Thursday’s Major League Baseball draft proved bittersweet for the Bulls.
The baseball team celebrated the selection of four USF players, but also expressed concern about the possibility of losing a number of next year’s incoming recruits, nine of whom were drafted, including three in the top 10 rounds.
“Well, that’s great for the program,” coach Lelo Prado said of the USF players drafted. “What I’m more worried about are the nine recruits that were drafted. Hopefully a lot of them will not sign and they’ll come back to play their college careers here.”
The first former Bull to be selected in the 50-round draft was pitcher Dan Otero.
The 6-foot-3 inch right-hander was taken by the San Francisco Giants in the 26th round. Otero, a Coral Gables native, became the ace of the Bulls’ rotation last year after transferring to USF from Duke for his senior season.
“It was just a time for a change of environment,” Otero said of the transfer. “I’m glad I got to play in Tampa, closer to home, for my last year in college.”
The move was a smart one for Otero, who raised his draft stock considerably in his only season with the Bulls. Otero posted a 9-7 record with a 3.32 ERA while leading the Bulls in innings pitched (122) and strikeouts (87) in 2007.
The second of three Bulls’ pitchers taken in the draft was right-hander Yuri Higgins, who was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 38th round.
Higgins had 81 strikeouts in 2007, giving him 194 over his four-year career and placing him at 15th on the school’s all-time strikeout list. The Tampa native – who finished his senior season with a 5-4 record and a 4.74 ERA – was at work when he found out he had been picked.
“One of my friends from last season called me and told me congratulations,” Higgins said. “I asked him what he was congratulating me for and he said, ‘you just got drafted!'”The St. Louis Cardinals selected Junior Daniel Thomas, the third and final USF pitcher taken in the draft, in the 44th round. Thomas, also a Tampa native, posted an impressive 1.27 ERA in five starts for the Bulls last year before suffering a season-ending injury. The right-hander struck out 25 and allowed just four earned runs in 28 1/3 innings pitched in 2007.
The final Bulls’ player to get drafted was also USF’s only position player taken.
Junior shortstop Walter Diaz was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 48th round. Diaz, a University of Miami transfer, led the Bulls in batting average (.339), hits (80) and runs (56) in 2007, his only season with USF. Diaz also posted a 24-game hitting streak – the longest for a USF player since the 2000 season.
While having four Bulls players drafted is great for the programs’ prestige, the nine USF recruits who were selected could take a chunk out of out of next season’s recruiting class if the players decide to sign with their professional teams.
The recruits most likely to pass on USF to play professionally are Denny Almonte, Ray Nevarro and Efrain Nieves, all of whom were taken in the top 10 rounds.
Almonte, a highly touted outfielder out of Florida Christian High School in Miami, was drafted in the second round by the Seattle Mariners, while Nevarro and Nieves, both out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, were taken by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the third round and the Milwaukee Brewers in the seventh, respectively.
aft has given USF a lot to be proud of. However, it has also caused a lot of uncertainty for the USF baseball team.
“Hopefully a lot of (the recruits) will not sign and they’ll come back,” Prado said. “But the next few months will be a nervous time for us. We’ll know (for sure) when school starts because once they start class, we’ll know they’re here.”