|Photo: Colin Abbey|
The Big Ten was represented early and fairly well, with five picks coming from four of the conference's teams. Minnesota's Sara Groenewegen was selected at #2 overall by the Akron Racers, making it an all-pitcher draft through two selections. She also was the first player selected with ties to a national program, as a member of the Canadian National team.
Two of the Chicago Bandits' three picks came back-to-back in the middle of the first round, and the defending league champions filled out a rookie battery for themselves, drafting LSU catcher Sahvanna Jaquish at #3 and Cal Poly pitcher Sierra Hyland at #4. The selection of Jaquish marked the second year in a row that the Bandits selected a catcher out of Baton Rouge, following Kellsi Kloss in 2016. Hyland marked the Big West conference's first NPF draftee since Stephanie Ricketts in 2012 who, coincidentally, was also selected by the Bandits.
Baton Rouge got to celebrate again quickly, as Jaquish's teammate Bailey Landry was selected at #5 overall, the first player to go off the board to the Texas Charge. Landry currently sits in the top five in the nation with a .465 batting average. Beth Torina continues to prove that her program in Baton Rouge is a true breeding ground for pro talent.
Home run record-chaser Katiyana Mauga of Arizona was the first Wildcat to come off the board, going to the Texas Charge with the sixth overall pick. Mauga, who currently sits at eighty-eight career home runs, is just seven away from tying Lauren Chamberlain's all-time record, and will now likely get the opportunity to face Chamberlain at the professional level.
Michigan pitcher Megan Betsa marked the Akron Racers' second selection of the draft, as well as their second pitcher selected out of the Big Ten conference. The righty hurler has enjoyed a stellar career at Michigan and will now be teamed with the player with whom she has fought over the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year award for three seasons running.
The first Team USA-associated player went off the board at #8 in Arizona's Danielle O'Toole. Without the USA affiliation, O'Toole likely would have been the favorite to go first overall. She currently sports a 24-3 record on the year and has been a workhorse in the circle for the Wildcats.
USSSA enjoyed back-to-back selections to close the second round and picked up the third Arizona Wildcat and second Florida State Seminole of the night in Mo Mercado and Alex Powers. Like her teammate Burroughs, Powers will join her collegiate head coach Lonni Alameda in the pros and will continue one of the best stories in softball, having come back with a vengeance after two knee surgeries to begin her career. Mercado may be the best hitter on the Wildcats roster, Mauga's power show notwithstanding. She currently leads the league-leading Wildcats with a .407 mark.
The third round went like this:
11. Akron - Chloe Miller, Wisconsin
12. Scrap Yard - Delanie Gourley, Florida
13. Scrap Yard - Ali Aguilar, Washington
14. Texas - Haley Chambers-Book, SIU-Edwardsville
15. Akron - Megan Geer, Tennessee
The Racers picked up early one of the draft's biggest steals in Miller, the catcher and utility player out of Madison. Gourley was the second Team USA-affiliated player who likely saw her stock drop because of the commitment. The Texas Charge made an on-the-spot move to acquire Gourley, giving up the #13 and #25 picks to the Scrap Yard in exchange. Aguilar was the first USA position player to be selected, while Chambers-Book represented the Ohio Valley Conference on draft night for the first time in nearly a decade. Geer is the second former "Lady" Vol to be drafted in the last two years.
Here's how the fourth round went down:
16. Akron - Sydni Emanuel, Georgia
17. Scrap Yard - Hannah Flippen, Utah
18. Scrap Yard - Nikki Udria, Oregon
19. USSSA - Mandie Perez, Arizona
20. USSSA - Kelly Christner, Michigan
Akron selected back-to-back SEC stars to close the third and open the fourth round; in Emanuel, they gained a significant amount of speed on the basepaths. Flippen marked the fourth USA-affiliated player to hear her name called, the second looking forward to spending part of her summer in Houston. Udria, the top non-USA middle infielder available, is likely to get playing time even as a rookie. Perez was the fourth member of the Wildcats senior class to go off the board, joining her teammate Mercado as rookies and Wildcat alums on the Pride roster. Christner, who may well be a dark horse candidate for the Rookie of the Year award in the Pride outfield.
