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IOWA CITY, Ia. –  Can Iowa’s baseball team continue its growing momentum in 2017?

We’ll get an indicator soon.

For the second straight off-season, Rick Heller will lose a heavy crop of contributing seniors. But the three-day Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, which was slated to start Thursday, is the wild card.

Junior infielder Mason McCoy, who started every game in 2016 and batted cleanup for the Hawkeyes during their run to the Big Ten Conference championship game, is the key guy to watch.

“The biggest worry for us,” Heller said, “is Mason McCoy.”

McCoy, 21, has informed teams of the dollar figure he needs to sign. If a team drafts him (a possible projection is Rounds 8-12), McCoy would still have until July 15 to decide whether to sign or come back to Iowa City.

If he returns, McCoy would almost certainly be ticketed for shortstop in Iowa’s 2017 lineup. In Heller’s first three seasons at Iowa, he’s enjoyed dependable shortstops in Jake Yacinich (2014) and Nick Roscetti (2015, 2016). Both were named first-team all-Big Ten.

McCoy impressed scouts last summer, when he was the wood-bat Northwoods League MVP and racked up a league-record 112 hits. At Iowa, he batted .291 with a .367 on-base percentage. Mostly playing third base, he committed nine errors in 183 chances (.951).

“He had a good year and really came on,” Heller said. “He really improved his defense, which is one of the things scouts wanted to see him do.”

The MLB Draft is unpredictable. The stay-or-go decision usually depends on dollars for third-year college players, and that’s the case with McCoy – who is again playing for the La Crosse (Wis.) Loggers this summer as he waits for a possible MLB phone call.

“Mason’s got a number. If he gets his number, he’s going to go,” Heller said. “If he doesn’t, he’ll probably be back to school. He’s a good student. We just don’t know.”

Iowa signed a strong incoming recruiting class, especially in-state kids. But it's a nervous stretch for Heller, because any MLB team could surprisingly pluck and sign somebody like the Chicago White Sox did last year with Norwalk pitcher Chris Comito.

Hawkeye recruits with the best chance of being chosen include Council Bluffs shortstop Kyle Crowl, Pella two-way star Grant Judkins and Fort Dodge pitcher Kole Kampen.

“Really, if any of the recruits signed,” Heller said, “that would be a pretty big blow to us this year.”

At least three outgoing Iowa seniors should get drafted.

Outfielder Joel Booker tore up the Big Ten with a .370 average, .532 slugging percentage and 23-of-25 success on stolen bases.

Roscetti hit .305 and played excellent defense.

And then there’s right-handed pitcher Tyler Peyton, who opted to return to Iowa for his senior year after being chosen in last year’s 33rd round by the Cincinnati Reds.

“I would be shocked if those three didn’t go in the top 20 rounds,” Heller said. “It would blow my mind.”

Peyton is an interesting case. The Grimes native was hitting 95 mph on his fastball in the season opener at Dallas Baptist, but was slowed after that by forearm soreness. Even during his hot stretch to close the season – 26 straight scoreless innings at one point – his fastball was mostly in the 88-91 mph range.

“The dice roll for Tyler (in coming back) was to try to get into the top three rounds,” Heller said. “Had he stayed healthy all year, I think that was a realistic possibility.”

Left-handed reliever Ryan Erickson is a fourth-year senior with a redshirt season available. He could get drafted, too, with the option to return to the Hawkeyes.

MLB DRAFT AND PROJECTED 2017 LINEUP

This week: Follow the Register’s Tommy Birch (@TommyBirch) and Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) for MLB Draft updates on players with Iowa ties.

Coming in August: Leistikow’s “Way-too-soon” 2017 Hawkeye baseball lineup will be assembled after some potential roster shuffling takes place, likely published in August. (The 2016 version wasn’t too far off!)

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