COLLEGE BASEBALL: It’s all a matter of timing for MLB Draft

LUBBOCK For Texas Tech infielder Josh Jung and six of his teammates, the prospect of playing professional baseball is a dream come true, but there’s a little business to tend to before contracts get signed.

Jung, who was drafted eighth overall by the Texas Rangers on Monday, and the rest of the Red Raiders are in hot pursuit of a return trip to the College World Series. Texas Tech is hosting Big 12 rival Oklahoma State in the Lubbock Super Regional to determine who will be visiting Omaha, Nebraska, next week.

In addition to Jung, the Red Raiders had infielder-outfielder Gabe Holt taken in the seventh round (Brewers), followed by pitchers Caleb Kilian in the eighth (Giants), Taylor Floyd in the 10th (Brewers), John McMillon in the 11th (Tigers) and Caleb Freeman in the 15th (White Sox). First baseman Cameron Warren was taken by the Reds in the 22nd round. All but Warren, a senior, have the option of returning to Texas Tech next season if they do not sign, but Holt said the immediate future is all the group is worried about right now.

“It was awesome to get drafted, but my main focus right now really is just winning these next two days and getting back to Omaha,” Holt said Thursday. “Let’s make a run in Omaha. It would be great to go out my last year as a national champion.”

Jung said he’s had limited contact with the Rangers this week.

“Most of those details will get figured out after this season’s over,” he said. “They told me to focus on this right now. We’ve got seven games left to win (for a national championship) and we can’t wait for that.”

Jung entered the Super Regional batting .340 with 11 home runs and 53 RBIs, trailing only Warren (.367, 17, 75) for the team lead in those categories.

“It’s pretty special moment you get to share with a few friends and family,” Jung said of his selection. “It’s always been a dream of mine to get to the next level and play at the highest level possible. Monday, I got an opportunity to do that.”

Under Major League Baseball draft rules, players can be selected out of high school or junior college. But if they enroll in a four-year college, they can’t be taken until after their junior season or their 21st birthday. For Jung, a junior from Jasper, the wait was worth it.

“You want to come and you want to grow when you’re in college,” Jung said. “I guess people say I was a fourth- or fifth-rounder out of high school and that was kind of like fuel for the fire.

“I’m going to go here and this is where I’m going to grow. I’m going to learn do things and develop some strengths that were weaknesses before. I feel like over my time here that was my main goal, to just be a better ballplayer.”

Jung, a highly touted prospect after helping the Red Raiders reach last year’s College World Series, said Monday’s selection was the final step in a grueling process.

“I slept great that night,” he said. “It for sure feels like my shoulders are definitely relaxed, not so tense any more.

“It will be interesting to go out here and play without worrying about who’s in the stands and who’s watching or what I’m doing on a daily basis. I just get to go play and try to help this team win again.”

However, being taken so high brings its own kind of pressure, Jung said.

“I say you get to relax, (but) now eyes are more on you to critique you, I guess,” he said. “Now, it’s ‘Oh, you went this and this and you’re not performing,’ or whatever.

“I think for all of us that got drafted, for all the guys in there, we need to take a step back and say, ‘Hey, now we just get to go play.’ We’re free from all the tension, from people requiring stuff from us, and we can just go play baseball.”

Baseball is unique in that its draft is held before the college season is completely over. The National Football League and National Basketball Association don’t conduct their drafts until months after the end of the college seasons for those sports.

But Red Raiders coach Tim Tadlock, who has now had 44 players selected in his seven seasons leading the program, said it’s not really that big an issue.

“These guys, they have school on their mind throughout the whole year,” Tadlock said. “You’re talking about something they’ve dreamed about their whole life. It’s not … I mean, it’s our favorite time of year. You’re talking about all these guys getting a Christmas present when they get that opportunity.

“Major League Baseball, there’s a lot of revenue there, and they’ve been having that draft the first week in June for a long time, and that’s when it falls best for them. College baseball is working really good with Major League Baseball now. I mean, it’s a really good partnership. I think our guys embrace the, ‘Hey, yeah, we’re practicing and my name be getting called.’ In life, you’ve got to deal with more than one thing at a time quite a bit. These guys, they’re not professionals yet, and even when they’re professionals they’re going to be dads and they’re going to have to deal with stuff.”

Oklahoma State coach Josh Holliday, who saw eight of his players go in the draft, said his only complaint is a matter of timing. Monday’s first round was conducted while seven regional tournaments were playing their final games.

“I couldn’t imagine Baker Mayfield going to the sideline calling timeout in the College Football Playoff and finding out he just got drafted, or someone shooting a 3-pointer in the Final Four finding out he just got drafted,” Holliday said. “That’s essentially what was happening on Monday night in the first round.

“I think trying to time it to where kids are not in the field of play, actually playing a game and looking in the stands to see if they got drafted would be a compromise. I agree with what Coach (Tadlock) is saying about these kids have to handle multiple things going on. He’s right. But when the first and second rounds are going on and there’s kids actually playing games and you’ve got parents that are holding phones, it’s just … I’ve got to believe there’s a way to find a date that there’s not actually games being played or players playing games checking their phones.”