Hopes have been very high the last few years that Texas would catch a few breaks in the MLB draft only to have those hopes slowly demolished over the ensuing months. It would be an understatement, therefore, to call the 2013 MLB draft the best offseason news for Texas baseball since Taylor Jungmann departed the 40 Acres.
Corey Knebel and Trey Ball went early and both were pretty much locks to go pro from the beginning. The way the MLB draft is set up these days means teams are less reluctant to take players they won't sign (you can read about the rules and slot values here), but suffice it to say that teams pick players in the top ten rounds because they think they'll sign. A year ago 89% of players taken in the first ten rounds had signed by early July.
So avoiding players getting drafted in the top ten rounds is critical.
As we noted earlier, the Horns appear to have swung for the fences a year ago. Whereas Texas has struck out on home run swings each of the last few years, Texas appears to have hit a solid double in the 2013 draft judging by the top ten rounds.
It's a huge breath of fresh air for a baseball program desperate for good news.
The Horns have quite clearly failed to develop players who don't arrive on campus with strong offensive skills over the years though players who come on campus already knowing how to hit have done well enough. Conversely the Texas pitching staff has been able to consistently develop a deep pitching staff which ranked #7 in the country in ERA. Texas doesn't need a dominant offense to win lots of baseball games, just a competent one capable of catching fire at the right times.
What Texas needed in the 2013 MLB draft is to bring talented hitters to campus and possibly return one or two of the proven juniors eligible to go pro. Through ten rounds that's exactly what the Horns got.
- Mark Payton, Erich Weiss and Nathan Thornhill avoided being drafted through ten rounds and there's no reason to believe they won't all return for a senior season to improve their draft stock. Of course something behind the scenes could cause any or all three to leave, but having talented seniors playing for big league contracts as motivation could be a huge boost in 2014.
- The prize of the recruiting class (after Ball) was Virginia SS Andy McGuire who told teams before the draft he planned to honor his commitment to Texas. Of course that didn't stop the Pirates from throwing $5 million at Josh Bell, but McGuire's stock fell without the chance of that happening. McGuire arriving on campus gives the Horns much added flexibility in the infield which struggled mightily in 2013.
- Infielder Bret Boswell brings a similar strong offensive background and wasn't drafted in the top ten rounds.
- Tres Barrera needs to learn how to catch or play third base but he can surely hit. Barrera hit .556 with six homers in his senior year and was expected to go relatively early in the draft. The commitment to Texas clearly scared teams away and getting him on the Texas campus would be a nice coup.
- Lukas Schirald, Blake Goins and Kacy Clemens (who can also play first base) could also contribute to one of the country's top pitching staffs which is only losing Knebel.
If these players pan out and Tommy Nicholson can work some of the same magic he worked at Sacramento State then things could be looking up for Texas baseball. Though after a 27-24 season and two straight years outside of the postseason there's not really much further down to go.
Either way, things are setting up for improvement in 2014, and a failure to get much better will be an indictment of Augie and the coaching staff.