized the dream of playing in the big leagues was possible. Spread out over three days, the waiting can be the hardest part for the nation’s best on the diamond. CBA catcher Brandon Martorano and Colts pitcher Luca Dalatri had moved on with their weekend plans on Saturday afternoon when the call finally came. In the 30th round, the Arizona Diamondbacks selected Martorano and ten rounds later the Colorado Rockies picked Dalatri.
“I was getting ready for my prom,” Martorano said when he heard his name called. “I was buttoning up my shirt, I was standing in my living room. Right after that, I headed off to my date’s prom. A lot of things going on at once. I really enjoyed all of it and it was fun.”
“I was in the backyard in the pool, my Dad told me I got drafted,” Dalatri said of his draft moment. “It was nice to have that honor of being drafted.”
The MLB Draft is truly unique in comparison to other sports. You have a lot of different elements in play – there are college juniors, college seniors, junior college players and high school players. Each one of those players have a different kind of leverage. For Martorano and Dalatri, they had a plan “B” lined up with a scholarship to play Division I college baseball at the University of North Carolina. The question then becomes, how much money would it take to turn down college and jump straight to professional baseball and the minor leagues? The first round of the draft has signing bonuses in the millions. Jason Groome, a Shore Conference product of Barnegat, was selected #12 overall in the first round by the Boston Red Sox with an assigned slot of just over $3.1 million dollars. Teams have a pool of money assigned to their draft picks. With the first two rounds of the draft on Thursday, rounds three through ten happened on Friday. The signing bonus slots started at over $813,000 for the top pick in the third round to $156,000 for the final selection in the 10th round. Day three which saw picks from round 11 through 40 had a maximum slot of $100,000. Teams could go over that number, but it would only be if they had money left over from their signing bonus pool from the first ten rounds.
So here was Brandon Martorano as the #899 overall pick and Dalatri at #1,190. Why were two players who were touted as top 200 prospects by the likes of Baseball America and other draft forecasts selected so low? That’s where the other aspect of the draft that not very many people know about comes into play. Organizations can call a player’s advisor (an agent if the player turns pro) to get a gauge of their signability. In essence, it’s the first step in a negotiation. While nothing is official until after the draft, teams can move away from a prospect if they feel he won’t sign for the money that is offered. Everyone knows that Martorano and Dalatri were day three selections in the late rounds of the draft. What people didn’t know is that their phone rang much earlier.
“I got a call at the 31st pick (in the first round) by the Mets,” Dalatri said. “They gave me an offer a little lower than what the number was (the slot was just over $1.9 million dollars). I was honored to be given that offer, but it was something to not pass college up on. I said ‘thank you very much, you can draft me later on, but right now I’m going to Chapel Hill (University of North Carolina).
“I got a calls from a lot of teams on day two,” Martorano said. “Things didn’t work out financially where both parties were matching up with different numbers. Having the Diamondbacks pick me (in the 30th round) is still an incredible honor.”
MLB teams have until August to sign their draft picks, but it didn’t take long for the CBA duo to declare their intentions. Before Martorano got in the limo for his prom and by the time Dalatri toweled off from the pool, both went to social media and the press to declare that they are set to play college baseball for the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Martorano wants to add muscle and speed to his 6-foot-2 frame, while Dalatri hopes to add a couple of more miles per hour to his fastball which is currently in the low 90s. The UNC baseball program has churned out many first round picks in recent years including Mets pitcher Matt Harvey and Dustin Ackley of the Yankees. Dalatri and Martorano get to play together for three more years and will deal with the behind the scenes drama of the draft in 2019.
“There’s nothing wrong with going to college,” Martorano said. “Getting a degree is important to me and my family. I’m so happy to go and I can’t wait.”
“You really don’t know what’s going to happen in the draft,” Dalatri said. “I figured Chapel Hill was the better option and hopefully in three years it will be a better situation.”
The biggest winner in all of this is North Carolina baseball coach Mike Fox who has two key pieces to a recruiting class that has been regarded as one of the best in the nation.
Martorano has been compared to MLB All-Star Buster Posey and a MLB scout told NJ.com that was not a matter of if, but when he makes it to the majors. Dalatri closed out his career as the Shore Conference’s all-time leader in wins. Over the last three years, he went 30-0 with an ERA under 0.50 and his senior year strikeout to walk ratio was 118 to 4.
Turning down a significant sum of money is a risk, but both Luca Dalatri and Brandon Martorano have the maturity and vision to look at the big picture. They are already getting a jump start on college classes to get a degree in three years and be even more ready for the ultimate goal which is not getting drafted, but actually making it to the majors. It’s a safe bet that the former Colts stars of the diamond are going to get another chance to experience the draft three years from now.
This article was originally published in the June 16-23, 2016 edition of the Two River Times newspaper.
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