Wait's worth it for Argo

Wait's worth it for Argo

Before Wednesday, Illinois center fielder Willie Argo had never talked to Brett Foley.

In fact, the Illini senior had no previous contact with the Tampa Bay Rays scout until Foley recently texted Argo as Major League Baseball's amateur draft drew nearer.

One thing Argo now knows about the Naperville-based Foley; he doesn't take no response for a "no".

"I am very thankful that Brett Foley was persistent," the Illini's career stolen bases leader said after being selected Wednesday by the Rays in the 22nd round. "If he wasn't, I'd kind of be sweating it out a little bit."

The four-year Illini starter is familiar with sweating out drafts. In 2008, shortly after graduating from Assumption High School in Davenport, Iowa, Argo was forced to wait until the 49th round before being taken by Arizona.

After choosing the UI over the Diamondbacks, Argo was next eligible for the draft following his junior season in 2011. Once again, round after round passed until the Pirates picked the disappointed Illini in Round 43 and then offered a signing bonus that didn't even match the value of his scholarship.

One year later, however, Argo's wait was cut nearly in half. And now, the 2012 All-Big Ten first-teamer can't wait to pull on a pro uniform.

"It's a great feeling," Argo said by phone from his family's home in Iowa. "I'm really excited to be joining a great organization. I've heard nothing but good things about them. They like to grow and develop their own players and get them to the big leagues so I'm excited to start my professional career."

Foley's part in this began after Argo failed to return a questionnaire that major league teams routinely send to draft-eligible prospects. Argo filled out a whole bunch of them last year. "For just about every team," he said.

Given the outcome of last year's draft, perhaps it's understandable that Argo was less than enthusiastic about again answering the long and detailed forms.

"Those things are seriously the worst," the 6-foot-1, 205-pounder said. "I didn't get around to some of them, but I thought I had 15 of them that I got."

One that fell through the cracks was from the Rays. When the AL team didn't hear back, Foley decided to text Argo and ask if there was a reason the three-time All-Big Ten pick hadn't responded.

"I think I lost it," Argo said.

Argo requested another form, which arrived via email. It was more than 12 pages long, keeping him busy printing the original and then scanning the completed document before sending it back to Foley.

"It was kind of a pain, but I'm sure glad I did it now," Argo said.

Argo indicated he had so little pre-draft communication with MLB teams that he wasn't sure what to expect. A Pirates scout called "two or three weeks ago," to ask whether Argo wanted to play pro ball. Then a Nationals scout called Wednesday morning, the final day of the three-day draft.

"Those were the only conversations I had," he said. "I didn't know if I was going to get picked."

After slumping at the plate during his junior season, Argo rebounded this year to hit .318 and lead Illinois in runs, on-base percentage and, of course, stolen bases. With 22 steals in 26 attempts as a senior, Argo finished his career with 98 stolen bases — fifth all-time among Big Ten players.

Rather than texting, Foley called Argo shortly after the Rays drafted him. The conversation didn't include a signing offer. That will come in the next few days.

"They're busy now with the draft," Argo said. "He said he'll call once things calm down. I have no idea when or where I'm gong to go."

For the thrice-drafted Illini, the third time really was a charm.

"Not too many people get drafted three times," Argo said. "I don't know if it's a good thing, really, but it's definitely unique."

Three others picked. Two other Illini players and one high school recruit were drafted Wednesday. First baseman Jordan Parr, a redshirt sophomore, was taken by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 26th round. Parr played at Parkland College in 2011 before transferring to the UI and leading the team in batting average (.348), homers (5) and RBI (45).

Right-handed pitcher Kevin Johnson was chosen in the 31st round by the New York Yankees. The junior, Illinois' Game 1 starter in Big Ten series, was 7-5 with a 3.97 ERA this spring.

Incoming freshman Ryan Castellanos, a right-handed pitcher from Davie, Fla., went in the 34th round to the Chicago White Sox.

In all, five Illini players or signees were selected. On Tuesday, junior relief pitcher Matt Milroy was picked in the 11th round by the Miami Marlins.