The Pride carried an already-almost-full roster into draft day, while the Racers only had nine players on their roster. Both the Bandits and Rebellion fell in the middle of that spectrum.
Of the twenty draft selections, twelve were split evenly between the Racers and Rebellion. The defending-champion Pride had only three, while the Bandits carried five. The draft order was determined based on teams' finish after the regular season last year, so the Rebellion led off, while the Bandits would finish the first round.
I would like to note that, minus a premature unmuting of the goings-on in Nashville that led to anyone tuning in being privy to the instructions for applause cues, the production quality of last night's draft was very good. I know some other viewers had a few problems with the volume, but mine was just fine all night. The on-camera personalities were a different story, but I felt the Middle Tennessee students in the truck and involved with the production of the stream deserved kudos for their efforts.
Analysis of Draftees
As widely predicted, the Rebellion did go with a pitcher in the first round, although it was not who I nor many others had expected. They chose Dallas Escobedo out of Arizona State. As you'll recall, I had mock-drafted Escobedo at #18, going in the fifth round. I still stand by that pick, as well as my analysis that she's a good college pitcher, but I don't believe she'll translate well to the pros. Either way, the Rebellion and owner Stu Williams were eager to add her to their team early and did so.
The Pride came in at #2, thanks to the Brittany Mack trade with Akron last summer. With the pick, they selected Madison Shipman, a shortstop out of Tennessee. This was a pick that puzzled me at first, given that they already have an all-star and gold-medal-winning shortstop in Natasha Watley. However, with the second base job still up for grabs following the retirement of Ashley Charters, the Pride may try to convert one of their surplus of power-hitting shortstops to be the every day second-sacker. Shipman was a player that I expected to go very high, so this pick did not surprise me at all.
At #3 were the Akron Racers, following another trade that got them back into the first round. They made a big announcement earlier in the day, signing 2013 draft pick Brianna Cherry to a contract to play this season, so it got Racer fans in an excited mood from the very beginning. With the pick, they chose Hannah Campbell, a picture from South Alabama. Campbell has a quality arm and one of the best ERAs in the nation. Of the rookies drafted and/or signed so far, she could be the early Andi Williamson of 2014.
The first really surprising pick of the draft came early, by the Bandits at #4. They chose a pitcher, Estela Pinon of Arizona. Pinon was not even someone that was on my radar to be drafted at all, much less so early. It does baffle me a bit as to why she was chosen so early; she might be a capable pitcher, but I don't believe she was worth such an early draft choice. I believe they could have easily let her fall a round or even two and still had an opportunity to make her a Bandit.
The first choice of the 2nd round belonged to the Bandits, thanks to the "snake" format of the draft. With the 5th overall pick, Bill Sokolis' squad chose Sara Moulton out of Minnesota. One of the best pitchers in the country, while also one of the most unheralded, Moulton is well on her way to another stellar season this year, and while I had originally pegged her as a late round 2-3 choice, I think going at #5 was an excellent and appropriate spot for her.
At #6, the Pride inexplicably chose... another shortstop? Yup, sure enough, Don DeDonatis picked up Courtney Ceo from the University of Oregon, his second acquired shortstop in as many rounds. With Ceo now also in the fold, I think it's a bit more likely that she rather than Shipman is first in line for the potential conversion to second base, if that is in fact the route they want to take. Also like Shipman, Ceo adds a humongously-powerful bat to the Pride lineup.
Akron had the seventh choice, and they drafted hitting pitcher Laura Winter out of Notre Dame. An excellent pitcher, she's also a solid hitter. She hit seventeen home runs last year, but only has a single roundtripper to her credit this season. In the circle, she's mowing hitters down left and right and recently set the Irish career strikeout record. She will fit nicely into the rotation with Rachele Fico & Campbell.
