The Cougars baseball program took a good step forward in the 2016 season. There are a lot of reasons to be excited and optimistic about BYU's chances in 2017. However, Coach Mike Littlewood and his staff aren't totally able to start drawing up plans for next season yet. First, they have to see which of their expected players are going to be sniped away by professional baseball contracts.
The MLB Draft takes place over June 9-11. 40 rounds of player selections will be made. For nearly every home game at Miller Park this season, the stands were dotted with scouts furiously taking notes, pointing radar guns, and triggering stopwatches.
For clarity, here are the eligibility rules for this weekend's "Rule 4" (first-year players) draft:
- High school players, if they have graduated from high school and have not yet attended college or junior college
- College players, from four-year colleges who have either completed their junior or senior years or are at least 21 years old
Technically, BYU has quite a few eligible players to be drafted. Eight due to their being past their junior year of college -- RHP Keaton Cenatiempo, 1B Tanner Chauncey, C Bronson Larsen, CF Brennon Lund, RHP Mason Marshall, RHP Kendall Motes, LHP Rhett Parkinson, and RHP Michael Rucker. Two due to graduating in SS Hayden Nielsen and LF Eric Urry. The final grouping would be nine players over the age of 21. This list includes 2B Brennon Anderson, INF Nate Favero, LHP Riley Gates, OF Brock Hale, C Grant Hodges, OF Court Iorg, LHP Hayden Rogers, RHP/OF Connor Williams, and RHP Jordan Wood.
All of this is to illustrate that 17 of the 32 underclassmen are eligible in this year's draft. So, the better BYU becomes, the more difficult Mike Littlewood's job is as the 40 rounds of MLB draft lurk.
For the 2016 Draft, there are two main suspects from this season's team in the early rounds.
Brennon Lund was BYU's leadoff hitter. He finished the regular season hitting .400 with some power. Lund hit two home runs and 34 RBI, as well as a team high 19 doubles and five triples.
Lund runs as if shot out of a cannon. The old baseball adage of "speed doesn't slump" certainly applies to Brennon as he legged out a number of infield hits. He was also a vacuum in centerfield with his glove.
Lund was honored as a 1st team All-West Coast Conference selection.
Rucker had an outstanding junior campaign. He was named a Louisville Slugger All-American.
Rucker's right arm and easy delivery had scout salivating and batters baffled. Michael led the Cougars in ERA posting a 2.73 while earning an 11-1 record. Rucker's ability to throw strikes with all his pitches, solid 95 mph fastball, and veteran mentality make him a great prospect.
One MLB scout I spoke with at a ballgame indicated that he thought we'd see Rucker as a big league starter one day.
Other players from this season's squad may draw attention in the later rounds and Vanquish The Foe will keep you posted on their selections.
The Cougars also have five recruits joining the team next season. Three of these high school players have been getting significant buzz about getting their names announced on draft day.
Clawson is a 6-foot-1, 184-pound, catcher out of Dana Hills High School in Dana Point, California.
Clawson's plate power has not gone unnoticed. He hit 5 home runs in his Senior season. He also has been touted as one of the best defensive catchers in the country.
David has been a member of the USA National Team Development Program for under-17s in 2014.
Payton Henry is considered by Baseball America to be the best prospect from the state of Utah, including Rucker and Lund. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound catcher/pitcher/first baseman from Pleasant Grove High School in Pleasant Grove, Utah is expected to be selected early on in the draft proceedings.
Henry was selected to the 2015 Louisville Slugger High School All-America team and was the 2015 Gatorade Utah Player of the Year.
Henry clubbed nine homers and 11 doubles while hitting .527 on the season. Not bad.
From the high school powerhouse of James Madison High School in Vienna, Virginia, Pete Nielsen has drawn interest from as many as 15 MLB clubs. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Nielsen has highly recruited by the 2015 NCAA National Champions Virginia Cavaliers.
At shortstop, Nielsen provides excellent defense. At the plate, Nielsen showed tremendous ability to pick his pitches. As a junior, Nielsen hit .410 with 11 doubles and two home runs while drawing 28 walks. A menace on the basepaths, Nielsen stole 9 bases.
Where to watch:
The MLB Draft will be broadcast on the MLB Network and MLB.com. Tonight's broadcast start at 4 PM MST.