Only Akron, Texas, and the Scrap Yard Dawgs made selections in the final round. Here's who they chose:
21. Akron - Nicole Schroeder, Arkansas
22. Texas - Lindsey Cargill, Baylor
23. Akron - Maddy Grimm, Kent State
24. Akron - Alexis Silkwood, Mississippi State
25. Scrap Yard - MJ Knighten, Nebraska
26. Scrap Yard - Morgan Zerkle, Marshall
Schroeder's hot start to the year and consistency since earned her a nod on draft night - the youngest of the quartet of Schroeder sisters will head to Akron. Cargill is the third Baylor Bear to be drafted since 2015; the previous two, Kaitlyn Thumann (2015) and Heather Stearns (2016) never suited up in the league. Will Cargill be an exception to that rule? Grimm was Joey Arrietta's annual low-risk, high-reward selection from the nearby region and gives the Racers GM a stellar potential future starter on the left side of the infield. Silkwood has been a big part of the success this season in Starkville and earned a nod on draft night for her efforts. Knighten, a 2016 all-American, and Zerkle, a Team USA player, rounded out the draft and will head to Houston.
Five of the seven USA-affiliated eligible players were selected, leaving UCLA's Delaney Spaulding and Auburn's Kasey Cooper as the lone standouts in that category.
The SEC and PAC-12 tied atop the conference breakdown, with seven players selected from each conference. The Big Ten had five draftees, while the ACC saw two. The Big 12, Big West, Ohio Valley, Mid-American, and Conference USA all saw a single player selected from their leagues.
Eight pitchers were selected during the course of the draft; each of the first two players selected came from the circle, while the latest selection of a pitcher was Akron's choice of Alexis Silkwood at #24 overall.
Just two catchers were selected, in Jaquish and Miller, though it serves as an interesting footnote that neither are exclusively behind the plate throughout the course of the season. Jaquish can also play the infield corners well, while Miller can rotate to a score of different positions away from the backstop.
Haley Chambers-Book of SIU-Edwardsville was the first player from the Ohio Valley Conference to be drafted by the NPF since Beth Boden of Tennessee Tech in 2008. If she plays, Chambers-Book will be the fifth OVC alum to play in the NPF.
The Arizona Wildcats were by far the most represented team in the draft, garnering four selections just from their roster. Florida State, LSU, and Michigan were the only other programs to have more than one player drafted.
Akron - B+
Chicago - A-
Scrap Yard - C-
Texas - B
USSSA - A
Team That Best Filled Their Needs: Bandits
Best Sleeper Pick: Kelly Christner, Pride
Biggest Steal: Morgan Zerkle, Dawgs
Biggest Surprise: Haley Chambers-Book, Charge
Player Drafted Way Too High: Jessica Burroughs, Pride
Player Drafted Way Too Low: Nikki Udria, Dawgs
Best Player(s) Not Drafted: Delaney Spaulding, UCLA; Kasey Cooper, Auburn; Kelsee Selman, Baylor; Nickie Blue, South Carolina
For the first time, the draft was broadcast via "NPFTV", the league's online broadcasting platform. With no television deal - in whole or part - in place for the 2017 season, any games that are seen will have to be done so via this avenue.
The broadcast started about ninety seconds late, but the stream kicked off approximately five minutes prior to the scheduled 7:00 (CT) start. Several voices could be heard over the live mic, some particularly distinctly. Production notes and commands could also be heard.
Veteran broadcast team Eric Collins, a longtime play-by-play man for softball and other sports, and Barbara Jordan served as the commentators for the event. Jordan always has a statistic at the ready, and this night was no exception. With the exception of a couple of sidebar comments by Collins that seemed poorly thought-out or ill-timed, both did well at steering the direction of the broadcast and providing some biographical information on each player selected.
Biographical graphics were available on the drafted players, but the broadcast was fairly simplistic otherwise. The "draft room", which contained executives from each teams and several player representatives, was always in full view behind the broadcast team. Kempf went to a stand-alone microphone in the middle of this room to announce each selection.
The band performing during the evening sounded quite good at times - including an impressive rendition of Maren Morris' My Church at one point - but also provided a distraction at times. The music stopped very briefly, if at all, through the hour-and-a-half long broadcast, including while Kempf was making the announcement of draftees. Often, when the commissioner would pause for effect before naming the drafted player, instead of suspense-drawing silence, the band could still be clearly heard.