Following that, the Rebellion had two straight choices at #8 and #9. They opted to take a catcher first, selecting Taylor Edwards of Nebraska. With a gaping hole behind the plate, this was a great choice. Edwards is a power-hitting catcher that also calls a good game. Barring the signing of a free agent veteran catcher and even with Lauren Lappin in the fold, Edwards may move right into a starting spot. Following her, at #9, the Rebellion chose Bryana Walker out of Washington. Admittedly, I thought Kaitlin Inglesby would be the first Husky name to be called, but Walker is a fairly solid pick in and of herself. I don't think she'll be a top-of-the-rotation starter, but I could see her fitting in as a Jen Mineau-type, either as a back-of-the-order starter or a spot-starter/reliever.
At #10, the Racers chose the first internationally-affiliated player of the draft, with Jenny Gilbert heading to Akron. A member of Team Canada, Joey Arrietta even mentioned that they'll have to share her with the national team, but when you've got a talent like Gilbert, only a partial, 3/4 season is well-worth such a high pick. The International experience that Gilbert already has under her belt is going to be valuable at the professional level, and perhaps most importantly at this stage, she seems eager to play in the league. This might have been the steal of the draft at #10.
With their final pick (yes, at #11), the Pride picked up another Oregon Duck in Alexa Peterson. Although she was called an outfielder at the draft, Peterson adds even more catching depth to an already-deep position in Florida. Now the fourth backstop on the Pride roster, she'll likely be a pinch hitter much more than a daily starter. She does add another power bat to the Pride bench.
It was the Bandits' turn to go back-to-back with the 12th and 13th selections. They went with an outfielder first, picking up Emily Allard from Northwestern. Coming off a rehab-filled 2013, Allard is hitting .406 on the season; has made just one fielding error on the season; and is 15-16 on the basepaths. You've also got the "hometown" factor in the pick, ala Tess Sito and the Racers last year. Following that pick, the Bandits chose shortstop Cheyenne Coyle out of Arizona State. The second Sun Devil to be chosen, Coyle has really come into her own following her transfer out to Tempe. A power hitter to the fullest definition, even despite being behind Tammy Williams on the depth chart, she's a great pick.
Another double set of picks were next, this time for the Racers at #14 and #15. With their picks, they chose Kaitlin Inglesby out of Washington and Jill Barrett of Tulsa. Inglesby, as I said above, was my guess to be the first Husky selected, but she fell to the fourth round. Another hitting pitcher, Arrietta also spoke about how happy she is to have the versatility of Inglesby and Winter. Barrett is presently hitting over .500 more than 2/3 of the way through the season, and is another infielder added to the Racers. Although a third baseman throughout her collegiate career, the Racers already have depth at the hot corner, so we may see Barrett in a bit of a utility role.
Rounding out the 4th and opening the 5th, the Rebellion also had back-to-back selections, as well as three of the final five. To finish off round #4, they went with another sleeper pick and chose Anna Miller from USC-Upstate. Chris Hawkins runs a great program at SC-U, so it's no surprise to see one of his players have the opportunity to continue her career in the pros. I was surprised by the selection of Miller here, but I think the Rebellion got a solid pitcher who can help solidify their quickly-forming rotation. With pick #17, they did not deviate from the trend of filling out the battery, selecting catcher and first-baseman Nicole Morgan out of Texas A&M. With Edwards and Morgan in the fold, in addition to Lauren Lappin and Courtney Liddle, the position of catcher is well- and talent-filled for the NPF's rookie team.
The Racers' final pick of the draft came in at #18 and they called Ashley Thomas, an infielder from Georgia Tech. The 2013 ACC Player of the Year has been a breakout power hitter this year, clubbing seven home runs so far this season (which more than triples her previous career total). She carries a .376 batting average this year, and ended last season with a .417 average. She could use a little shoring-up defensively, but she looks like a solid bottom-of-the-order, quick-footed addition for Joey Arrietta's squad.
The Rebellion used their sixth and final pick to draft Victoria Hayward, again out of the University of Washington and also a member of Team Canada. One of the best outfielders available in this year's draft (honestly, THE best behind Gilbert), Hayward will also likely have to split her summer between playing for Team Canada and suiting up for the Rebellion. I wondered if her national-team affiliation might cause Hayward to slip a bit in the draft, and I believe it was at least a contributing factor, although not one that apparently concerns Stu Williams or his management team.
