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Friday, June 09, 2006

Dodging the Major League Baseball Draft bullet...

College baseball coaches must look forward to the Major League Baseball draft like a visit from their nagging and annoying mother-in-law. I suspect that when the draft begins and they sit down in front their television, they have a case of Johnnie Walker Black nearby to dull the pain of having the stars of their roster and the jewels of their recruiting class stolen from them by pirates from the professional ranks. It’s not enough that they are mocked for coaching in an environment that rings with the “ping” of aluminum bats every spring, but they must deal with the frustration and unpredictability of having their personnel raided every summer.

Annually, the University of Texas is among the best recruiting baseball programs in the country. It should not be unexpected given the wealth of talent in the Texas high school baseball ranks, but of course Longhorn coaches are not the only talent scouts scouring ballparks in towns like Brenham, Falfurrias, New Braunfels, or the Woodlands. Professional scouts watch as much if not more Texas high school baseball games and of course target players without any thought that such players might be likely candidates to play college baseball in Austin.

It should not be underestimated how the combination of Longhorn baseball’s rich tradition and the attractive and free-spirited scenery in Austin can entice a high school recruit to play a few years at Disch-Falk field. However, the thought of earning a six-figure or seven-figure salary at the age of 18 can be overwhelming for anyone even those bearing the last name of Clemens. So, every summer the Longhorn faithful must sit down and watch current and future players be spirited away by unworthy wretches like the Pirates, the Cubs, the Rangers, or the dual evil empires in New York and Boston.

I expected that after having my heart ripped out by the early exit of the Longhorns at the Austin Regional that the draft would kick my convulsing body by ripping apart our roster and stripping our incoming recruiting class. However, when I awoke from my Scotch-induced slumber, I found that the Almighty, while at times intolerably cruel, had decided this draft to pass over Disch-Falk Field as if someone had painted the gates with lamb blood.

So, what is the butcher’s bill for the 2006 Major League Baseball draft? Well, surprisingly the Longhorns might have fared relatively well. With regards to current players, the Longhorns have likely lost Drew Stubbs (1st Round, Cincinnati Reds) and Kyle McCulloch (1st Round, Chicago White Cox), but no one seriously believed that they would be returning this coming year. However, beyond Stubbs and McCulloch, the current roster was left relatively unscathed as it is unlikely that Carson Kainer (14th Round, Cincinnati Reds), Adrian Alaniz (36th Round, St. Louis Cardinals), or Randy Boone (38th Round, Minnesota Twins) will leave the program and join the professional ranks.

Now, with regards to the incoming recruiting class, the Longhorns may again fair relatively or even, dare we say, spectacularly well depending on how a few scenarios play out. It is likely that offensive dynamo Russell Moldenhauer (3rd Round, Los Angeles Angels) will sign and never step foot on the Forty Acres. It gets interesting in that the much-coveted Marcus Lemon (4th Round, Texas Rangers) may possibly not sign with Texas Rangers, as the rumor is that he is demanding no less than $1.5 million. It also has been suggested that since Lemon has excellent academic marks and comes from a relatively well-to-do family, which places a high premium on education that the financial incentive to sign with the Rangers on terms less than he is demanding may not be so strong that it forecloses the possibility that like Jordan Danks he turns down any offer from the Rangers that he views as insufficient.

The Longhorns were also very fortunate that both Nathan Karns (10th Round, Houston Astros) and Jordan Walden (12th Round, Los Angeles Angels) were drafted far later than initial pre-draft suggestions would have had led us to believe. Further, in one pre-draft publication, Carmine Giardina (28th Round, Boston Red Sox) was viewed as the 14th best high school prospect, but was not drafted until the 28th Round. It would appear that the Longhorns may have been exceptionally fortunate with Giardina, but the fact that both Giardina and Brandon Belt (11th Round, Boston Red Sox) were selected by the deep-pocketed monstrosity that is the Boston Red Sox organization adds some element of discomfort given the organization’s prior history of paying late round picks money resembling that reserved for early round picks. We will have to wait and see how the Red Sox and for that matter the Rangers decide how to approach Giardina, Belt, and Lemon before we can light up the fireworks and declare a draft coup.

Longhorn faithful should be excited for the coming year given the fact that the draft did not strip the current roster and may have left one of the nation’s top recruiting classes relatively intact. Furthermore, Collegiate Baseball named four current Longhorn freshmen as Freshmen All-Americans (Jordan Danks, Kyle Russell, Bradley Suttle and Austin Wood). The Longhorns not only had the most for any one school this year, but also recorded the most in one season in Texas baseball history.

Smile Horns, the future looks bright…

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