Recent Midview graduate Eric Lauer may have a big decision to make within the next few days based on what happens in today’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
The left-handed Lauer, with a baseball scholarship in hand at Kent State, is the second-rated draft prospect out of Ohio behind Kent State starting pitcher Tyler Skullina, according to Baseball America. He could be drafted anywhere from the late first round to the top of the fourth round, according to several scouts’ projections.
He, along with recent Amherst graduate Griffin Weir and Avon grad and Kent State red-shirt sophomore Josh Pierce, will be watching the proceedings today and Friday with great anticipation to see where they will be drafted and who will take them.
“With the draft, everything’s been crazy the last few days,” Lauer said. “The absolute minimum is the seventh round, but most teams have indicated taking me somewhere from the first-to-third round. A couple of teams have said that they would be willing to pay me late-first round money.
“It’s nothing definite so far. With the new slotting system, they can only pay you so much based on where you’re picked. We have a number in mind and we’re trying to be as easy about this thing as we can. I’m sure, starting (this) morning, my phone will be ringing off the hook.”
Both Lauer and Midview coach Scott Jalowiec said the recent events with Kent State’s baseball program, with manager Steve Stricklin leaving to take the managerial position at Georgia, have opened the door slightly for him to entertain the possibility of turning pro.
Lauer said that pitching coach Mike Birkbeck was the main reason why he de-committed to Kentucky and signed with Kent State. Birkbeck is reportedly weighing an offer to join Stricklin in Georgia.
“Here we were telling everyone that we were 90-10 leaning toward pitching at Kent State, and then we find out Stricklin is leaving,” Lauer said. “We had our minds made up, and now we hear that Stricklin’s trying to take Birkbeck with him.
“Coach Birkbeck is the main reason why I chose Kent. He’s the best pitching coach in college baseball and I knew he’d be the perfect tutor for me to help me get the best out of my abilities and make the transition to becoming a professional pitcher. Now, we’re thinking we should consider the draft more.”
Jalowiec said that what happens with Birkbeck could have an impact on Lauer’s decision.
“I’m sure he’ll have a tough choice to make over the next few weeks,” said Jalowiec, who has been in contact with several big league scouts over the last year concerning his prized pitching prospect. “He was really leaning on going to school. He loves Coach Birkbeck because he’s one of best pitching coaches around. He’s a former (Milwaukee) Brewer who knows his stuff.
“With what went on (this week) with Stricklin leaving, that could all change. I heard a little bit that Kent is looking to either offer Birkbeck the managerial job or whoever they hire has to retain him as pitching coach. Stricklin may offer Birkbeck the pitching coach job at Georgia. If that goes on, it would let Eric out of his letter of intent. Whatever happens from there, I don’t know.”
Lauer dominated the opposition this season, going 7-0 with a 0.15 ERA. In 47 innings pitched, he gave up one earned run, 12 hits, walked eight and struck out 96. Opponents batted just .077 against him this season.
“Scouts are looking for signability and, with the new slotting system, they can’t use that money for anybody else,” Jalowiec said. “If you’re picked in third round, you’ve got a certain amount of money to sign. It’s different than what it used to be. If not, you lose that pick and that money.
“They’ve talked to Eric’s parents and they’ve thrown out a number and those scouts seem to think that number is pretty achievable. If that happens, it would be tough to turn down. You can only play baseball for so long, but if you invest your money correctly, you can be able to live happily for a long time.
“According to his dad, they were leaning toward staying at Kent, but with Stricklin leaving, it’s up in the air at this point. I think if someone offers him at least $1 million to draft him, I think it would be a very difficult choice to leave that on the table.”
Lauer said he and his family have told the scouts that they are seeking between $1.2-1.5 million after taxes.
“We know that is a little much,” Lauer said. “But I’m like 80-20 going to Kent, so it’s going to take a lot to get me away from Kent. The upper end of that scale may not be very realistic, but we want to set it higher because that’s what a college education is worth to me.
“Depending on what Birkbeck does, I would love to stay at Kent. We’ve heard good things about people interviewing for the managerial job, so I’ll probably stay at Kent. I honestly feel like Birkbeck is going to stay, and I hope and pray that he does. I’d rather have some college under my belt and I hope everything works out for the best.”
Exactly 10 years ago, Midview went through something similar with left-handed pitcher Ryan Feierabend. Like Lauer, Feierabend had a scholarship to Kent State, but he wound up signing with Seattle after being drafted in the third round in 2003.
Feierabend did make it to the major leagues with the Mariners in 2006-08 and is now pitching for Texas’ Class AAA team after a Rangers scout, who was looking at Lauer, saw Feierabend throw to Midview hitters during a winter workout and signed him.
“Ryan has said that Eric’s head and shoulders better than he was when they were the same age, and Ryan made it to the major leagues,” Jalowiec said. “That’s high praise right there.”
Lauer said he asked Feierabend what he’d do now with hindsight being what it is.
“Ryan’s told me, without a doubt, that he wouldn’t change a thing,” Lauer said. “He said he’d sign and turn pro again in a heartbeat. He’s happy with the decision he made. He’s been able to invest the money he got early on and he’s been able to live off it. And he’s still out there doing it.
“I’ve heard a lot of opinions and advice. For every person who sells me that college is the way to go, there’s another who has me convinced that I should turn pro and get the money now. It’s crazy.”
Despite the scouts being at every game he pitched this season, Lauer never let it get to him.
“It helps, definitely, because you’re not going to get more pressure than every pro team in the stands with radar guns on you,” Lauer said. “Perhaps only pitching in front of 50,000 fans may be more nerve-wracking than that. But I think that environment will help me, whether I’m at Kent State or pitching in the minor leagues.
“I’m glad it happened this year and that I was still able to go out and pitch and do my best and not (screw up). My whole team, we played together since we were 10 and we were waiting for this year to come up. We came up a little short of what we wanted (reaching the Division I District Championship), but it was a fun ride. I’m happy we all stayed at Midview so we could go out with our last hurrah together.”
Jalowiec said that’s just the type of kid Lauer is.
“I’d be more nervous about those scouts being there than he was, but you would never know they were there if you talked to him,” he said. “He’d just go out and strike out 12 guys and put zeroes up on the board whether there was one scout or 30 scouts in attendance. He loved to joke around with the guys and was a fantastic teammate.
“He could have ‘big-leagued’ us and carried himself in a different way, but he never did. He was just the typical 17-year-old kid having fun playing baseball. That’s a testament to the way he was raised. I think that mentality will help him, whether he goes pro or stays at Kent.”
Lauer, who has enough credits built up to be considered a sophomore in college, is still leaning toward going for his degree and building himself up for the 2016 MLB Draft.
“Even when I was leaning toward pro ball, college was always in the back of my mind,” said Lauer, who plans on majoring in business and entrepreneurship. “I think you’ll always question if you made the right decision. I think college is more of a weaning period to get you used to playing bigger ball, going through the scheduling and all the games, certain rotation days and arm conditioning days in between being on the mound. And I won’t have to do it in 100-degree heat in Arizona.
“With everything considered, Kent State will be the right choice. But (this) morning, I’ll get a bunch of calls with offers, and they’ll ask for a yes or no answer. If I like it, I’ll say yes, if not, I’ll go to Kent. Either way, it’s a win-win, and if it’s a win-win with a bonus if Birkbeck stays.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.