Jason Groome might be the top prospect in the Draft class of 2016, but his violation of a New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association rule will make it a bit more difficult for scouts to see the talented left-hander take the mound for a period of time.
Groome, the No. 1 prospect on MLB Pipeline's Top 50 Draft Prospects list, has been ruled ineligible by the NJSIAA for violating its transfer rule. The 17-year-old had spent his junior season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., then transferred back to Barnegat High School in his hometown in New Jersey. Because IMG Academy is a boarding school, the NJSIAA ruled Groome's return home did not constitute a change of address.
The rule states that Groome needed to sit out 30 days or half of the season to become eligible following his return home. As a result, Barnegat had to forfeit victories from Groome's games, and his stats have been erased, including a 19-strikeout no-hitter recorded in his most recent start.
Because Barnegat's season runs from April 5 to May 16 and includes only 18 games, it's possible that Groome will only miss one start. The Bengals have played five games so far and are scheduled for four more within the next week. Groome was slated to start on Saturday against Red Bank Catholic.
"The association's rules clearly state that a student-athlete transferring from one secondary school to another must provide evidence of a bona fide change of residence as defined by NJSIAA rules," NJSIAA spokesman Michael Cherenson said in a statement released to New Jersey Advance Media. "Otherwise, that student will be deemed ineligible to participate in interscholastic athletic competition for 30 calendar days or half of the maximum number of games allowed in that sport by NJSIAA rules. Further, if it is determined that an ineligible player participated in regular-season games, those games must be forfeited. Neither ruling is open to appeal."
The possibility that this could amount to just one missed start for Groome could be a relief for teams picking at or near the top of the first round of the 2016 Draft.
"A young pitcher, that's a very high risk," one scouting director said. "At his opening game, it was 35 degrees, it was windy, there were 150 scouts there. Coming in, he'd done everything he could to impress people at the very top of the Draft. It was working out well. He was pitching on Mondays and Saturdays. The scouting directors at the top will want see a guy like that three or four times."
If Groome can indeed return after missing just one start, that would allow teams at the top -- the Phillies, Reds and Braves hold the top three picks -- to evaluate Groome in game action to get more comfortable with perhaps taking the lefty with premium stuff. Otherwise, they would have to rely on bullpen sessions and Groome's fine work on the summer showcase circuit in 2015.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.