Blake Hickman said this past Iowa baseball season was "the most fun I've ever had." The program's first all-American since 1999 would love to return for one more run at a Big Ten Conference championship with his Hawkeye teammates.
But given his age and high upside, Hickman understands that his best chance to get the most dollars for powerful right arm is to turn pro.
"I know I've always got a home back in Iowa City for at least one more year if I don't get … the amount of money that would get me out of going to school," Hickman said. "Of course, I would come back to school and aim for new goals for next season with those guys, but as a junior we do have a lot of leverage."
Baseball's First-Year Player Draft starts Monday at 6 p.m. The first two rounds, encompassing 75 picks, will be televised on MLB Network and at MLB.com. Hickman's name could be called then while he sits in his mom's front room in Chicago.
"I'm hoping it's Monday night," he said, "where I can just get it over with and enjoy it with my family."
Baseball America has said he was a likely second- or third-rounder and ranks him as the draft's No. 69 overall prospect. ESPN.com's Keith Law his him going No. 74.
But the baseball draft is the most unpredictable in major sports, driven by dollars and signability. College juniors have more financial leverage than outgoing seniors because MLB franchises need to pony up to entice their top targets to turn pro instead of returning to school.
Any player taken in the first 10 rounds of the draft is slotted a signing-bonus value. That number can slide up or down, but it's typically a good barometer. The last pick in the first round (42nd) is slotted for nearly $1.5 million. If Hickman goes 70th overall, for example, he would be looking at around $880,000.
Unless he came back and had a gang-busters senior year, big-league money spent on elite college juniors is risky to turn down.
"The odds are not great that Blake will come back, but the good thing is that I know Blake's got his head screwed on straight," Iowa coach Rick Heller said. "He knows that the degree is important to him. It's not a given he'll go, but I think the odds are really high that he will."
Hickman has promised his mother, Desiree, who raised Blake and five siblings (two adopted) in a tough area on the south side of Chicago, that even if he goes pro, he will someday complete his college degree.
The Hawkeyes would love to have him back. Hickman was a dominant right-handed force in Iowa's run to 41 wins (second-most in school history) and the NCAA regionals in his first year as a full-time pitcher. The converted catcher was Iowa's only first-team all-Big Ten selection after compiling a 7-0 record and 2.45 ERA in eight league starts.
Hickman, though, faltered in his final two starts — against Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament (lasting two innings on 60 pitches) and against Missouri State in Saturday's NCAA regional (walking five in 32/3 innings).
His fastball speed dropped from its peak of 96-97 mph earlier in the season, and he admitted the 841/3 innings he threw this spring took its toll.
"My arm and my body got really tired, actually. Against Missouri State, I gave it all I had," Hickman said. "I know my (velocity) was down, but I gave it everything I had. Even if that was going to be my last time throwing, I still wanted to show (scouts) even not feeling 100 percent, I was going to give it all I had."
Hickman got emotional thinking about the team's elimination loss one night later, 3-2, again to Missouri State.
"We were really good enough to make it to the College World Series and win it," Hickman said. "That was so tough, that last game, everybody was pretty much crying.
"It was just hard, probably being my last time wearing a Hawkeye jersey."
HAWKEYES' TOP MLB DRAFT PICKS
Where will Blake Hickman end up? A look at Iowa's highest picks in MLB's June amateur draft*:
8th (first) — SS Tim Costo, 1990, Cleveland
17th (first) — P Cal Eldred, 1989, Milwaukee
57th (third) — SS Bryan Jones, 1975, Kansas City
58th (second) — P Wes Obermueller, 1999, Kansas City
79th (third) — OF Danan Hughes, 1992, Milwaukee
88th (third) — OF Chris Hatcher, 1990, Houston
139th (sixth) — P Chuck Johnson, 1979, Chicago White Sox
147th (fifth) — P Brett Backlund, 1992, Pittsburgh
152nd (sixth) — P Mike Boddicker, 1978, Baltimore
*MLB conducted several secondary drafts through 1989. Iowa had the No. 2 overall pick in the 1972 (SS Jim Cox, Montreal) and 1973 (C Jim Sundberg, Kansas City) January Secondary Drafts.