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MLB draft decision looms for Gators star, Sunlake product Tommy Mace

‘He’s a next-level guy for sure,’ pitching coach and former big-leaguer Anthony Telford said.
According to MLB.com, Florida pitcher Tommy Mace is the 69th-ranked prospect in the upcoming draft class.
According to MLB.com, Florida pitcher Tommy Mace is the 69th-ranked prospect in the upcoming draft class. [ BUTCH DILL | Associated Press (2019) ]
Published Jun. 9, 2020|Updated Jun. 9, 2020

Tommy Mace was last seen on a pitcher’s mound three months ago, tossing seven scoreless innings.

His dominant performance March 6 against USF — the week before the sports world came to a halt — was what fans of the then-undefeated, top-ranked Gators had come to expect from their ace and former Sunlake High standout.

These days, it’s impossible to guess what the next day will bring. But Mace’s pitching coach, former MLB pitcher Anthony Telford, knows one thing, for sure.

At least, when it comes to this week’s baseball draft.

Related: Why MLB’s pared-down draft could leave Rays short-handed

“(Mace) is for sure getting drafted in the first two rounds,” Telford, 54, said. “I don’t see a scenario in which 30 teams pass on him twice. There’s just no way. He’s too good, and he’s got too much upside.”

The experts agree.

Mace is the 69th-ranked prospect in the upcoming draft class, according to MLB.com. BaseballAmerica projects Mace and teammate and fellow right-handed pitcher Jack Leftwich as key departures for the Gators this offseason via the draft.

But MLB has not been shielded from the logistical and financial impacts of COVID-19; the draft was shortened from 40 rounds to five, and the players association is still negotiating baseball’s 2020 return with the league.

Mace also retains the ability to come back for another year in Gainesville without losing eligibility after the NCAA granted an exemption for spring athletes.

He knows he’s in a unique situation where he has a lot more leverage than regular junior classes, and he admitted that in a normal year he would “probably just sign.”

Related: History shows Rays are savvy picking after the fifth round

But this isn’t a normal year, and Mace will have a decision to make in the weeks after his name is called Wednesday night during the first round or on Thursday when the remaining four rounds play out.

He just isn’t letting on that he’s made one yet.

“I can’t really make a decision before any of the things happen because, right now, what am I really making a decision on? Something I don’t have or something I don’t know,” Mace said. “So right now, I’m just doing whatever I can to get ready for another season, whether that’s pro ball or college.”

Telford has known about Mace since he was dominating high school batters. Telford said Mace didn’t need much in the way of coaching — even from a veteran of the big leagues.

And as a surefire early-round draft choice, Telford says Mace doesn’t have an attitude about him, either.

Related: All things considered, Rays ‘in a good spot’ for next week’s draft

“He’s teachable, he’s humble,” Telford said.

The Reds picked Mace in the 12th round of the 2017 draft but he opted for college. He posted a 16-5 record at Florida in two full seasons and a fraction of a third. His decision to go to Florida seems to have paid off with a successful, healthy career at one of the nation’s top programs.

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Plus, he can lean on his past draft experience.

“I learned a lot from the draft three years ago, the 2017 draft, just in the aspect of learning how to deal with talking to so many teams and then not really hearing much in the draft or just not really getting what you wanted out of it,” Mace said.

Telford thinks that the shortened draft benefits Mace, because “Tommy is a guy I think they can put right in high-A ball."

Even though Telford has experience with the draft process having left San Jose State as a junior in 1987, he isn’t trying to influence Mace’s decision.

Related: No crowd, no players; just a stadium, a wedding, and a kind gesture

But, he allowed, “I don’t know that going back would get him anything other than a chance at a national title.”

The 2021 draft has been shortened as well — though it’s back up to 20 rounds instead of five — so another year at Florida would not keep Mace, 21, out of an altered draft. And he acknowledges age is a concern as he weighs his options.

“You’re fighting age, and we can’t play this game the rest of our lives,” he said. “So if I’m 25 or 22, 23 going into the draft, then how many more years until I start losing peak capabilities with my body?”

Telford thinks Mace’s peak capabilities are soon to come. Mace stands at 6 feet, 6 inches, throws between 94 and 97 mph and has stronger days ahead, Telford said.

“Everybody’s good at that level, but the guys that can compete like that are the guys that are special, and I believe that Tommy’s competitive makeup, along with his stuff — he’s a next-level pitcher for me,” Telford said. “He’s a next-level guy, for sure.”

Contact Kyle Wood at kwood@tampabay.com. Follow @Kkylewood.