Draft Days Begin With State Signees In Play

Bulldog baseball has not taken many recruiting gambles against the draft in previous seasons. For 2015 though Mississippi State has staked the program on a signing class studded with professional prospects. This coming week, everyone can judge if State has successfully shot the moon…or been trumped by big-league bucks.

2015’s edition of the annual Major League Baseball draft begins Monday. By Wednesday Coach John Cohen will know how much probable and potential damage has been done to his most aggressive and impressive recruiting class yet at Mississippi State.

“I don’t know anybody who recruits at the highest level who feels confident,” Cohen told media last week. “Because what we’re competing with, are dollars. Dollars can win a battle in a hurry.”

Based on unofficial projections, there are several Diamond Dog signees who could have considerable dollars waved in their directions. Before the Bulldog season ended, seventh-year coach Cohen told media informally that as many as 11 of the 19 players he counts in this class could be drafted.

Of course that comment includes high school and junior college products much more likely to see their names pop up on screens. That’s if they don’t get a phone call from the drafting club first. The action begins at 5:00ct with the first-year player draft, though that day has just the first round, compensation picks, second round and competitive Balance B selections.

Tuesday it starts back up at noon central with rounds 3-through-10, again first-year eligible draftees. And at 11:00am central Wednesday the pace gets frantic, as rounds 11-through-40 are drafted.

Like many other programs, Mississippi State does not publish either a signing class from November or spring; as well as promote the invited walk-ons. All non-varsity players mentioned here are confirmed as Bulldog signees by conversations with site owner Gene Swindoll.

Comparing this unofficial list with some of the respected amateur baseball publications as well as MLB.com’s own elite rankings, at least five would-be Bulldogs could be drafted no later than Tuesday. Going alphabetically:

*RHP Gray Fenter is ranked #135 in Baseball America’s first 500 prospect, and #133 in the weekend’s top-200 published on MLB.com. Perfect Game has him in their top 200 as well with a 10 ranking on the scale of ten for a mid-90s fastball with top clocking of 98. He played in the Rawlings National Showcase, Under Armor All-American game, and was on the 20-man USA 18U national team.

Fenter easily could go in the third and even second round but word is he has told clubs college is his first choice. How highly Fenter’s name comes up will measure just how serious a franchise is about changing his mind with money.

*RHP Parker Ford is ranked the #324 prospect by Baseball America in their pre-draft Top 500. Ford would likely make other and higher rankings save for a minor arm issue (since resolved reportedly) and clear preference for college baseball first.

A better measure of how ambitious State was in this year’s recruiting was signing three prospects that are effectively conceded as pro ball-bound out of high school.

*Catcher Elih Marrero might be the longest ‘reach’ of the lot. A Miami native and a switch-hitting backstop, he is the son of a ten-year Major League veteran to boot. Perfect Game named him a four-time All-American as he came up the prep ranks and also played on the U18 Team USA. Baseball America ranked him 124 in their top-200.

*LHP Jared Padgett is another Floridian and assumed on his way to signing a contract this summer. A tall southpaw with 157 strikeouts in just 76 innings he had a 0.91 ERA this past season. He is ranked #120 nationally by Baseball America and #195 in MLB.com’s top 200. Perfect Game ranks him as a 3rd-to-6th round draft prospect.

*OF Greg Pickett’s rankings vary, such as #203 by Baseball America. A lefthanded hitter with size and power he was a pre-season All-American by both Perfect Game and Louisville Slugger and a Rawlings National Showcase top prospect. Perfect Game gives him a highest rating of 10, too, and has shown him as a potential top-three rounds selection.

*The in-state recruit of most concern obviously is Desoto Central RHP/IF Austin Riley. Another 10-rated and top-200 Perfect Game prospect, his is #106 by MLB.com and #161 by Baseball America. Between his junior and senior seasons Riley hit 20 home runs with 66 RBI, and was 15-5 on the mound. His leaning depends on source but objectively this will be a tough local kid to keep home for college.

A wild card who hasn’t drawn major draft attention but could surprise is first baseman Nate Lowe, a big lefthanded hitter from St. Johns River College in Florida. He is coming off a sophomore season hitting .372 in a tough league with 17 home runs and 53 RBI as Mid-Florida Conference player of the year. He also played for a juco team ranked much of the season in the nation’s top three squads, which had to draw more attention.

Interestingly, a pair of Gatorade Players of the Year from the bordering states to each side who have signed with State are not projected as high enough draft picks to pass up college. LHP Kale Breaux of Sulpher, La., was 9-0 as a senior with a ridiculous ERA of 0.12. In his four varsity seasons he struck out 395 batters and went 29-11. It’s curious how a southpaw with those numbers gets such modest scout attention, though maybe his 6-0, 170 pound size is a factor.

C/MIF Hunter Stovall of Pelham, Ala., is of similar size but had a big high school stick. He hit .441 with ten homers and 56 RBI as a senior, and stole 24 bases to be named Alabama’s top player. All indications are he and Breaux will both be Bulldogs…

…but don’t tell Cohen to relax about them. Or any of the other un-announced signees who could catch the right scout’s eye at the wrong time for MSU. And while dollars are more closely tied to draft round in the modern MLB contract, one never really knows what a young man wants.

“We lost a kid (Dale Burdick) who was a 40th round pick last year,” Cohen said. “We’ve held on to kids who went in the fifth round. Until you’re put in that situation, you really don’t know how you are going to respond. It’s different for every family. We just have to wait and see.”

Up to now this MSU coaching staff has been careful about recruiting players with much better than 40th-round ratings. State has only taken a very few real chances and most of those did indeed turn pro as expected. The closest comparison to this group would be the 2011 class with prospects like Daryl Norris, C.T. Brad Ford, and others. The draft did little damage that year either.

Mississippi State isn’t anticipating much happening with the varsity roster this draft, not surprisingly considering the 2015 results. There are a couple of rising juniors who are turning 21 this year and/or have been in college three years. Perfect Game even has OF Jacob Robson in their top-200 prospects. RHP Austin Sexton’s name is of some interest as he will be 21 in July and had a strong end of season showing.

Cohen said last week he and staff have stayed in “close contact with all our kids” and made many return home visits. “With our process you have to recruit and re-recruit and the re-recruit again. We’ve done that. We feel like we’re in as good of a position as we can possibly be.”

And if Mississippi State avoids too much draft damage the incoming talent should immediately boost the program back to NCAA Tournament status for 2016, given the expected returning personnel. Draft analysts don’t think State will be unscathed but right now the coach is as optimistic about the week as he was aggressive in recruiting this time.

“I think we have a chance to get all of them. Even some of them whose folks are mentioning a late first round or second round, I still think we still have a chance to get every one of them.”

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