Nebraska’s top two hitters and four of the top six pitchers are not returning, and the top two Husker recruits are also turning pro.
“We have Plans B, C, D and E for seeing kids go pro early and seeing kids sign out of high school,” NU coach Darin Erstad said Tuesday. “This is what we signed up for and the only way to avoid this problem is to not recruit good players.”
Nebraska junior Pat Kelly, who started the last 135 games and led Nebraska in hits and RBIs, said Tuesday he will sign a contract with the Minnesota Twins. Husker recruit Jakson Reetz of Norris told his high school coach that he will sign with the Washington Nationals, who picked him in the third round of the Major League Draft.
Reetz, a two-time Journal Star Super State co-captain, is expected to receive much more than the typical third-round signing bonus of about $600,000 because the Nats had some money left over from signing their top two picks in the draft.
Kelly, the cleanup hitter and one of the top defensive second basemen in college baseball, said through a release from Nebraska, he enjoyed his time at Nebraska and appreciated the help from the coaching staff.
“My last three years at Nebraska have been some of the best years of my life, but after talking with my family I have decided that it is time to pursue my dream of playing Major League Baseball,” Kelly said, a three-time All-Big Ten performer. “I can’t say enough about the coaching staff at Nebraska. I’m going to miss playing in front of the greatest fans in college baseball.”
Reetz, one of the top Husker recruits this spring, will not speak to the media until he signs with Washington. According to Norris High School coach Jason Cullison, Reetz will fly to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday and eventually sign before heading to St. Petersburg, Fla., to play in the Gulf Coast League.
The Huskers will also lose Aaron Bummer, a junior left-hander, who signed with the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday.
NU football and baseball recruit Monte Harrison signed with the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday for $1.8 million after he was taken in the second round of last weekend’s draft.
Erstad is allowed to replace the players who signed letters of intent and decided to turn pro. NCAA baseball limits Division I teams to 11.7 scholarships. The Big Ten limits were raised from one to two on the oversigning allowance this year. The NCAA does not limit the number of players a team can sign to a national letter of intent.
"We have a little more flexibility to oversign two players, and if they turn pro, we can split up the scholarships in any manner we want," he said.
With Kelly leaving a year early and the exhaustion of eligibility of left fielder Michael Pritchard, the Huskers lose their top two hitters. Add in the graduation of Christian DeLeon, Zach Hirsch, Bob Greco and Bummer leaving a year early, the Huskers lose four of their top six pitchers.
The Huskers have had back-to-back outstanding recruiting classes, ranked 26th in 2013 and 11th in 2014. Among the recruits from last year were center fielder Ryan Boldt, who turned down more than $1 million from the Boston Red Sox last year, and junior college catcher Tanner Lubach, who became the starter this year.
Wes Edrington of that class played shortstop last year and redshirted this year. Ben Miller also pitched and batted at designated hitter, and Christian Cox filled many roles for NU. Pitchers Michael Klein, Burkamper and Max Leuty are expected to contribute next year.
This year’s recruiting class includes Super-State pitcher Byron Hood of Norris; lefty Jake McSteen of Great Falls, Va.; Super-State pitcher Jake Meyers of Omaha Westside; Zach Engelken of Overland Park, Kan.; Reece Eddins of Blue Springs South, Mo.; and outfielder Elijah Dilday of St. Charles, Mo.
The class also includes Luis Alvarado of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, a 33rd-round pick of the Red Sox, and Garett King of Anaheim, Calif., 36th-round pick of the Mets. They have until July 18 to decide if they wish to turn pro.