Parr, Johnson coming back to Illinois
ROCHESTER, Minn. — The signing deadline for players selected in the 2012 MLB amateur draft is Friday. Don't look for two University of Illinois draftees with remaining collegiate eligibility to turn pro at the 11th hour.
First baseman Jordan Parr and pitcher Kevin Johnson each said Monday they will return to the UI in August and continue their Illini playing careers.
"I'm excited they'll be back," Illinois coach Dan Hartleb said. "It's a situation where, obviously, having experienced guys coming back — guys who made some strides last year — will be extremely helpful for our team.
"I have mixed feelings because ... I know (turning pro) is something they've dreamed about, but I think they both understand they can come back and work on making more progress and put themselves in a better position (in the draft) next year."
Parr, the Illini's leader in seven offensive categories last season as a redshirt sophomore. was drafted in the 26th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Johnson, a senior-to-be who was Illinois' Game 1 starter each of the past two seasons, went in the 31st round to the New York Yankees.
Parr had been in ongoing negotiations with the Dodgers until about two weeks ago, when the team made what it said was its final offer.
"I think it was a good offer, but I feel with two years of eligibility (left), going back to school was the best thing for me and my future."
Parr, who like Johnson is playing this summer for the Rochester (Minn.) Honkers of the Northwoods League, cited the need to improve in certain areas before taking a shot at pro ball.
"I need to become a better base runner, hit with more power, and become better defensively," said Parr, who is playing center field and third base for Rochester. "I need to find a place to play. First base, I'm not big enough (for the pros), but I think I could be a good outfielder."
Another factor in his decision to return to the UI, Parr said, was the improvement he showed in his first season playing for Hartleb and Illini associate head coach Eric Snider. The Parkland College transfer led the 2012 Illini in batting average, RBI and slugging percentage as well as four other major hitting categories.
"I saw how much better I got playing under those guys, and I feel if I do another year (of college), I'll improve my draft stock for next season," he said.
Parr, who redshirted as a true freshman in 2010, was eligible for this year's draft because he had completed his junior academic year and also met the age requirement (21) for players from four-year colleges.
The Chillicothe native now is in the unique situation of entering the 2013 draft with the same bargaining leverage he had this year: Parr could return to the UI for yet another season if he doesn't sign next summer.
"I'm gong to have some leverage going into the (next) draft, but I'm still not a guy who is going to ask for a ton of money," Parr said. "Being another year older, I think that will help me mature. I want to be in a position where, when I get my chance, I can actually make it to the major leagues."
Unlike Parr, Johnson did not receive an offer from the Yankees. On the day the right-hander was drafted, New York indicated Johnson was a "draft-and-follow" selection, meaning the team would continue to assess his progress in summer ball.
"I actually talked to a Yankees scout today," Johnson said Monday, " and it looks like there's not going to be (an offer) at this point. They have a lot of (pitchers) in the system coming up, and what the scout said was that he doesn't want to put me in a situation where I'm throwing an inning or two a week.
"So I'm going to come back to school and see what happens (in the draft) next year."
Johnson went 7-5 with a 3.97 ERA, best among Illini starters, last season in 14 starts. He also led Illinois in innings pitched for the second year in a row.
When Johnson was drafted far below some projections, he suspected the probability that he would sign was low.
"Getting drafted so low, even if they would have made an offer that wasn't that great, my thought was about going back (to the UI)," Johnson said. "I value my education a lot, and I had told the scouts before the draft that anything after the 15th round, I wasn't going to sign anyway."
Unlike Parr, Johnson faces a take-it-or-leave-it situation after next year's draft. His goal is to elevate his draft stock by 2013 — as senior center fielder Willie Argo did this year as a 22nd-round pick after being selected in the 43rd round in 2011.
"I've improved my first three years (at Illinois),' Johnson said. "I know I'm a person who's going to be better, get another year stronger."
In addition to Parr and Johnson, the Illini will not lose incoming freshman Ryan Castellanos to the pros, according to Hartleb.
The right-handed pitcher from Davie, Fla., was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 34th round.
"Right after the draft, (the family) called and said Ryan will be in school," Hartleb said. "It was a situation from Day One where they said school was important."