Diamond Dog Draftee Update

It's not entirely over. The Diamond Dog draft-watch, that is, since the fall semester is seven weeks away and there is still always the chance a couple of underclassmen or signees could turn pro without warning. But on the whole, the 2006 Mississippi State scholarship roster seems to be reasonably set here at mid-summer. "We survived the draft in really good shape," Coach Ron Polk says, "maybe the best I ever have."

Considering that Polk has skippering college squads since 1972, that is a pretty broad comment. But after talking to the four drafted Diamond Dogs who have not (yet) accepted offers from professional clubs Polk is confident there will be no further losses than the two underclassmen who inked just as expected.

Polk talked last week with Brooks Dunn, a 43rd-round selection of the Chicago White Sox, and reports that the lefthanded reliever/starter plans on returning for his senior season. "Unless something strange happens." The same is true for catcher/third baseman Thomas Berkery, a 46th-round pick by Texas. "He's coming back next week to work at our camp," Polk says. "That means he's not going to get re-evaluated (by scouts) any more. So I feel good about him and Brooks."

The Mississippi State staff can't be quite as certain about another pair of draftees, one a veteran and one a recruit. But that isn't because either outfielder Joseph Hunter (48th round Cleveland) or high school outfielder Andrew Rice (48th round New York Yankees) are actually leaning towards turning pro. It is because both are playing summer ball in situations where scouts can keep track, if they wish.

"There's no guarantee," Polk said. "If a scout happens to see a guy hit ten home runs in a week they might try to sign him. Even non-drafted guys can sign as a free agent, if they're playing summer ball and throw a shutout and somebody says we'd like to offer you some money. That's what almost happened to Bobby Thigpen (in 1984) when he was playing in Alaska."

Hunter is the bigger question mark of the two. The junior hoped to be drafted higher and turn pro this year. He has been on the MSU campus this month finishing the first semester of summer school, and in July will head to Woodstock, Va., to play summer ball in the Valley League. "He's leaving today," Polk said. "They needed a hitter at Woodstock and that's a good league. The Indians can see how he performs there. We'd love to have him back, but he wants to start his career. So we'll see what happens."

Rice was not looking to be drafted, and actually told scouts not to pick him as he plans to play college ball first. "The Yankees took a shot," Polk said. A shot not likely to hit, but then again one never knows how a summer will play out. Prize prep pitching prospect Aaron Weatherford was better-obeyed after telling scouts not to draft him. "He pulled his name out like Ed Easley did the year before." While Polk is pleased to have survived the draft relatively unscathed, so far, this success brings a problem. A money problem, as with several draft-eligible juniors now coming back for senior State seasons the scholarship bank is overdrawn. "Now we've got to fight to get down to 11.7 (total grants)," Polk says, "that's never happened to me before. Most places where that happens they start cutting players, I choose not to do that." Polk also confirmed that outfielder Jon Mungle, sidelined practically all of the 2004 and '05 seasons with a knee injury, is back on a running program and showing no pain or fluid buildup in the joint. So Mungle has made an appeal to have a sixth year of eligibility, though with only two classes left for graduation he also is not 100% committed to coming back to college. "But he deserves the opportunity," Polk says.

Four Diamond Dogs off the 2005 roster have begun their pro careers, two of them underclassmen. Junior outfielder Brad Corley, the second-round pick of Pittsburgh, came to terms last week as expected. He was assigned to Williamsport in the Pirate organization. Corley was the fifth player tabbed in the second round of the June draft and, interestingly, the first Bulldog taken in a second round since 1994.

Righthanded pitcher Jamie Gant, the 29th-round pick by Houston, signed with the Astros and was initially assigned to the New York-Penn League. And a pair of undrafted graduating senior pitchers have inked free-agent deals. Righty Todd Doolittle was signed by the Florida Marlins and is currently in rookie ball, while righty Alan Johnson signed with Colorado and was assigned to Casper, Wyo., in the Pioneer League.

State has not been badly hurt by the baseball draft for a few years running. Only one underclassman, catcher Craig Tatum, turned pro in 2004; and two pitchers, starter Paul Maholm and reliever Jonathan Papelbon, left a year early following the 2003 season.

Meanwhile many Diamond Dog underclassmen are busy playing summer ball around the country. Four are currently in the prestigious Cape Cod League, hitting with—or pitching to—wooden bats. Catcher Easley and pitcher John Lalor are at Wareham, pitcher Josh Johnson is at Cotuit, and shortstop Bunky Kateon at Bourne. Second baseman Jeffrey Rea was supposed to play at the Cape this summer but has decided to rest his sore hamstring and wrist and go into his junior year full-strength.

Three Bulldogs are at Danville in the Central Illinois League, long a popular summer destination for State players. They are Chad Crosswhite, Jeff Flagg, and Mitch Moreland, the only one of the three not redshirted as a rookie in 2005. Pitchers Jon Crosby and Jeremiah Boling and third basesman/shortstop Michael Rutledge are playing with the Outer Banks Daredevils in the Coastal Plains League. Pitcher Mike Valentine was supposed to be at Petersburg but was taking off at least part of the summer now.

Matt Richardson and Wyn Diggs are at Liberal, Kansas, in the Jayhawk League; Jesse Carver is at Waterloo in the Northwoods League; Trent Hill is in his home state at Bradenton, Fla.; Ryan Wiser is with Tampa on a wood-bat league team; and Brooks Tinsley at Greenwood. Alex McIntosh (Jackson) and Brooks Lewis and Marshall Faulkner (Hattiesburg) are in the Cotton States League. Both Justin Pigott and Andy Wilson are reportedly pitching for an Alaska team with Athletes In Action.

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