Illini baseball loses juco recruit
The University of Illinois baseball team has been hit by an unexpected aftershock of Major League Baseball’s amateur draft.
Junior college recruit Alex Greer, who seemingly had settled on attending the UI after being drafted in early June, reversed course and signed with the Cincinnati Reds.
Although the Reds’ website continues to list the outfielder as unsigned, a spokesperson in the team’s player development department said Tuesday that Greer had signed a 2014 contract.
Greer had been playing summer collegiate baseball for the Rochester (Minn.) Honkers of the Northwoods League before signing July 3.
Greer is the third Illini recruit or player with remaining eligibility to turn pro after being drafted last month. Also in that category are shortstop Thomas Lindauer and left fielder Jordan Parr, who signed within days after the draft.
Greer did not respond to a phone message from The News-Gazette seeking comment. The Levacy, Mo., native discussed his decision in a Honkers news release:
“I went back and forth a lot. I wanted to go to school and try to raise my draft stock, but at the same time, I feel like I am ready.”
Greer’s move further unsettles the outlook for an Illini outfield in major transition. Illinois lost all three of its 2013 outfield starters to graduation or the draft.
Greer, an NJCAA Division I third-team All-American from Iowa Western Community College, was expected to be a key member of a revamped Illinois outfield. Last spring, he hit .402 with five home runs, 38 RBI and a team-high 21 stolen bases for Iowa Western.
Now the Illini coaching staff must examine its remaining options. UI associate head coach Eric Snider indicated Tuesday the team might add another outfielder before school starts if the staff can locate a worthy available player.
“We just have to move on,” Snider said of the loss of Greer. “It’s something that happens in college baseball. ... It puts us in a tough spot, but we’ll overcome it.”
This isn’t a position Illinois expected to be in when Greer was bypassed until the final day of the three-day draft. After being chosen in the 29th round, Greer opted to remain an amateur and prepare to join the Illini by playing in the Northwoods League.
“We knew he was going to be drafted; it was just (a matter of) how high,” Snider said. “(After the draft), we felt like we were safe that he was going to come to school because he went in the 29th round.”
That changed when Greer emerged as one of the top offensive threats in the Northwoods League, hitting .342 in 29 games. It was the right-handed batter’s power, however, that likely convinced the Reds to make another run at Greer. He belted a league-leading eight home runs in the first half of the season.
Greer received a signing bonus of $65,000, according to Jim Callis, the executive editor of Baseball America.
Although the UI coaching staff tried to counter the Reds’ most recent offer with an increase of scholarship aid, that didn’t dissuade Greer from turning pro.
Jeff Graupe, the Reds’ director of player development, said Greer was signed to a 2014 contract — rather than one that went into effect immediately — because the levels at which Greer would play in Cincinnati’s minor league system currently have little-to-no room for additional players.
“Basically, it’s due to some of our roster constraints and playing-time issues,” Graupe said. “It’s kind of like a redshirt year. It gives us a little more freedom with what we can do this summer and prepare him for 2014.”
Graupe indicated that Greer would not have to wait until next year, however, to begin his pro career. He’ll be invited to the Reds’ instructional league camp this fall in Goodyear, Ariz.
At that same time, the Illini coaching staff will begin work on piecing together a new outfield minus Greer.
The lone returnee with any significant playing experience is right fielder Wil Krug. Last spring, the then-sophomore hit .305 in 25 games, including 22 starts, before suffering a season-ending broken left forearm April 5.
Because the UI staff emphasizes the recruitment of versatile fielders, Snider said, some current infielders could be candidates for the outfield in 2014. They include 2013 starting first baseman David Kerian, shortstop Adam Walton, and first baseman Ryan Nagle.
“We have athletic kids that are infielders that have the ability to play in the outfield,” Snider said.
Others who’ll be in the outfield mix, Snider said, are junior college recruit Casey Fletcher, and incoming freshmen Dan Rowbottom, Anthony Drago and Pat McInerney.
“We’ll look at all our options,” Snider said.