Top college baseball coaches from around the country have been deemed certain to be Augie Garrido’s replacement, only for them to be thrown millions of dollars to not come to Austin. Texas Longhorns baseball will face a similar problem with both its current and potential players -- in this weekend’s MLB Draft, eight Longhorns or future Longhorns were selected.
Unlike other sports, these players do not have to go to the pros. However, many seem out the door already, like star junior Tres Barrera, while others’ draft position may leave them on the fence (such as signee Conner Capel). Here is a quick recap of the Longhorns in the draft, what their draft status means for the team, and some speculation as to whether or not they will go pro:
Kyle Muller, 44th pick to Atlanta Braves
Chances he’ll go pro: 90%
We have given Kyle Muller extensive coverage here at Burnt Orange Nation. The Jesuit Dallas senior had a complete game shutout less than 24 hours after being drafted. His team went on to win the state championship on Sunday, which Muller had frequently stated was a main goal for him. The left-handed pitcher is built like Rob Gronkowski and throws in the mid-90s. He’s also hit 15 home runs in 166 plate appearances, and batted .398 on the year. At Texas, he could feasibly be a weekend pitching starter and an important asset on offense as well.
Coming off of winning the Gatorade National Player of the Year award, Muller had the momentum to make many scouts think he’d be a first-round talent. Though obviously excited to be drafted, he expressed some disappointment in not being a first rounder and he did not end up with his hometown team, the Texas Rangers. The Rangers had the 30th pick, but passed on Muller for another high school lefty, Cole Ragans.
However, the Atlanta Braves may have a big contract in the works for Muller. How? The MLB draft isn’t always about taking the best player available, but about handling your pool money. Braves SB Nation blog Talking Chop explains:
Ian Anderson was ranked 12th overall by Baseball America. Since he didn't necessarily project as a top-10 guy, the Braves can sign him for somewhere around $3 million below the recommended amount of $6.5 million. That frees up money to spend big on Wentz, the 40th overall pick, and Muller, taken four picks later.
Muller’s heart may want to go to Texas, but he should wind up in Atlanta for the right deal. The second-round pick could easily make first-round money.
Mason Thompson, 85th pick to San Diego Padres
Chances he’ll go pro: 100%
The Round Rock right-handed pitcher and Rawlings-Perfect Game 2nd team All-American is about as local as they come, but Thompson will still likely never make it on campus. Thompson was ranked as the 105th prospect in the draft by Baseball America, but went 20 positions better to the San Diego Padres in the third round. Thompson said the opportunity was a "dream come true."
The 6'7 pitcher throws up to 94 mph and is more highly touted coming out of high school than perhaps any other arm on the current Texas roster. However, he would not be guaranteed to be a weekend starter immediately in college, which might be a reason to forego attending Texas.
Thompson is also probably inclined to go pro because he is seen as a risk. His longevity as a pitcher is somewhat uncertain because Thompson had to undergo Tommy John surgery in March of 2015, and pitched only one inning in his senior season. Had he been healthy, he could’ve easily been a first round pick. Essentially, the Padres may have gotten a steal, but Thompson too must feel fortunate to have been taken 85th.
As the San Diego Tribune reported, the Padres have the third largest bonus pool to give to draftees for the first ten rounds. Playing in burnt orange is an honor, but it really can’t compete with that, Thompson is expected to sign the contract the Padres put in front of him in the next few days.
Conner Capel, 152nd pick to Cleveland Indians
Chances he’ll go pro: 55%
Center fielder Conner Capel was the highest draft pick in Seven Lakes history out of high school when the Indians snagged him in the fifth round. Though monumental, it was about exactly where Capel was expected to be.
Capel is already 19 years old as a senior in high school. If he went to Texas, he would be eligible for the draft after his sophomore year (you can enter the draft at 21). Capel hit .456 this year, and has great speed, stealing 23 bases. He’s best friends with Kody Clemens, which sounds like a side note, but could be a factor -- if only a small one -- in his decision.
This year, Texas’ outfield performed well at the plate, but was a weak spot at times defensively. There’s a lot of talent that can play outfield on the Texas roster, but there will be opportunities for Capel to get early playing time. Center fielder Zane Gurwitz and left fielder Travis Jones are comfortable in the infield, freeing up room for Capel if he wants to play college ball.
Tres Barrera, 184th pick to Washington Nationals
Chances he’ll go pro: 95%
Tres Barrera has been one of Texas’ leaders the past couple of years, so it made sense that he was the first current player taken off the board. The junior catcher has not directly stated he’s leaving Texas, but Barrera’s tone on social media seems to be that of a player ready to begin his pro career.
