How MLB's draft impacts Illinois

How MLB's draft impacts Illinois

News-Gazette college baseball beat writer Jeff Huth weighs in on the impact of the MLB amateur draft on the Illini:

A year ago, four Illini juniors were drafted and three turned pro. Now, Dan Hartleb's program could end up dealing with a similar exodus of players with remaining college eligibility.

Of the four Illini selected in the draft this week, three are non-seniors. And that doesn't include prep signee Ryan Castellanos, a pitcher from the Class 6A state championship team in Florida.

The potential impact on the 2013 Illini season, I'd argue, isn't as great as it might seem. This is not the diminish the contributions of Dodgers draftee Jordan Parr, a redshirt sophomore first baseman who led the Illini this season in batting average, home runs, RBI and four other offensive categories. But anyone who has followed Illinois for a decade or more knows that hitting and run-scoring is a perennial strength of this program. Each year, regardless of the personnel losses, they find a way to reload at the plate.

Neither is it to downgrade Marlins draftee Matt Milroy, a power pitcher with a high ceiling. But as spectacular as Milroy can be — 11 strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings against Northwestern is Exhibit A — the junior right-hander remains a work in progress with his control (44 walks in 53 1/3 innings this year). And Milroy's 2012 record — 2-6, including 2-4 in the relief role he eventually settled into — indicates he too seldom rose to the occasion when games were on the line.

There is, however, one player whose departure likely would have major repercussions. Yankees draftee Kevin Johnson is the guy Illinois can least afford to lose for several reasons. The junior right-hander is an innings-eater who won seven games last season as the top-of-the-rotation pitcher. Johnson can occasionally flame out (Michigan State owns him), but he typically gives his team a chance to win. And losing him would create a major void in a pitching staff that continues to be this program's one area of real vulnerability. For the third consecutive year, Illinois ranked last in Big Ten ERA in conference-only games. Barring a major transformation in this mound staff, the Illini need Johnson next season.

And there's a chance they just might keep him. The Yankees have informed Johnson he is a draft-and-follow pick, meaning they won't immediately offer him a contract. Instead, New York will continue to monitor his progress this summer in the Northwoods League before deciding whether to try to sign him. For Johnson, the clock is ticking on his window to impress the Yanks enough to warrant an offer. The signing deadline for players with remaining eligibility is July 13.

Categories (3):Baseball, Illini Sports, Sports