While four Big 12 teams prepare for the NCAA Baseball Super Regionals later this week, a number of players throughout the Big 12 will be anxiously following the proceedings of the 2014 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, which gets underway on Thursday and runs thru Saturday.
This is the time when the rubber hits the road for hundreds of high school and college prospects who harbor the boyhood dream and hope of playing professional baseball.
This is the 50th year for the MLB Amateur Draft. The first MLB draft of amateur or first-year players was in 1964. For trivia buffs, the first player taken in the first official MLB Draft was Rick Monday, out of Arizona State University, selected by the Kansas City Athletics (now the Oakland A’s).
Players from the Big 12 selected in the MLB Draft have been steadily declining over the last three years. In 2011, 56 former Big 12 players were taken in the draft, 46 a year later, in 2012, and the number a year ago was 36 players selected. According to several baseball ratings services, the number of drafted players with Big 12 ties could be down again this year.
Baseball America lists 10 Big 12 players in its ranking of the top 500 prospects leading up to the 2014 MLB Draft. Six of the 10 are pitchers, and five of the 10 are Texas Longhorns.
Only three prospects from the Big 12 are ranked in the Top 200 Prospect Watch compiled by MLB.com.
During the Big 12 era, which in baseball began with the 1997 season, 812 players from Big 12 schools have selected as part of the annual MLB Draft. Thirty-six of those players were first-round selections, meaning they were among the first 30 players picked in a particular year.
No former Big 12 ballplayer has ever been taken as the No. 1 overall pick, but there have been several top-10 picks, and four of them have come in the last four MLB Drafts. Alex Gordon, formerly of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, was the highest player drafted from the conference. Gordon was selected with the No, 2 overall pick by the Kansas City Royals in 2005. Former Oklahoma right-handed pitcher Jonathan Gray was the third overall pick a year ago, selected in the first round by the Colorado Rockies.
Other top-10 draft picks in recent years were: Barrett Loux, a former right-handed pitcher for Texas A&M, selected in 2010 by the Arizona Diamondbacks with the No, 6 overall pick; Andrew Heaney, a left-handed pitcher formerly of Oklahoma State, taken with the ninth overall pick in the 2013 draft by the Miami Marlins.
The biggest year for MLB draft picks from the Big 12 since the conference came into existence 18 years ago was 60 in 2007. That year was bookended with 58 players selections inv2006 and 56 in 2008.
Brandon Finnegan, a junior left-handed starter for TCU, is the highest rated Big 12 prospect, according to Baseball America and MLB.com. The left-hander is 8-3 with an ERA of 2.07 in 2014, and the Horned Frogs are still in contention in the NCAA Baseball Championship, one of the 16 teams that have advanced to the Super Regionals round this weekend. Baseball America ranks Finnegan as the 18th best prospect and MLB.com has him at No. 15 overall.
Here are the Big 12 prospects among the top 500 ranked by Baseball America:
18. Brandon Finnegan, LHP, Junior, TCU Horned Frogs
112. Dillon Peters, LHP, Junior, Texas Longhorns
218. Harrison Musgrave, LHP, Junior, West Virginia Mountaineers
270. Mark Payton, Outfielder, Senior, Texas Longhorns
344. Lukas Schiraldi, RHP, Junior, Texas Longhorns
371. Wes Benjamin, LHP, Junior, Kansas Jayhawks
434. Parker French, RHP, Junior, Texas Longhorns
449. Kevin Cron, 1B, Junior, TCU Horned Frogs
462. Nathan Thornhill, RHP, Senior, Texas Longhorns
475. Zach Fish, Outfielder/catcher, Junior, Oklahoma State Cowboys
Mark Payton and Nathan Thornhill of Texas are notable names that were selected in the draft a year ago but elected to return to school for another season. Payton was selected in the 16th round (the 471st player selected overall) by the Cleveland Indians. Thornhill was taken in the 24th round (707th overall) by the Houston Astros.
There are also a couple of notable names that are not ranked high in some mock drafts but were among the draft selections in the 2013 draft. Ross Kivett, the Player of the Year in the Big 12 in 2013, and Shane Conlon, both of Kansas State, were draft picks in the 10th and 21st rounds, respectively, a year ago. Kivett was selected by the Cleveland Indians with the 491st overall selection, and Conlon was selected with the 624th overall pick by the Kansas City Royals.