Over the past seven years, even from teams that had some of the worst results in program history, Texas Tech has been consistent in producing draftable talent.
Tech has had at least five players taken in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft five times since 2003, and at least three players taken in all seven drafts. The result, while impressive for the Red Raiders' history books, has devastated talent level of teams, turning them from contenders into rebuilding projects without frontline talent.
But the draft is not expected to have as big an impact on the 2012 squad. There will be some names taken fairly high, but for the most part the number of draft-eligible players or those expected to be taken is low.
"We've got some draft-eligible guys but we have a core group that aren't, so we're not going to get pummeled this year," head coach Dan Spencer said. "I think we'll be able to survive and the reason we'll be able to survive it OK is we have more young kids in the program and don't have to rebuild our team."
The first round of the draft begins at 6 p.m. today. Rounds 2-30 will take place Tuesday, with rounds 31-50 scheduled for Wednesday. Tech has had a player taken in the first 10 rounds in three of the last five years.
Leading the list of current Red Raiders expected to be taken high is junior shortstop Kelby Tomlinson. Tech expected Tomlinson to be a one-year player when he was signed out of Seward County (Kan.) Community College, and the lanky infielder did not disappoint.
Tomlinson finished second on the team with a .307 batting average, coming alive in the last half of the season and taking over the leadoff spot in the order the final three
weeks after a season-ending injury to Jamodrick McGruder. Tomlinson was one of three Tech players to play and start in all 58 games, finishing with 10 extra-base hits, 43 RBIs, a .372 slugging average and a .415 on-base percentage.
He was also 21 of 29 in stolen bases and led the team with 212 assists to nine errors for a .971 fielding percentage.
Tech's next best prospect is right-handed pitcher John Neely, who served as Tech's closer this season.
Neely, who missed part of his sophomore season with a broken hand, pitched in 16 of Tech's 33 wins in 2011. He finished with a 9-1 record, the most wins for a Tech pitcher since Steve Rowe's 10 in 2002. He also tied for second with Blake McGinley for most appearances in a single-season (30) and led the team in saves (7) and strikeouts (56).
Spencer also expects first baseman Stephen Hagen to be a strong draft candidate, despite his struggles in the second half of the season. Hagen opened the season on fire at the plate but struggled down the stretch, finishing with a .266 average. He was second on the team with six home runs and one behind Tomlinson with 42 RBIs.
Hagen was also a strong fielding first baseman despite his 10 errors. He recorded 625 putouts and 25 assists, giving him a .985 fielding percentage, best among the regular starters.
Spencer said there have been calls regarding the medical health of left-hander Robbie Kilcrease, who missed all of the 2010 season after undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery. Kilcrease started the 2011 season as a weekend starter but struggled, eventually falling into a bullpen role and finishing with a 5-3 record and 5.97 ERA, striking out 39 but giving up 82 hits in 631/3 innings.
What could hurt Tech more is how the draft affects the signing class.
Should Tomlinson go high enough and sign, a possible replacement could be South Mountain (Ariz.) Community College infielder Trey Ford, almost a clone of Tomlinson at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds. Ford played 51 games for the Cougars in 2011, hitting .364 with two home runs, 32 RBIs, 19 extra-base hits and swiping 14 of 23 bases. He also had a .455 on-base percentage and struck out 18 times in 184 at-bats.
"Kelby will be an issue and shortstop will be an issue, but I think we'll have a quality guy there," Spencer said. "Ford could be lost to the draft, so that's a concern there at shortstop. But we've got a backup plan in place and we'll wait and see."
Spencer also had a pair of solid potential corner outfielders coming in junior college prospects Brennan Moore from Grayson and Devon Conley from New Mexico JC. Moore hit .394 with five home runs and 53 RBIs before the Vikings' appearance in the Junior College World Series, while Conley hit .359 with two home runs and 31 RBIs.
Tech's most draftable pitching signee likely will be Ryan Bielitz from The Woodlands, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound left-hander who was a second-team Texas all-region selection by Perfect Game USA. But Spencer feels that Moore and Bielitz will end up on campus in the fall.
"I feel we're in good shape," Spencer said. "We are holding off making some offers on some things until after the draft and we see where we're at. We feel good this time going in but I've said that before, here and at other places, and have been surprised. But I think we're as comfortable as we can be for now."
Spencer said if all the recruits survive the draft and make it to campus in August, Tech will have the players to compete for a Big 12 championship.
"I do think that they are either here or recruited and on their way and signed and coming," Spencer said. "Now, the draft might play tricks with that but if the draft goes like we think, I do think they will be here and we'll be improved in those areas."
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