The Rule 5 Amateur Draft has taken its toll on Kevin O’Sullivan and the Gators in the past. You know the names, Fontana, Johnson, Zunino, Maddox, Tucker, all left school early and that doesn’t even include talented high school signees that never made it to campus, choosing to realize their dream of playing professional baseball right out of high school.
The past two years have been different.
You could see it on the field in 2014. The freshmen class was one of the deepest, most talented that O’Sullivan had brought to Gainesville and players like Logan Shore, Buddy Reed, Peter Alonso, John Sternagel, Kirby Snead, A.J. Puk and many more were big parts of Florida’s bounce back, 40-win season and SEC Championship.
The draft was kid to Florida in 2013 and it was once again kind in 2014. All things considered this was the best-case scenario for Florida.
Six Florida Gators were drafted over the past three days. Taylor Gushue to the Pirates in the fourth round, Justin Shafer to the Blue Jays in the eighth round and Karsten Whitson to the Red Sox in the 11th round are all almost certain to leave school and sign with their respective teams.
Keenan Kish — in what was an incredible moment for a kid who turned down a lot of money to attend Florida only to have his career be derailed by injuries, resulting in him taking a position as a student-coach last season — was selected in the 34th round by the Cincinnati Reds. Kish will likely sign, coming off of Tommy John surgery.
Two Gators have decisions to make. The St. Louis Cardinals selected Casey Turgeon in the 24th round — two rounds later than he was selected in 2011 when he went in the 22nd round to the New York Mets. Because he is a junior, Turgeon has a bargaining chip with the Cardinals. Turgeon can use the fact that he can return to school and re-enter the draft next season to negotiate a better contract. He won’t have that luxury next season after his college eligibility is expired.
Turgeon could decide to leave school if the money is right, but after a season where he hit the ball far better than the stats will show, could decide to come back for his senior season and try to improve his draft stock.
Ryan Harris was also selected in the late-middle rounds of the draft when the Boston Red Sox drafted him in the 26th round. Being a low pick, it’s hard to see Harris getting a big contract offer from the Red Sox but Harris could be inclined to leave after finishing the year 10th on the team in innings pitched (36), third in appearances (27) and just one save.
Florida’s bullpen will be even deeper in 2015 than it was this past season and it could be hard for Harris to get enough time on the mound to greatly improve on those numbers.
That fact coupled with the fact that the Red Sox have plenty of money to spend could send Harris packing for the Red Sox organization.
What will they do?
I’m not sold on the idea that Taylor Gushue is a major league catcher. He showed a lot of maturity leading the team and directing a young pitching staff this season but defensively I’m not sure if he will be able to play behind the plate at the next level. The only other position he would be able to play at the next level would be first base. Even though he had a career year at the plate for Florida last season, he hasn’t shown the kind of pop most teams want from a guy playing a corner infield position and he would take some time to adjust defensively to that move as well.
The Pittsburgh Pirates obviously think differently, taking Gushue in the fourth round. They’ll try him out at catcher and they must believe they have the coaches in their organization to turn him into a big league catcher. I expect Gushue to sign with the Pirates.
Shafer was selected in the eight round and I fully expect him to sign a big league deal. Shafer was named the closer heading into the season but made just 18 appearances and earned one save. The Blue Jays selected Shafer as a pitcher and with how deep the bullpen will be in 2015, he would be wise to sign and make the move to pro ball.
Whitson’s decision to turn down a contract worth $2 million dollars out of high school has been widely publicized. His career started off as most expected but was derailed due to injury.
Whitson pitched well last season — especially later in the year — and he will likely sign with the Red Sox.
Turgeon hit the ball much harder and better than his .259 batting average would show. He moved from the two-hole to leadoff midway through the season — a move that benefitted Richie Martin and the ball club.
Turgeon won’t get a huge deal after being drafted late but as a junior, he holds a very important bargaining chip with the ability to come back to school. He won’t have that move in his bag if he stays in school for his senior season.
Ultimately, I think Turgeon could strike a deal but that he could benefit from coming back next season — a move that would also be huge for the Gators.
Harris was selected late and isn’t slotted to get a huge deal in the 26th round but the Boston Red Sox have the funds to offer him a deal that is over his slotted salary. That coupled with the fact that Florida will be extremely deep in the bullpen next season — possibly making it hard for Harris to get on the mound enough to improve on this season — could have him decide to make the move and take the next step.
Kish turned down a lot of money to come and pitch for the Gators. Like Whitson, injuries sidelined him for big portions of his time in Gainesville and even relegated him to a coaching position last season.
Sources have told Gator Country that Kish will not return to Florida — having already graduated — and he will not sign with the Reds.
Stay tuned tomorrow as we will preview how the MLB Draft will affect the Gators 2014 recruiting class, including a huge player that was selected later than expected and has announced he will attend school.