The resurgence of Texas baseball in 2014 really began in last June's MLB draft. Texas lost its best reliever and best pitching prospect, but Texas gained way more than it lost in 2013.
It's telling that Friday night's win over Houston was led by seniors Mark Payton and Nathan Thornhill, but of whom were drafted much later than they had expected when they were juniors. Both turned down pro ball, both had a huge impact on the 2014 Super Regional, and both improved their draft position considerably. Texas also saw every recruit other than Trey Ball come to Austin after the 2013 draft, meaning Tres Barrera, Kacy Clemens, Zane Gurwitz and Morgan Cooper were all on campus to play Houston rather than playing professional ball.
All told, the successful 2013 draft went 10/29 (.345) with three runs, four RBI and a home run while pitching 7.1 IP with only a pair of runs given up against Houston. Much as the failures of 2012 and 2013 were born in the failures of the 2011 and 2012 MLB drafts, the success of 2014 is a direct result of what happened in June 2013.
Enter the 2014 MLB draft. Four Texas pitchers and one Texas position player were drafted while two position players and one pitcher from the recruiting class were drafted. Where those players were drafted, however, will tell the tale of the 2015 season. Let's review:
John Curtiss - 6th round to the Minnesota Twins. Considering Curtiss' injury history and the fact that he graduated I bet this June will be the last time we see the right hander in burnt orange. It's a real shame that we only got to see Curtiss for two seasons, but he has earned his chance at pro ball and we wish him well. If negotiations don't work out, however, we'd happily take John back. It's worth noting that of the first eight rounds of 2013 there were 256 picks and 245 (95.7%) of the players signed. In round 9 there were 30 picks and only 15 (50%) signed, so the odds of a player going pro go down dramatically as the money dwindles.
Mark Payton - 7th round to the New York Yankees. Payton came back to school and improved his draft stock pretty dramatically. Payton probably won't play center field as a pro but he could stick as a utility man given his advanced bat and athleticism. One of the most entertaining Texas baseball players goes from the Yankees of college baseball to the Yankees of professional baseball.
Dillon Peters - 10th round to the Florida Marlins. Peters went to a relatively cheap team (the Marlins) but one with a large overall pool to sign players. The Marlins will have to pay Tyler Kolek, but Peters loses all of his leverage by not signing this season. The slot signing bonus for where Peters is drafted is $141,800. The Marlins claimed Peters will need Tommy John surgery, so he'll probably sign at or below the assigned slot value and rehab as a pro. It's the smart move and a sad end to what could've been an epic Texas career.
Nathan Thornhill - 13th round to the Philadelphia Phillies. Thornhill also dramatically improved his draft stock by coming back to school for a senior season. The senior finally got run support in the Sunday role this season and ended the year as Texas' most reliable pitcher over his junior and senior seasons. Thornhill and Payton rode the roller coaster from CWS as freshmen to no postseasons twice in a row to back to Omaha. Congrats to them both.
Lukas Schiraldi - 15th round to the Seattle Mariners. Though the odds of anybody drafted after the 10th round signing are dramatically lower, I think Schiraldi probably signs. Schiraldi clearly has excellent stuff but his command isn't there yet. If a pro team can fix his mechanics then Schiraldi may be a quick ascension to the majors as his stuff is really first rate. If Schiraldi comes back he'll lose all of the leverage in negotiations and will return to a deep but inexperienced Texas pitching roster. Going pro is more of a sure thing, but maybe Lukas returns to perfect his game.
Parker French - 19th round to the Detroit Tigers. French isn't particularly big, he's a right hander, and his stuff isn't crazily good. French is a bulldog on the mound though and he has been uber productive each of his three seasons at Texas. Hopefully his late draft position will give him a fourth season in Austin. French loses leverage by coming back but as a 19th rounder he doesn't really have much to begin with. If he takes Thornhill's example and comes back then Texas won't have to start from scratch next season.
Michael Cantu, Tyler Schimpf, Travis Jones - 30th, 31st and 39th rounds respectively. Three recruits were drafted well after they should've been if only talent were taken into consideration. Their being drafted after the 30th round highlights their commitment to the university. Cantu, a catcher, has a huge bat and could DH right away. My understanding is that his defense isn't as advanced as his bat so we may see Cantu move to 1B if he can play there or if the coaches move Clemens to pitcher. Schimpf and the undrafted Parker Joe Robinson could challenge for the midweek starter role to start the season. Jones, an infielder, has a good bat and prototypical size for an Augie outfielder.
Whether it's the Tommy Nicholson effect of just good luck, Texas will return almost all of a lineup that hit the Big 12's third most home runs in conference play. Sure it'll have to replace the top two hitters by batting average in Payton and Madison Carter, but there's no reason not to believe the roster won't improve again as it did from 2013 to 2014. Brooks Marlow, Collin Shaw and Ben Johnson all improved their game at the plate in the offseason and Barrera and Gurwitz both had solid foundational seasons to build off of. If McGuire and Clemens can put it together offensively then the Horns could be downright dangerous at the plate. Throw in Cantu, Jones and any number of players who are currently off the radar and things begin to look real good. And that's before we consider the effect of the NCAA's new baseballs. The new baseballs will have lowered seams that are supposed to fly 15 feet further, meaning the Disch will play smaller and hopefully become an advantage again.
Texas will have an offensive depth in 2015 that it hasn't had since the new bat standards were adopted. If the pitching staff can get French back or find adequate replacements among the numerous talented arms on the roster then the Horns could be downright filthy in 2015. This is a great conversation to have when trying to dissect a disappointing season, that we get to have it while waiting for Texas to start in the College World Series is just fantastic.
It's way too early, but here's a possible lineup for next year:
C - Tres Barrera
1B - Kacy Clemens/Michael Cantu
2B - Brooks Marlow
SS - CJ Hinojosa
3B - Zane Gurwitz/Andy McGuire/Bret Boswell
LF - Ben Johnson
CF - Collin Shaw
RF - Travis Jones/Zane Gurwitz/Bret Boswell(?)
DH - Cantu/McGuire/Furwitz/Boswell/Jones
SP - Parker French, Morgan Cooper, Chad Hollingsworth
Midweek SP - John Sawyer/Jon Malmin/Blake Goins/Tyler Schimpf/Parker Joe Robinson
Closer - Travis Duke