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Texas baseball roster landscape takes major hit in the MLB draft

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The Longhorns have 11 active players drafted, tied for the most of any college team. Four signees were also picked.

David Pierce
Texas Sports

The MLB Draft is such a double-edged sword for college baseball teams. On one hand, you’re happy that drafted players can continue chasing their dreams, and their professional success is good for recruiting.

On the other hand, your team can get absolutely scavenged by MLB organizations.

And that’s exactly what happened to Texas over the last three days.

The Longhorns had 11 current players picked, which is tied with Michigan for the most of any team in the country. Texas also had two high school commits get drafted in the early second round. Additionally, two JUCO signees were drafted, with early indication that they will sign pro contracts.

That’s right, even the JUCO guys, who are supposed to be the gritty, far from flashy glue of the team, got scooped up by MLB teams.

Here’s a look at the Texas players and signees who were selected in the 2017 draft.

Tristen Lutz, OF — 2017 Signee — 34th pick to Milwaukee Brewers

Likelihood of going pro: 90%

Lutz reminds me of last year’s Gatorade Player of the Year, Kyle Muller, who was committed to Texas. Muller’s dream was to play for the Longhorns, but after being selected 44th by the Atlanta Braves, he decided to sign a pro contract instead.

Lutz shares in that dream to come to the 40 Acres, but his immense talent will make it difficult for him to do so. The Arlington Martin prospect has significant pop to his bat, and would step into a starting role immediately for the ‘Horns.

Though he was passed up with the 26th and 29th picked by his childhood favorite team in the Rangers, he still landed about where he was projected with the 34th pick. The fact that the Brewers used a top 40 pick on Lutz means that Milwaukee must’ve felt very confident that he would sign a pro contract.

And yet, there are still small signs on social media that Lutz isn’t completely sold on making the jump to the MLB. His Twitter profile still says “UT ‘21” and he hasn’t even sent out a Tweet acknowledging his draft selection, despite still being active on the site.

Before the draft, an article titled “College or pros? Texan Lutz to face decision” on MLB.com stated “for Lutz to spurn his dream school, it'd have to be the perfect situation for him to go pro.”

Is Milwaukee the perfect situation for Lutz? Pretty close, as the 18-year old would likely be pulling in a signing bonus in the seven figures. But I don’t think his departure for the pros is as much of a sure thing as one would assume.

Landon Leach, RHP — 2017 Signee — 37th pick to the Twins

Likelihood of going pro: 100%

Canada’s No. 1 high school talent was rated as the 80th overall MLB prospect heading into the draft, but he was taken with the 37th pick. The Twins clearly loved Leach’s fastball in the mid 90s, and felt confident they could sway him from the ‘Horns.

Leach could’ve been a weekend starter as a freshman at Texas, but one of David Pierce’s first commits will instead be playing ball in the pros.

Morgan Cooper, RHP — Rs. Jr. — 62nd pick to the Dodgers

Likelihood of going pro: 100%

Though Cooper still had one more year of eligibility at Texas, he was always a given to head to the draft after the 2017 season. He was even included in the senior day ceremony. After a dominant season, now was the perfect time for Coop to go pro.

The redshirt junior could’ve been a late first round or early second round pick, but his health concerns could’ve held him back — after all, he did go through Tommy John surgery at Texas. Still, the Dodgers are a great fit for Cooper, and he should be able to stay close to home as their farm clubs are in Tulsa (AA) and Oklahoma City (AAA).

Nick Kennedy, LHP — So. — 146th pick to the Rockies

Likelihood of going pro: 60%

Kennedy is the guy who will really make Texas fans sweat. The lefty was used primarily as a mid-week starter and weekend reliever, but flashed serious potential in becoming one of college baseball’s most improved players of the year. Though he still has a ways to go before he’s a dominant weekend starter, Kennedy would round out the weekend rotation very well.

Despite being the 276th ranked prospect in the draft by Baseball America, Kennedy was taken 146th by the Rockies.

Kennedy would make a projected signing bonus of $343,100 with Colorado. It’s a gamble to come back to school, but a solid junior season could heavily improve Kennedy’s draft stock for 2018.

Kennedy will probably sign to the pros, but he seems like the most likely of the early draft choices to come back for another season.

Kyle Johnston, RHP — Jr. — 193rd pick to the Nationals

Likelihood of going pro: 95%

The hard throwing righty was dominant as a starter when he got into a groove, but consistently struggled with his command during his time on the 40 Acres. He led the team with 39 walks, and didn’t show as much progress as Pierce would’ve liked from 2016 to 2017.

Make no mistake about it — Johnston would be a vital piece to the 2018 if he chose to stick around for his senior season. He has an overwhelming amount of talent and had many great outings where he locked in, such as in his final game against Long Beach State.

However, Johnston will not return to the ‘Horns. If he had slipped any later in the draft, there would be a chance he would return. However, with leverage as a junior and a trajectory that shows his potential may not be as untapped as Kennedy’s, Johnston will almost certainly sign to the Nats.

