EVERETT — The Everett AquaSox and the other members of the Class A short-season Northwest League are heavily reliant on the Major League Baseball draft to stock their rosters.
That’s why the 2017 season is poised to begin in a unique way.
The draft doesn’t start until today and doesn’t conclude until Wednesday, a day before the AquaSox open their regular season with a five-game homestand against the Hillsboro Hops. That’s in stark contrast to previous years, when the draft was held the week prior to the season and recently signed draftees trickled into Everett in time for the Frogs’ opener.
“There has been kind of an ongoing push to push the draft back after (the NCAA) Super Regionals and the College World Series and things like that,” said Andy McKay, the director of player development for the Seattle Mariners. “That conversation has been going on for years.”
Since 2001 the draft has never concluded later than June 11 and sometimes began as early as June 3. What was once a two-day event conducted via conference call has morphed into a three-day extravaganza that includes the first two rounds being televised on MLB Network.
“We felt like it needs to be on a day where it’s a relatively lighter slate of games, and Monday or Thursday are the two choices,” said Mike Teevan, the vice president of communication for Major League Baseball. “This year we pushed it back to Monday.”
According to AquaSox general manager Danny Tetzlaff, the Northwest League creates its schedule for the following year toward the end of the previous season, which requires estimating the date of the draft. The league attempts to conclude the regular season prior to Labor Day, so the schedule may have been the same even with the knowledge of the later date of the draft.
This year’s Everett team essentially will consist of two phases of players. The first phase includes players who are slated to spend the season with the Mariners’ rookie-league team in Peoria, Arizona. Those players arrived with the coaching staff Saturday. They will be the AquaSox until the team returns from Vancouver on June 22.
The new draftees, comprising the second phase, will take over prior to Everett’s road series at Tri-City on June 23 and make their home debut June 26 against Vancouver at Everett Memorial Stadium. The majority of the players who began the season in Everett are then expected to head back to Peoria.
“It’s not ideal, but it’s something that I think every club is dealing with in the league, so we’re all kind of in the same boat,” McKay said. “For the most part you’ve got a group of players in extended spring training and we’ll field a team in Everett for our opening series and then we go right to Canada, which is kind of another issue because traditionally the majority of the players you draft and sign do not have passports.”
The first crop of players held their first workout Sunday afternoon. Among them are 2016 AquaSox players Austin Grebeck, Paul Covelle and Joe Venturino, and 2015 team member Matt Clancy.
The on-field coaching staff is entirely new. Jose Moreno, who managed the 2010 AquaSox to the NWL title, returns as manager, replacing Rob Mummau who has shifted into scouting full-time. Hitting coach Austin Knight is making his professional coaching debut this season, and pitching coach Danny Acevedo is in Everett after coaching Seattle’s affiliate in the Dominican Summer League since 2010.
The coaching staff put the players through a typical practice Sunday, including position and situational work, batting practice and a four-inning simulation game. The AquaSox play an exhibition game at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday against the Everett Merchants. The Frogs’ home opener is Thursday.
While some of the players who begin the season will remain with the club when the new crop of draftees arrives, it’s nevertheless a unique situation for the beginning of the season.
“It required a conference call of 35 minutes with four or five people and I think most teams are handling it in the exact same way,” McKay said. “At the end of the day, it’s not a really big deal and I’m just excited to get our drafted guys here.”
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