Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Rooker Expected to Return, after Late Blow to 2017 Lineup and Roster

Mississippi State was within minutes of celebrating a reasonably-modest damage draft season. Then Jack Kruger threw a late breaking curve.

The junior catcher surprised everyone just before the July 15 deadline by signing a contract with Los Angeles’ Angels. A 20th-round draft of the club, Kruger was expected to return for his senior season at Mississippi State.

Even though Kruger was not playing summer ball after finishing what was now his only varsity season at State, it was assumed the was resting up for the senior year. Kruger missed a good part of the early ’16 season with injury.

His signing means 10 of the program-record 11 Diamond Dogs drafted in 2016 have signed professional contracts. The lone exception is OF/DH Brent Rooker, a 38th-round pick of Minnesota. Rooker is playing summer baseball at Brewster in the Cape Cod League, and a week ago put on a show in Omaha at the Home Run Derby where he was one of four semifinalists.

The other nine drafted underclassmen who have signed well ahead of today’s deadline are: RHP Dakota Hudson – 1st-#34, St. Louis; RHP Reid Humphreys – 7th-#200, Colorado; LHP Daniel Brown – 7th-#201, Milwaukee; OF Jacob Robson – 8th-#235, Detroit; RHP Zac Houston – 11th-#325, Detroit; 1B Nathaniel Lowe – 13th-#390, Tampa Bay; C Gavin Collins – 13th-#392, Cleveland; LHP Vance Tatum – 18th-#553, Kansas City; RHP Austin Sexton – 18th-#556, St. Louis.

One undrafted Dog did sign a free agent deal. RHP Paul Young passed on a senior season to take an offer from Kansas City in early July. He had been playing summer ball in Cape Cod. Young was at State three seasons, redshirting in 2014 after arm surgery coming out of junior college. He had been drafted in the 21st round by Cleveland before the surgery was required.

Though officially healthy, his two seasons resulted in limited appearances with no assurance the senior season would increase his role as many younger arms on the roster develop.

As of the 4:00ct deadline there was no word about two drafted and so-far unsigned 2017 newcomers. RHP Graham Ashcraft was considered signable enough by Los Angeles’ Dodgers to use a 12th-round selection. But he will apparently instead be coming to college for at least a few seasons now.

3B/C Dustin Skelton was taken in the 36th round by Toronto, but will also it appears be wearing a Diamond Dog uniform.

The signee class did not go unscathed, but neither was State or college baseball surprised that LHP Walker Robbins signed after 5th-round selection by St. Louis. Nor was the signing of RHP Colin Holderman (9th round, Mets) a surprise as Mississippi State had taken a flyer on the former Illinois pitcher who spent last year in junior college ball.

So with Kruger’s signing the net-result for this year’s draft is not quite as positive as hoped. Fortunately, all positions losing players have either tested backups or talent waiting in the wings. While Kruger was getting healthy, 2016 true freshman Elih Marrero showed he could handle the mitt and staff. There was even concern that had Kruger returned, the younger catcher might not want to split time in 2017.

Rooker’s apparent return (Minnesota has said nothing about late signees) does leave the makings of an all-veteran outfield centered literally around all-American Jake Mangum with old hand Cody Brown. Of course a couple of newcomers are expected to push for at least one outfield job during fall and preseason.

On the infield both starting corner-men have to be replaced. This was planned for. Cole Gordon has been groomed for a couple of seasons to step in at first base; and Gavin Collins’ third base job offers several options. One easy call would be a healthy Luke Alexander taking that corner so SS Ryan Gridley can stay put and a healthy Hunter Stovall at second base. Stovall is also a reserve catcher so depth behind the dish is not likely to be a concern, even before slotting in all of Coach John Cohen’s recruiting class.

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