Tres Barrera on being drafted by the Nationals. pic.twitter.com/dJvk99vHS5— Travis Recek -TWCN (@TravisRecek) June 10, 2016
Like many players, Barrera had a close relationship with Augie Garrido, and Garrido's reassignment may make the decision easier for Tres. He also isn't improving at a rate that suggests he will help his draft stock by staying for his senior season. In 2016, Barrera's batting average went from .288 to .299, but he had three less home runs and saw his on base percentage dip from .395 to .379.
The Longhorns will still be in good hands at catcher if Barrera does indeed depart. Sophomore catcher Michael Cantu had a rough season at the plate with a .214 average,, but is phenomenal defensively and had seven hits in his final 16 at bats of the year.
Ty Culbreth, 230th pick to Washington Nationals
Chances he'll go pro: 100%
It's easy to root for seniors on draft day because you can celebrate when they get picked without simultaneously hoping they stay at Texas. And it's easy to be happy for Ty Culbreth. At this time last year, nobody would've imagined that Culbreth would hear his name called as early as the eighth round, as he went from rarely starting to being Texas' anchor on the mound this year.
The All-Big 12 second team member leaves big shoes to fill next year. If Kyle Muller or Mason Thompson go pro, look for Connor Mayes to take Culbreth's spot in the weekend rotation.
Blair Henley, 668th pick to the New York Yankees
Chances he'll go pro: 10%
This right-handed pitcher from Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth had three consecutive no hitters his senior season, but still fell to the 28th round despite being ranked as the 392nd prospect in the draft by Baseball America. Henley is described by MLB.com as well polished, and should make an immediate impact his freshman should he attend college.
Henley could have a role similar to Nolan Kingham's this year -- a steady young reliever with a solid curveball. He will be eligible again for the pros as a sophomore, which would give him a good window to develop his draft status in college before then.
Morgan Cooper, 1024th pick to the Nationals
Chances he'll go pro: 5%
Morgan Cooper has had quite the comeback story -- after missing the entire 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery, Cooper became a weekend starter for the Longhorns in 2016. The right-handed pitcher had a 4.03 ERA and fanned 70 batters in 67 innings.
Cooper could definitely improve his draft stock if he came back for his senior year. He occasionally had trouble finishing off batters that he had behind in the count, and Texas' lack of offensive production certainly didn't help his cause (Cooper went 3-5 on the year). The only reason he would sign his contract now would be if he knew signees Muller and Thompson were coming to Texas and that his starting spot could be in jeopardy. This is highly unlikely. Expect Cooper to come back strong in 2017, foregoing playing with his Texas teammate, Tres Barrera, in the Nationals' farm system.
Bret Boswell, 1215th pick to the Pirates
Chances he'll go pro: 1%
Boswell may have been the second to last pick of the draft, but the sophomore should feel proud that his late -eason turnaround helped him get off the draft board at all. After a promising freshman year, Boswell's production dipped in his second season and he lost his job as starting shortstop in favor of freshman Joe Baker. However, Boswell found playing time in the Big 12 Tournament after Baker was benched for two errors in an inning. Bret took the opportunity and ran with it, hitting an incredible 9 for 15 in the tourney.
Boswell is my candidate for next year's breakout player on the Texas roster. I don't think there's any way he goes pro now, as he could be drafted thirty rounds higher next year if he plays to his potential.
It's also important to note some guys who didn't hear their names called. I was surprised that neither Kacy Clemens nor Zane Gurwitz were drafted. Last year, the Astros drafted Kacy's brother, Kody Clemens in the 35th round. I was anticipating something similar for Kacy this year. Kacy made unbelievable strides hitting after switching to prescription glasses at the plate, and lead the team with a .303 batting average. Clemens could be one of Texas' most reliable hitters next year.
Zane Gurwitz doesn't jump off the page as a raw talent, but he's just the kind of player that winning teams have. Gurwitz was my personal choice for team MVP this year due to his consistency on an inconsistent team. Gurwitz only had one error on the year, ending the season with a .994 fielding percentage, and also had a team high 63 hits.
Unfortunately, senior Travis Duke was also not drafted. After having a .029 ERA as a sophomore in 30.2 innings, Duke fell to a 3.86 ERA in 23.1 innings pitched in his final season. Best of luck to the closer who had 116 appearances for Texas, the second most in Longhorn history.
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Texas is surely going to lose a depressing amount of talent from the draft, but the new coach should inherent a roster more talented than last year's roster. That said, Texas would be thankful to get just two of its five pitchers drafted back on campus. If they can do that, they should have a solid bullpen next year. On the offensive side, Tres Barrera is likely gone, but landing Conner Capel would regain some of the lost power in the batting order. Once the contracts are sorted out, I'll post a way-too-early idea of what the starting lineup may be next year, but at the moment it's all too blurry.
For now, it's time for Longhorn fans to accept that next season's outlook is more uncertain than perhaps ever before. The favorite to be the next head coach is changing every day, and Texas could or could not be losing its best players and best prospects. Texas baseball may have tradition on its side, but the future is far from known.