By Steve Lansdale
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas baseball coach David Pierce earned well-deserved accolades for signing a recruiting class that some ranked as the nation’s best.
Now the wait begins to determine how many of those players ever make it to campus.
It’s a nice problem to have, but when teams recruit elite talent, the school that signs those players is not alone in its pursuit. Other schools will try to get those players to flip their commitments … and professional teams will try to get the best to skip college altogether and go straight to making a living by playing the game at the highest level.
Four Texas signees and one member of the 2020 roster were drafted in the 2020 Major League Baseball Draft, which was held Wednesday and Thursday. The current and possible Longhorns who heard their names called were:
- Infielder Carson Tucker: first round (23rd overall) — Cleveland Indians
- Outfielder Jared Jones: second round (44th overall) — Pittsburgh Pirates
- Pitcher Jared Kelley: second round (47th overall) — Chicago White Sox
- Outfielder Petey Halpin: third round (95th overall) — Cleveland Indians
- Pitcher Bryce Elder: fifth round (156th overall) — Atlanta Braves
The only player who already has suited up for UT was Elder, who was grabbed just before the end of the event that was shortened this year to five rounds and 160 total selections. By getting in to the back end of the draft, Elder kept alive the streak of at least one Longhorn being drafted in every season since the draft began.
Some media outlets predicted Kelley would be the first UT signee to get chosen, but Tucker, whose brother, Cole, plays shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates, was the only one selected in the first round. Jones and Kelley went off the board in the second round, by the Pirates and Chicago White Sox, respectively. In the third round, Cleveland invaded the Longhorns’ recruiting class for the second time when they drafted Halpin.
Now comes the waiting game as players determine whether they want to play in college or jump straight to the professional ranks. Players like Tucker, who are the first players chosen by their respective teams, usually have fairly direct negotiations. Where it can get intriguing is with players who are drafted later than projected.
Consider the cases of Jones and Kelley. Most publications projected as first-round talents, and while falling to the second might have resulted in bruised egos, it gave the players leverage over the Pirates and the White Sox.
Pittsburgh spent its first-round pick on New Mexico State second baseman Nick Gonzalez, while Chicago selected Tennessee left-handed pitcher Garrett Crotchet with the 11th pick. The No. 7 pick carries a projected bonus slot value of $5,432,400 and the second-round pick with which the Pirates snagged Jones carries a value of $1,689,500. The No. 11 pick Chicago spent on Crotchet projects to a bonus slot value of $4,547,500, while the 47th spot in which Kelley was selected carries a bonus slot value of $1,580,200. If the Pirates and White Sox can convince Jones and Crotchet to sign for less than those first-round figures, the leftover money could be used to sign later picks like the Texas signees for more than their projected bonus slot values.
But Jones and Kelley have the bargaining chip of scholarships waiting for them in Austin.
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