Brett Boswell, 2B — Rs. Jr. — 236th pick to the Rockies

Likelihood of going pro: 100%

Like Cooper, Boswell is a redshirt junior who considered himself more as a senior. Boswell was up and down in his career at Texas, but when he was up, he was really up. Most memorably, Boswell went on a 10-17 tear to the end the 2016 season, and hit an opposite field homer against seemingly unhittable Long Beach State in the 2017 NCAA tournament.

A guy accurately described as “toolsy,” Boswell was another Longhorn taken earlier than expected in the draft. He will likely sign to the pros, but Texas’ middle infield will still be in good shape in 2018. Look for Kody Clemens, Joe Baker, or JUCO commit Masen Hibbeler to slide into Boswell’s spot at second base.

Tyler Schimpf — Rs. So. — 396th pick to the Giants

Likelihood of going pro: 95%

Schimpf is perhaps the most fascinating Longhorn selection of the 2017 draft, because the redshirt sophomore only threw 17.1 innings for Texas this season. With an athletic frame, fastball that touches 96 miles per hour, and perhaps a willingness to sign, Schimpf may have been a good candidate to be picked.

Schimpf is from Sacramento, so he will be close to home in the Giants’ organization. He would’ve been in line to be a key reliever for Texas next season, but he will instead likely sign a pro contract.

Patrick Mathis, OF — Jr. — 661st pick to the Astros

Likelihood of going pro: 75%

Mathis is known for having the most power and the flashiest glove on the team. The junior has made several SportsCenter Top 10 plays in the outfield for the ‘Horns, but he may not add any more to his college highlight reel.

Mathis was drafted fairly late in the draft, but having leverage as a junior may be enough to convince him to forego his senior season. It would be a bit of a head scratching decision, as Mathis could easily improve upon his injury plagued junior year. However, early word on the outfielder is that he will likely pen a professional contract.

Expect the outfield to consist of Travis Jones, Austin Todd, and Kamron Fields is Mathis does in fact leave Austin.

Donny Diaz, RHP — JUCO commit — 701st to the Red Sox

Likelihood of going pro: 40%

Diaz would complement Chase Shugart and Beau Ridgeway as a late inning closer for Texas next season. He allows walks more than Pierce would like, but he also throws serious heat. He honed a 2.08 ERA in 30.1 innings at San Jacinto-North in 2017.

After being drafted in the 23rd round, Diaz could chase a pro contract, but it seems more likely that he would rather improve his draft stock at Texas for a year.

Connor Mayes, RHP — Junior — 720th to the Royals

Likelihood of going pro: 80%

If Connor Mayes’ Texas career is over, Longhorn fans will be left asking themselves, “Really? That’s it?” After a phenomenal freshman season, Mayes was dubbed as being one of Texas’ next great pitchers. However, he had a mediocre sophomore season, and ended up being used only scarcely in the latter half of his junior year.

Were expectations too high for Mayes after his freshman year? Or would he have consistently hit his stride eventually?

Mayes never had that break out year at Texas, and early rumors are that he will sign to the Royals. He would’ve likely been primed for a bigger role in 2018, but Mayes’ story in college seems to be heading towards what could’ve been, rather than senior season redemption.

Blake Pflughaupt, LHP — JUCO — 799th to the Rays

Likelihood of going pro: 60%

Pflughaupt would easily win the title of “coolest name on the team” for Texas next season, but he may save Austin reporters the hassle of having to learn to spell his name. The JUCO product has surprisingly been rumored to be leaning towards signing with Tampa Bay.

Pflughaupt would serve as Texas’ most used lefty if Kennedy goes pro, and could even be in line for a weekend starting role. Pierce almost certainly did not anticipate him being a draft risk, but that could be the case. Expect Texas to recruit another lefty pitcher for this recruiting class if Pflughaupt does go pro.

Travis Jones, OF — Junior — 870th to the Royals

Likelihood of going pro: 15%

A top 500 talent, Jones went later than projected in the draft. All signs point to him returning to the ‘Horns and being a leader on the 2018 team. You never know, but Jones seems like the most sure thing to return out of all the draftees.

* * *

After that heavy dose of bad news, here’s a little good news: Kamron Fields, Masen Hibbeler, and Beau Ridgeway will all make it campus. Fields is a power-hitting outfielder who could’ve been drafted in the top five rounds if he intended to go pro, Hibbeler led Odessa Ranch junior college with a .493 batting average and smashed 10 homers, and Beau Ridgeway will continue to be Texas’ sturdy stopper on the mound as a junior.

Still, expect Texas to add to its 2017 class if a majority of Texas draftees sign to the pros. I would expect Pierce to add a few pitchers, as well as maybe an outfielder to give the team more depth heading into next season.

And Longhorn fans, don’t take it personally if Texas players do sign. It has nothing to do with how much the players want to play under David Pierce, or with program. Texas simply had a very high number of draft eligible players, and many of whom have intriguing talent.

Yes, Texas got wrecked by the MLB draft, but there’s reason to be optimistic for the future. The Longhorns still have a great young core, solid JUCO commits, and top notch recruiting classes for 2018 and 2019.

I’ll have a preview of Texas’ roster next season after the draft murkiness clears up. Hook ‘Em!