Seven Owls say farewell to Reckling, bolt for pros
One day after defeat at the hands of the University of Texas in the NCAA Regional on June 6, the baseball team had to start worrying about the Major League Baseball draft and the possibility of losing their prized players to the pros. Despite the earlier-than-planned exit from the NCAA Tournament, the Owls still had an exciting season, posting a final record of 40-23, which included winning a conference championship for the 15th-straight year.
Seven current Owls were selected in the June draft and subsequently signed professional contracts, including junior Rick Hague (Lovett '11), who was selected with the first pick in the third round.
Hague ended up receiving a $433,000 signing bonus from the Washington Nationals. Hague hit .340 over the year for the Owls, providing them with a constant cornerstone at the shortstop position. He caught fire during the Owls' run through the Conference USA tournament, hitting .529.
Also selected were Diego Seastrunk (Will Rice '10) in the 14th round by the Cleveland Indians and Jimmy Comerota (Jones '10) in the 18th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Seastrunk, a catcher, played in the second-most games in the history of the Rice program. He maintained a lifetime .327 batting average while placing third on the all-time list of hits with 287. Comerota, a former walk-on, has played every position in the Rice infield over his 170-game Rice career. He hit .359 inside C-USA games this year, earning second team all-conference honors.
Also drafted were Chad Mozingo (Lovett '11) in the draft's 20th round by the Washington Nationals, Mike Ojala (Martel '10) in the 25th round by the Florida Marlins, Steven Sultzbaugh (Will Rice '10) in the 31st round by the Arizona Diamondbacks and Jared Rogers (Baker '10) in the 36th round by the Florida Marlins.
The prize of the incoming freshman class, right-handed pitcher Jameson Taillon, signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates after being the second player selected overall in the June draft. Taillon, a native of The Woodlands, peaked at 99 miles per hour with his fastball while being able to mix in a solid curveball and slider. He received one of the largest signing bonuses in Major League Baseball history, garnering a $6,500,000 check.
Also lost to the MLB draft were Rice signees Dickie Thon Jr. and Jaime Esquivel.
Thon, a signee from Puerto Rico, was expected to compete for the shortstop position this year. He signed with the Toronto Blue Jays for $1.5 million after being selected with their fifth-round pick. Thon's father, Dickie Sr., played shortstop for six MLB teams during his 15-year career. His success was short-lived due to a broken orbital bone suffered when he was hit by a pitch in April 1984.
Esquivel, a right-handed pitcher from South Houston High School, had a 1.45 ERA and struck out 102 batters in 80 innings during his senior season. He signed with the Baltimore Orioles after being drafted in the 28th round and receiving a $225,000 signing bonus.
Despite these losses, Rice baseball still has one of the brightest futures of any program in the country, with a deep and diverse recruiting class including Michael Aquino, Keenan Cook, Derek Hamilton, Shane Hoelscher, Connor Mason, Tyler Pearson, John Simms, Kyle Mueller and Austin Kubitza. In addition, the Owls will welcome Brad Kottman, a 6-4 left-handed pitcher transferring from Brown University, who will sit out this season in order to comply with NCAA transfer rules. Hoelscher and Hamilton are expected to compete for Hague's vacated spot, while Aquino and Cook will vie to replace Mozingo in right field. Pearson is also expected to compete with junior Craig Manuel and sophomore Geoff Perrott to be the starting catcher. Simms, Kubitza and Mason are already drawing comparisons to the fearsome threesome of Phil Humber, Jeff Niemann and Wade Townsend, who led Rice to the 2003 national championship.
Kubitza, a right-handed pitcher and outfielder, was drafted in the seventh round, but passed up a contract offer from Pittsburgh in order to get his education at Rice.
"I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get an outstanding education at Rice," Kubitza said. "I just couldn't get past the fact that something might happen to me or my arm, and if that happened, I knew I would have an amazing degree.
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