By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – One man’s misfortune is another man’s gain.
Except that Bobby Wahl may not really look at his MLB draft experience as misfortune. He played hard ball with the ultimate hard ball league, because he had a D1 baseball scholarship to fall back on.
Wahl, a right-handed pitcher considered the top prospect in metro Washington D.C., was a projected fifth-round draft pick but slid to No. 39 on Tuesday when he was finally selected by Cleveland. The decline was likely linked to his demand for what one MLB scout called “first-round money.”
Wahl will listen to what the Indians have to offer, he said, because it’s good business sense to listen.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen yet. It’s a cool feeling to say I’ve been drafted, and I’ll sit down and talk it over with my parents, but I’m definitely going to college, I believe,” Wahl said.
R.J. Hively was drafted much higher – in the 26th round with the 805th pick – to the Yankees.
Hively played last season at Santa Ana (Calif.) College, where the coaching staff moved him from starter to reliever so they could use him more than once on the weekend. Hively finished 5-4 with five saves and a 3.06 earned run average in 791/3 innings. His game is more about movement on his pitches – a cut fastball, slider, curve and change-up.
The first Ole Miss pitching signee drafted was Chipola (Fla.) College lefty Austin Wright. The former Arkansas signee went to Boston with the 713th pick.
“To have eight kids drafted, the most we’ve ever had, just shows the strength of this class,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.
Pitchers will be welcomed
Much of that strength is in pitching, and there will be plenty of opportunities for newcomers to help.
Bianco complained about the lack of consistency in all phases in a 39-24 season. On the mound that showed up most in long relief when inherited runners more often than not reached home plate.
The Rebels lead the SEC in strikeouts with 555, but their 268 walks are far and away more than any of the league’s eight postseason teams.
The team ERA if 4.96 ranks sixth in the SEC.
“We have to throw more balls into the strike zone. We walked more than we ever have this year,” Bianco said. “We have to command the fastball. If you’re doing that you’re getting in good counts. When you’re walking people you’re in bad counts, and if you’re in bad counts, you’re going to get hit.”
Bianco said it’s too early to get a read on whether drafted underclass pitchers David Goforth and Matt Tracy will return.
Jake Morgan, one of the SEC’s top closers last year, is expected to return, along with Jon Andy Scott, of Booneville, and Blair Wright, of Memphis. All three are coming off elbow surgery.
Morgan could reclaim the closer’s role and make Brett Huber – who was just named freshman All-America after a 12-save season – a possible weekend starter. Morgan could be a candidate to start also.
Fall baseball promises to be a time of undefined roles and opportunity.
“They’ve told me they want me to be a weekend starter or the closer,” said Hively, who played his first season at Cal-State Fullerton.
If Hively doesn’t sign with the Yankees, he thinks his competitive nature will help him earn quick playing time at Ole Miss.
“I’m able to slow the game down when it speeds up on some people,” he said. “I commit to the pitch I want to throw and work hard to throw it correctly.”
Wahl, meanwhile, has touched 95 miles an hour and routinely has low 90s velocity.
“He could easily have gone in the second or third rounds, but the draft is more about sign-ability than talent,” Bianco said. “They don’t want to waste a pick on a kid they can’t sign.”
Catch of the class
Wahl could be the coup in the class, because if he arrives at Ole Miss, it’s three years before he’s draft-eligible again.
The three years were profitable for Drew Pomeranz, the ace of this year’s staff, who was drafted in the 12th round by Texas three years ago but was taken in the first round – fifth overall – by Cleveland on Monday.
Friends with Ole Miss’ Snyder twins, who are also from Northern Virginia, Wahl said the atmosphere he saw on televised super regional games helped him choose Ole Miss while he was courted by Virginia and other ACC schools.
Having a scholarship in hand helped him approach the draft without anxiety.
“As a pitcher I’d like to see my stuff improve, maybe get a jump in velocity and get more movement on my pitches,” Wahl said. “Right now I’m just looking forward to getting down there and working as hard as I can. I have no idea what they have planned for me. I’ll just see what happens.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600