Decisions, Decisions

Phillip Irwin has a decision to make. Like most baseball players drafted, he has two good choices.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound junior right-hander finished his fourth year with the Ole Miss baseball program. His emergence in the fall and preseason and into the season was one of the highlights for the team as he helped pitch the Rebels to an SEC title and into a Super Regional.

The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted him in the 21st round Wednesday.

"I was pretty excited," he said of being chosen. "I heard things like I'd go before the 20th round, and then the 20th round came and my heart started beating a little bit faster."

But it didn't have to beat faster for much longer as Pittsburgh was ready a round later.

"A lot of hard work is paying off," Irwin said. "But I don't know yet whether or not I'll sign."

His numbers in 2009 were excellent, but the simple fact that he emerged was key for the Rebels. After Tommy John surgery during his freshman season and was redshirted, Irwin only made nine appearances each of the next two years. Then came this past year.

Irwin made 15 appearances, 14 of them starts. He was one of the Rebels' starters as far back as the first weekend in the South Alabama Tournament.

The Christian Brothers High School (Memphis) alum was 8-3 with an ERA of 3.84. He pitched 86.2 innings this season and had one complete game.

Irwin wasn't sure who would pick him or where, although he speculated.

"I thought the Rockies would get me before that," he said. "The Pirates then called and said ‘how's it going?' I said ‘well my name hasn't been called yet so obviously I've been better.' They said they were still thinking about me, and then they called in the 21st."

So Irwin joined fellow UM pitching teammate third-year junior LHP Nathan Baker as a pick by the Pirates. Baker went in the fifth round.

"It's awesome," Irwin said of Baker being drafted by Pittsburgh as well. "I believe the learning curve would be a lot easier in the pro ball experience with someone you know. And he is already my roommate (at Ole Miss) right now."

So now Irwin decides on Ole Miss or the Pirates. Being a fourth-year guy, one would think he is leaning toward the pros. But any number of things could move it one direction or the other as negotiations continue.

"It's everybody's dream to get drafted and play professional baseball," Irwin said. "Personally I've had some struggles (injuries, etc.), and I've gotten to where I want to be. This would be after a good season, a good time to go. The money is obviously not going to be a lot. But who knows? I haven't even started negotiations yet. Maybe I could enhance my status (by returning), but being a fifth-year senior means there isn't a lot of leverage. And I could end up being taken in the 40th round."


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