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Arizona baseball: Wildcats, Jay Johnson get through MLB Draft in dream fashion

A pretty light draft for Arizona as a whole in 2015

Jason Bartel

When Jay Johnson accepted the Arizona Wildcats head coaching job on Monday, he called the job his "Dream Job" and "The greatest day of my life".

Well, he may have just had his "Dream Draft" as far as trying to get this program righted.

Arizona itself had only three players selected in the MLB Draft. Only Cal and Utah (one each) had fewer players selected throughout the Pac-12.

Two of those players were obvious, and there was never a chance they were coming back in both Kevin Newman and Scott Kingery. When both were officially selected in the Top 50 picks, that just solidified that there will be an entirely new middle infield in Tucson in 2016.

The third pick was a bit of a surprise, as redshirt junior Xavier Borde went in the 36th round. His choice of turning pro or returning to school is totally a personal option, and whether or not he thinks he can turn himself into a high draft pick in 2016. Having the entire starting rotation of Cody Hamlin, Nathan Bannister and Tyger Talley go undrafted could turn out to be huge, plus another year of a guy like Bobby Dalbec only helps ease the transition for Jay Johnson.

But Borde was not the only potential member of the 2016 pitching staff drafted, as four Arizona signees were picked in Javier MedinaMax WotellJio Orozco, and Austin Rubick.

Social media is a big deal to Arizona Athletics, and this was the first action on Johnson's twitter feed after taking the Arizona job. Retweeting this tweet by Tigers pitcher David Price.

At Monday's press conference, which was the first day of the MLB Draft, coach Johnson said "My first message is to the guys who coach (Andy) Lopez just signed. It's a talented group of players that have tremendous upside, have tremendous potential, and have a big, important decision in their life over the next couple days. And fellas, if you were in this room right now to see the support you have, the environment you have, you're coming to Arizona. You're not bypassing this."

Since pitching was the issue during the early and middle parts of the season, getting four pitching prospects on campus that are highly-regarded enough to get drafted out of high school is key.

"We gotta get in a couple of these guys' homes that will get drafted probably (Tuesday) or Wednesday," Johnson said. "I've kind of assessed where we have a chance to make an impact and that's where we're going to start."

The timing of the official hiring of Johnson seemed too perfect. The day before the draft started, then having that first press conference just hours before the first picks began rolling in. But it was not the highest priority to get the deal done then.

"I knew it could go all through Omaha," athletic director Greg Byrne told me on Monday. "I had been doing a bunch of research, but I just didn't know how things would shake out from a postseason perspective, so it could have gone on for a lot longer."

"It was an added bonus that we could do it within these time frames," Bryne continued. "But it wasn't the driving force, but it was something I had in mind."

"I have to give Greg a lot of credit on that," Johnson added. "To have an athletic director that understands the dynamic of the draft and our sport, and how it's so much different than any other sport in college athletics was really important."

"Last Friday (May 29th) when we first talked on the phone, that was a point of emphasis for him, and obviously a point of emphasis for me," coach continued.

Changes in the MLB Draft through the Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLB owners and the MLBPA have put an emphasis on the first ten rounds, and "slot values". This has changed how some coaches recruit players, based on what they think their signability will be.

"The real issue with the draft right now is that there's some first-rounder right now that they say 'Instead of giving you two million, let's give 'em 1.5," Andy Lopez explained at the end of the season. "And he says 'Yeah, I'll take a million and a half, what the heck'. And now that $500,000 is available for the 35th round pick. So if there's a 35th rounder sitting down there, (the team's) going 'Yay, we got him'. And then he signs. So the draft means absolutely nothing anymore until it's all done. It's a whole different animal now."

"Last year, we did not have a single player in the recruiting class sign a pro contract," Johnson said of his 2014 class at Nevada. "It's really about not who you sign, but how many good ones you actually get to campus. So my job is not only to get them to say 'Hey, we're coming to the University of Arizona', but really educate them on what is in front of them in terms of, there's two paths to Major League Baseball, one through college and one through the low minor leagues."

"And there's a ton of research that is unbiased that says that for the majority of young players, college is the way to go."

If Johnson can bring in the guys he wants, there's no reason to believe that this program can't get turned around sooner than later.

"We're not that far away," Greg Byrne stated. "Coach Lopez and I talked about that. That's part of what made this job very attractive to (Johnson)."

It's a big few weeks for Johnson, who comes in with the reputation of being a recruiting mastermind. Let's see what kind of tricks he has up his sleeve.