The final pick of the draft belonged to the Chicago Bandits, and they again threw another curveball, selecting RT Cantillo out of Ole Miss. Cantillo was another that wasn't on my radar (which is really something I love about the NPF draft - the unpredictability). Cantillo is hitting close to .500 this season, with a .495 batting average and a .626 slugging percentage. She carries a career .363 average. She strikes me more as a better acquisition through free agency instead of the draft, but the Bandits chose to take her here.
The Picks & Where They're Coming From:
1. Rebellion – Dallas Escobedo, P, Arizona State
2. Pride – Madison Shipman, SS, Tennessee
3. Racers – Hannah Campbell, P, South Alabama
4. Bandits – Estela Pinon, P, Arizona
5. Bandits – Sara Moulton, P, Minnesota
6. Pride – Courtney Ceo, SS, Oregon
7. Racers – Laura Winter, P, Notre Dame
8. Rebellion - Taylor Edwards, C, Nebraska
9. Rebellion – Bryana Walker, P, Washington
10. Racers – Jenny Gilbert, OF, Ball State
11. Pride – Alexa Peterson, C, Oregon
12. Bandits – Emily Allard, OF/UT, Northwestern
13. Bandits – Cheyenne Coyle, SS, Arizona State
14. Racers – Kaitlin Inglesby, P/UT, Washington
15. Racers – Jill Barrett, IF, Tulsa
16. Rebellion – Anna Miller, P, USC-Upstate
17. Rebellion – Nicole Morgan, C/1B, Texas A&M
18. Racers – Ashley Thomas, IF, Georgia Tech
19. Rebellion – Victoria Hayward, OF, Washington
20. Bandits – RT Cantillo, OF, Mississippi
Akron - B-... (Joey Arrietta took care of her team's biggest need by drafting three pitchers to fill out the rotation. She also added a couple of great power bats in Jenny Gilbert and Kaitlin Inglesby, and added some solid infield depth in Barrett and Thomas. The gaping hole still at catcher is the only thing that keeps this from being a higher grade.)
Pennsylvania - B... (In their first draft as members of the NPF, the Rebellion did an excellent job filling some of their more pressing needs. They added three pitchers who can give depth to their rotation; drafted two catchers that, combined with veterans already on the team, arguably give their new team the best catching depth in the league; and added several big-time power bats. With five outfielders on the squad, I'm unsure how the addition of Hayward helps them long-term. I definitely would have liked to see at least one infielder added, but there is still a good period of free agency before the season begins, and all in all, I think it was a fairly successful draft for the Rebellion.)
Chicago - B-... (The Bandits filled the hole that Nikki Nemitz left, but it remains to be seen how they'll fill the hole left by Vicky Galindo at second base. They added to an outfield that needed it, but didn't add the depth to the infield that I felt they needed. Additionally, surprisingly given past history, it seems like the Bandits' picks have failed to provide that WOW factor for their rabid & loyal fan base, which is a telling sign in and of itself. I feel like they drafted a few players earlier than they should have and didn't make the best decisions with the picks that they had, but the league's Chicago squad came out of Nashville OK.)
USSSA - D... (With just a few small holes to fill, the Pride almost did anything but, adding two natural shortstops [a position that Natasha Watley has a firm handle on] and a 4th catcher. The positives of the Pride's draft selections were only that they didn't add any pitchers to their already-overflowing surplus and with Peterson in the fold, they can now afford to part with one of their catchers should someone like Akron come calling.)
Best Steal: Jenny Gilbert/Racers
Player Drafted Too High: Estela Pinon
Best Player Drafted Too Low: Victoria Hayward
Team That Best Filled Their Needs: Rebellion
Best Player(s) Not Drafted: Ellen Renfroe; Aimee Creger; Tatum Edwards
Player That Will Have the Biggest Immediate Impact: Hannah Campbell, Racers
Player That Will Have the Biggest Long-Term Impact: Emily Allard, Bandits