Rick Heller happy to keep recruiting class intact despite big MLB Draft losses
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The MLB Draft is a fickle beast, creating a blend of excitement and anxiety for college baseball coaches all across the country. Undoubtedly, there are proud smiles when players’ dreams come true — but also the realization that crucial pieces and prospects can be snatched away in a moment’s notice.
Rick Heller knows the feeling.
The 2017 draft ended Wednesday with four Hawkeyes selected: first baseman Jake Adams (sixth round, Houston Astros), shortstop Mason McCoy (sixth round, Baltimore Orioles), right-hander Nick Gallagher (16th round, Cleveland Indians) and left-hander Ryan Erickson (30th round, Chicago White Sox).
Iowa is up to 15 draft picks since Heller’s arrival in 2013 — the most over any four-year stretch in program history — providing more evidence of the program’s recent turnaround after years of futility.
MLB DRAFT COVERAGE
But gone now are Iowa’s top bat and arm from this season’s regional run. Adams and Gallagher, both juniors, could’ve returned for one more year but have opted to sign with their respective clubs, creating sizable holes heading into 2018.
“(The draft) is a bit of a stressful time because it impacts your program,” Heller said Thursday. “You’re obviously happy for the guys when they go, but in this year’s draft, we lose our best hitter and our No. 1 pitcher.
“So that’s a tough loss and a tough blow.”
Countering some of Iowa’s draft damage: It appears Heller’s entire 2017 recruiting class will remain intact. Although a handful of signees had a chance to hear their names called at some point during the three-day draft, right-hander Brady Schanuel was the only one who did, going in the 20th round to the Philadelphia Phillies.
However, Schanuel told Hawk Central on Wednesday that Philadelphia likely won’t be able meet his financial demands, and “odds are I’ll be at Iowa next year.” Keeping him on board would be a nice save for the Hawkeyes, which could potentially plug Schanuel into a weekend rotation spot.
Heller remains cautiously optimistic.
“We still feel like there’s a real good chance that Brady’s going to be in school and on the ballclub,” Heller said. “Keeping our fingers crossed on that. And I guess I would say even if he does end up signing, then you know he got what he really wanted and can still be happy for him. But we’re hoping things stay the way they are and that he’ll be a Hawkeye next year.
“It’s really big (to not have any recruiting causalities) — especially Brady’s spot, coming in as a top pitcher and a guy who can be a big-time winner in your rotation. Then the fact that all the other ones are going to be coming to school. It’s a big class for us, and it’s an exciting year for us.”
'Their rehab has gone extremely well'
Heller knew 2018 wouldn’t include Erickson, a redshirt senior out of eligibility, but the loss of Gallagher now leaves Iowa without its top two starters from 2017. It's now all the more imperative that a trio of rehabbing arms return to full strength.
Weekend rotation candidates Kole Kampen and Nick Allgeyer both missed the entire year after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and right-hander C.J. Eldred made just one start before going down with a torn UCL following a strong 2016 season as Iowa’s Friday guy.
Kampen had his procedure last July after injuring his elbow during his senior year, while Allgeyer suffered his early in the fall. Eldred had his procedure in mid-March, with a recovery timetable of seven to eight months.
Heller delivered promising updates on all three.
“Their rehab has gone extremely well,” Heller said. “Obviously, Kole is the closest to being back, because I think his surgery was in early July last year, so he’s coming up on his 12-month mark. None of those guys have had any setbacks, which is great, and all of them are right on pace with where they should be, if not ahead some.”
Pitching coach update
Speaking publicly for the time since Scott Brickman’s move to a role with the UI Foundation, Heller heaped on the praise for his former pitching coach of four years.
"Arguably the two best pitching years in Iowa history have happened in the last four, Heller said, "and you look at this year’s staff — the job Scott did of developing guys and piecing things together. The job he did was phenomenal, and I’m really happy for Scott."
Heller said Brickman let him know about 18 months ago that an administrative shift could come, giving Heller time to put together a short list of potential replacements .
The Iowa baseball coach said numerous “really, really good” candidates have reached out and applied in the last 10 days. Heller hopes to have something finalized soon.
"I'm hoping we had it done by at least the early part of July," he said.
Dargan Southard covers preps, recruiting, Iowa and UNI athletics for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.