Bulls, Prado could be hit hard by draft
The challenge a college baseball coach faces in recruiting is that if he signs too talented a player, he runs the risk of losing the prospect to baseball's pro draft before he ever gets to campus. Next week's draft could take a big hit on the initial USF recruiting class signed by first-year coach Lelo Prado.
Two of USF's top incoming recruits -- Miami outfielder Denny Almonte and Puerto Rico infielder Rey Navarro -- could be drafted in the first two rounds of the draft. Prado knew this when he signed them and his comments on the class mentioned the possibility of losing them. Even for a top recruiter, it's hard to sway a teenager toward a college scholarship when a top-60 pick has a signing bonus of more than half a million dollars awaiting him. Only two of the top 74 picks (first two rounds) last year opted not to sign with the team that drafted them.
Almonte, originally from the Dominican Republic, is rated as the state's No. 13 prospect (high school or college) and has been projected to be taken as high as the "sandwich round," which is the supplemental selections sandwiched between the first and second rounds. Ernie Padron, his coach at Florida Christian in Miami, said he did not know how high an offer it would take to sign Almonte, but did say he's been busy working out for pro teams.
Navarro, signed out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, is listed by Baseball America as the No. 1 draft prospect in Puerto Rico, someone who could be drafted as high as early in the second round. Another signee from Puerto Rico, left-hander Efrain Nieves, is touted as one of the top two pitching prospects from Puerto Rice in Baseball America, not good enough to crack its top 200 overall prospects but with significant potential to be drafted in the top 10 rounds.
Another USF signee who was expected to be drafted was Gaither left-hander Chris Jones, whose stock dropped this spring because of a broken hand and sprained ankle that forced him to miss part of his senior season. Gaither coach Frank Permuy said he's not sure that Jones will be drafted -- which would be good news for USF -- but he said Jones has yet to qualify academically, making it "doubtful" he'll get to USF this fall. He said Jones is likely headed to a junior college. Another early signee, Miami Springs outfielder Yoandy Barroso has since signed with Miami-Dade College.
USF also faces the prospect of losing draft-eligible underclassmen next week -- according to Baseball America, its top two prospects (ahead of senior pitchers Danny Otero and Chris Delaney) are junior pitcher Daniel Thomas and junior infielder Walter Diaz. They're rated as the No. 48 and 50 prospects in the state -- Thomas missed much of this season with a shoulder injury, but he drew plenty of scouts early in the season and will have a decision to make as to whether to return and try to improve his stock with a healthy senior year. Diaz's bat and speed were key additions and a big part of USF's improvement from last season, and his future will hinge on where he's selected next week.
-- For fans who can afford to travel with USF's basketball teams, recent tournaments have included Las Vegas, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Jose Fernandez's women's team will add nicely to that list, playing in a two-day, eight-team tournament in Cancun, Mexico, on Dec. 17-19. The Bulls will play two games in Cancun, and matchups haven't been determined because the field is incomplete. Six of the seven potential opponents are known, however: Tulsa, Oregon, Southern Miss, Belmont, Illinois-Chicago and Miami are in the field. And while it'd be nice to see the rivalry game, tournament organizers say the Bulls and Hurricanes won't meet. Of the other options, Belmont would be the most intriguing matchup -- the Bruins won the Atlantic Sun and went 25-7 last year, losing in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. None of the other teams finished in the RPI 100, but USF's nonconference schedule is already plenty tough.
-- Remember Kem Nweke? The 309-pound center from suburban Houston who made an official visit to USF but never got a scholarship offer has signed with South Alabama, according to his high school coach, Gary Nichols. USA, of course, is where Stan Heath's successor at Arkansas, John Pelphrey, had coached before taking the Razorbacks job. He'll play for Ronnie Arrow, formerly at TAMU-Corpus Christi.
-- Former Bulls receiver Johnny Peyton, dismissed from the team last year and out of football last fall, has told friends he'll be playing this fall at the University of Dubuque, a Division III program in Iowa. Coach Vincent Brautigam said last week that he's had discussions with Peyton about him playing there, but no decision has been made as to whether he'll play there this fall. Peyton would have two years of eligibility left. Obscure coincidence of the week? Dubuque's defensive coordinator in 1980-81 was a young coach named ... Jim Leavitt.
-- Where are they now, part two: Former Bulls offensive lineman Joey Sipp -- now he's just Joe, and coaching track at Hillsborough High -- was named the Times' track coach of the year in Hillsborough County. Another former football player, Brian Surcy, is now the offensive coordinator at Bloomingdale.
-- Sorry to hear it, but congrats to Scott Kuykendall, USF's sports information director for men's basketball, who has accepted a job as assistant athletic director at Marquette, overseeing their sports information department. Kuykendall has had much to do with the upgrades to USF's official site and its premium Press Pass product. He'll be missed, but we wish him luck back in his native Wisconsin. I once stole the Marquette logo to use on T-shirts when my wife taught on the "Golden Eagles" team at Dowdell Middle School, and now I feel a little better about avoiding litigation for bootlegging their mascot.