Once all 40 rounds finished and all 1,215 picks were called, eight Florida baseball players heard their names called in the 2017 MLB Draft. One prominent name, however, had to wait a lot longer than he probably anticipated.
Junior slugger JJ Schwarz, the Gators’ top power hitter who at one point in his collegiate career was projected to be a first-round pick, was selected by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 38th round (pick No. 1,129) on Wednesday.
Jeff Schwarz, JJ’s father, pass along a message to SEC Country’s Ryan Young after his son’s slide in the draft saying in part that “JJ loves being a Florida Gator and believes he is blessed to be part of the #gatornation.” As of right now, there is no word on whether Schwarz will sign or return to Florida for his senior year.
— Ryan Young (@RyanYoungSEC) June 14, 2017
Schwarz, who was taken in the 17th round by the Milwaukee Brewers out of high school despite his intentions to play at the college level, bursted onto the college baseball scene during his freshman year, belting out 18 home runs and driving in 71 runs while posting a .332 batting average. He was Louisville Slugger’s Co-Freshman Player of the Year and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) Freshman Hitter of the Year.
But over the last two years, Schwarz’s offensive numbers declined as opposing teams . His batting average is just .281 since the end of his freshman year. He has 19 total home runs over the last two years.
After struggling out of the gate this season — he was batting just .200 in mid-March — Schwarz began finding his stride late in SEC play. Since hitting a go-ahead grand slam against South Carolina on April 22, Schwarz is hitting .315 (29-for-92) with 7 home runs over 25 games.
In addition to Schwarz, three more Florida players were selected on the final day of the 2017 MLB Draft, which consisted of Rounds 11-40. The Pittsburgh Pirates selected pitcher David Lee with the 808th overall pick in Round 27, pitcher Frank Rubio went to the San Francisco Giants with pick No. 876 in the 29th round and second baseman Deacon Liput was taken with pick No. 880 in the 29th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Lee, a junior, rarely saw the field during his first year with the Gators. He threw 2 scoreless innings — one against Seton Hall on March 10 and one against Arkansas on May 27 in the SEC Tournament — with 3 strikeouts. Prior to transferring to Florida, though, Lee had a successful first two seasons. He went 6-2 with a 4.00 ERA in 14 starts as a sophomore at Santa Fe College, striking out 54 batters in 52 innings of work. He played at Florida International University as a freshman, going 2-2 on the mound with a 4.42 ERA.
Rubio, a senior and a four-year walk-on, was hoping to have a breakout season in his final year of collegiate eligibility after slowly building up his innings pitched each of his first three years. Instead, the sidearm pitcher’s production took a step back. Heading into the College World Series, Rubio has a 1-1 record and a 4.05 ERA in 26 2/3 innings of work. For his career, Rubio is 4-3 with a 3.86 ERA in 88 2/3 innings over 64 relief appearances.
Liput, a draft-eligible sophomore, saw his offensive production take a major step back this season. He is batting a team-worst .225 among hitters with at least 100 plate appearances and has more strikeouts (59) than hits (52). Liput made his mark on defense, committing just 3 errors in the field in 273 chances. Liput still has two more years of draft eligibility should he choose to return to school.
They join pitcher Alex Faedo, shortstop Dalton Guthrie (Round 6, No. 173, Philadelphia Phillies), and catchers Mike Rivera (Round 6, No. 192, Cleveland Indians) and Mark Kolozsvary (Round 7, No. 197, Cincinnati Reds) as Florida players selected in the three-day, 40-round draft.
Junior infielder Christian Hicks and senior outfielder Ryan Larson, both of whom have played valuable roles for the Gators this season, went undrafted.
In addition to the eight current Gators, eight of Florida’s 16 signees according to Perfect Game were selected during the draft:
- Right-handed pitcher Sam Carlson (Round 2, No. 55, Seattle Mariners)
- Catcher Sam McMillan (Round 5, No. 155, Detroit Tigers)
- Catcher Zach Jackson (Round 6, No. 184, St. Louis Cardinals)
- Right-handed pitcher Tommy Mace (Round 12, No. 347, Cincinnati Reds)
- Right-handed pitcher Hunter Ruth (Round 32, No. 975, Chicago Cubs)
- Shortstop Brady McConnell (Round 33, No. 977, Cincinnati Reds)
- Left-handed pitcher Jordan Butler (Round 34, No. 1,022, New York Yankees)
- Right-handed pitcher Jack Leftwich (Round 39, No. 1,175, Detroit Tigers)
Carlson, McMillan and Jackson are likely to forgo their collegiate eligibility and make the jump to the big leagues. Mace, the No. 144 overall prospect in the draft, could go either way. Ruth, McConnell, Butler and Leftwich seem like virtual locks to come to campus. McConnell was the No. 75 prospect in the draft and has expressed his commitment to playing for the Gators throughout the draft. Ruth was the No. 151 prospect in the draft. Leftwich was the No. 164 prospect.