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How Arizona baseball fared in the 2021 MLB Draft and what’s next

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NCAA Baseball: Tucson Super Regional
Donta’ Williams
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

In previous years, the MLB Draft would occur during college baseball’s postseason and make for a potential distraction to playoff teams who see their stars get picked.

Moved to mid-July, and coinciding with the All-Star break, the 2021 draft instead provided a bigger stage for the sport’s best amateur talent. That included quite a few players associated with the Arizona Wildcats.

Arizona had seven members of its 2021 team picked during the 3-day draft, second-most in the Pac-12 behind UCLA’s 10. The seven were the most for the Wildcats since the 2018 team had eight players selected, though that included one chosen in a round beyond the current 20-round format.

The UA also had one incoming signee get drafted in Las Vegas outfielder Tyler Whitaker. A third-round pick of the Houston Astros, Whitaker is unlikely to make it to college with him in line to earn a signing bonus of around $689,000 based on MLB.com’s “pick value” for the No. 87 selection.

Here’s a look at the eight UA-connected players drafted, and as well as the likelihood they turn pro or return to school:

OF Ryan Holgate

  • Round/Pick: 2nd (Competitive Balance B)/70th
  • Drafted by: St. Louis Cardinals
  • Pick value: $906,800
  • Likelihood to sign: High. Holgate improved his draft stock by 30 rounds from high school, when the Minnesota Twins took him in the 32nd round, and it’s hard to see him being able to go up anymore with another year in college. This is especially true since his outfield defense and arm are below average, things he’d be better served to work on while getting a paycheck.

1B Branden Boissiere

  • Round/Pick: 3rd/82nd
  • Drafted by: Washington Nationals
  • Pick value: $744,200
  • Likelihood to sign: High. Boissiere, like Holgate, entered the NCAA transfer portal to leave his options open if the draft didn’t go well. MLB.com had him as the No. 159 draft prospect, while Baseball America ranked him No. 143, so the Nationals see a lot of value in his Tony Gwynn-like hitting style and solid glove.

OF Tyler Whitaker

  • Round/Pick: 3rd/87th
  • Drafted by: Houston Astros
  • Pick value: $689,300
  • Likelihood to sign: High. If Jay Johnson were still at Arizona he no doubt would have had numerous conversations with Whitaker by now to try and convince him of the benefit of developing in college. With Johnson now at LSU, any chance of this left-handed hitting slugger filling one of the UA’s outfield openings seems slim.

OF Donta’ Williams

  • Round/Pick: 4th/106th
  • Drafted by: Baltimore Orioles
  • Pick value: $549,000
  • Likelihood to sign: High. Baseball America had Williams ranked as the No. 324 prospect in this draft, and MLB didn’t even have him ranked. The “knock” against him if you will, is that he’s 5-foot-10, but he that didn’t matter to an Orioles franchise that has a 5’8” starting center fielder in Cedric Mullins who leads the league in hits and made the All-Star Game.

LHP Gil Luna

  • Round/Pick: 9th/275th
  • Drafted by: Chicago White Sox
  • Pick value: $152,000
  • Likelihood to sign: Good. Who knows how much more Luna’s draft stock might have risen had he been able to pitch in the Super Regionals and College World Series. Instead he was sidelined by a suspension related to an off-campus incident in late May, yet the live arm he showcased during a long scoreless streak in the spring was enough to impress the White Sox. Luna has graduated, and since he didn’t enter the transfer portal his only other option would be to come back to Arizona, which may not sound that enticing considering the school’s recent treatment of him.

RHP Chase Silseth

  • Round/Pick: 11th/321st
  • Drafted by: Los Angeles Angels
  • Pick value: None
  • Likelihood to sign: Low. Word on the street is Silseth, who was Arizona’s No. 1 starter all season, had a particularly signing bonus in mind coming into the draft. Only picks in the 10 rounds have pre-assigned pick values, so the chances of him getting offered what he was looking for from the 11th round is low. Scouting reports indicated teams may be more interested him as a reliever, and coming back to Arizona could provide him a chance to convert to a new role and enhance his stock for 2022.

IF Kobe Kato

  • Round/Pick: 13th/388th
  • Drafted by: Houston Astros
  • Pick value: None
  • Likelihood to sign: Uncertain. Kato came to Arizona as a walk-on and only has one full season of play under his belt, but his great approach at the plate and tremendous baserunning were enough to warrant the Astros taking a flier on him. He’s already graduated, and he might want to get his pro career started, though he could also benefit from a year working with Chip Hale to improve his fielding.

RHP Austin Smith

  • Round/Pick: 18th/547th
  • Drafted by: Atlanta Braves
  • Pick value: None
  • Likelihood to sign: High. Another graduate, Smith could come back for another year but he’s got the kind of power arm that pro teams covet. It probably won’t take much money to get him to sign and start trying to climb the minor leagues either as a starter or reliever. Of the draft-eligible Wildcats who didn’t get picked, the one most likely to still end up signing is left-handed pitcher Garrett Irvin. He’s also in the transfer portal, so going to a fourth school in five college seasons is also a strong option.

Righty Quinn Flanagan and lefty Ian Churchill, who like Irvin are in the transfer portal, also might want to start their pro careers after each spending four years in college. And senior righties Preston Price and Vince Vannelle will try to find a spot somewhere in the minors after both going undrafted.