Draft wait likely short for USF's Kevin Merrell
Last week's encouraging news for Bulls baseball fans (Coach Mark Kingston appears set to stick around) now seems destined to be offset by some a little tougher to absorb.
SS Kevin Merrell almost certainly has played his last game for USF. RHP Joe Cavallaro -- a fellow junior -- conceivably also could depart. There's even a modest chance OF Duke Stunkel Jr., who wielded USF's hottest bat in the postseason, may exit too.
That trio of juniors, along with senior RHP Pheonix Sanders, are the names Bulls fans should monitor as the 2017 Major League Baseball Draft commences this evening. As locals go, University of Florida ace (and Alonso High alumnus) Alex Faedo is the most coveted prospect, and likely will be taken early in the opening round.
But Merrell, a Steinbrenner High alumnus, won't be terribly far behind.
The American Athletic Conference's top hitter (.384) and a Baseball America second-team All-American, Merrell ranks 51st on Baseball America's list of the top 500 draft prospects. If the projections hold true, he'll be the first USF player drafted in the top five rounds since RHP Casey Hudspeth (fifth round, Houston) in 2006.
The respective fates of Cavallaro, Sanders and Stunkel are considerably more vague, but clearly worth watching.
Cavallaro, who combines a draftable frame (6-foot-4, 207 pounds) with an intriguing slider, ranks 397th on the Baseball America top 500. Arguably USF's most effective arm out of the bullpen down the stretch, he finished 5-3 with a 2.28 ERA and five saves, striking out 77 (and walking only 19) in 59.1 innings.
Stunkel may prompt a club to take a chance on him in the late rounds, if for nothing more than his solid glove and torrid finish.
Though lacking power (two home runs) for a corner outfielder, he hit .344 for the season, second only behind Merrell. In the Bulls' first two games at the NCAA's Gainesville Regional, he went 7-for-11 with three RBIs.
Similarly, Sanders -- a senior -- could be drafted late. USF's Friday night starter the last two years, he finished 6-2 with a 2.78 ERA this past season, fanning a team-best 109 and walking 25 in 97 innings.
Today: 7 p.m. (Round 1 through Competitive Balance Round B)
Tuesday: 1 p.m., Rounds 3-10)
Wednesday: Noon (Rounds 11-40)
(Draft coverage today on MLB Network and MLB.com; Tuesday and Wednesday coverage on MLB.com)