Nick Sandlin didn’t find out he was going into the University of Southern Mississippi’s starting rotation until about a week before the 2018 season started.
The move not only paid huge dividends for the Golden Eagles, who benefited from one of the most dominating seasons by a USM pitcher, but for Sandlin as well.
The junior right-hander from Evans, Ga., became just one of three Golden Eagles ever taken in the second round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft and the first since 1997 when the Cleveland Indians made his the 67th overall selection Monday night.
“I wasn’t really surprised, day of,” Sandlin said Tuesday afternoon. “For the last week, there was talk that there was a decent shot that it could be (Monday) night or early (Tuesday), so I guess it was 50-50 shot in when it could be.
“As it went on, I was watching it a little bit, and, so, yeah, it may have caught me by surprise a little bit just how fast everything happened. But, yeah, that was really cool that we got to get it done (Monday).”
Sandlin joined third baseman Tommy Davis (55th overall selection, Baltimore Orioles) in 1994 and pitcher Brandon Parker (55th overall selection, Seattle Mariners) in 1997 as second-round picks. Frank Baker also was a second-round selection in June’s secondary phase of the 1967 draft.
Cleveland took a USM starting pitcher for a second consecutive season, after drafting Kirk McCarty in the seventh round of the 2017 draft.
“I guess he had some good things to say about me when they asked,” Sandlin said. “I’m sure he helped me out a lot. But that’s cool, and hopefully, I’ll be able to reunite with him.”
Sandlin, Conference USA’s Pitcher of the Year and winner of the 2018 Ferriss Trophy, was joined in the 2018 draft by Conference USA’s Player and Newcomer of the Year and a finalist for the Ferriss Trophy.
USM junior third baseman Luke Reynolds was taken in the 10th round by the Chicago Cubs as the 308th overall selection.
In his first season with the Golden Eagles, Reynolds led USM in batting average (.389), hits (84), doubles (20), runs (70), walks (65), hit-by-pitch (14), slugging percentage (.699) and on-base percentage (.551). He was second in home runs (15) and runs batted in (61).
Sandlin, who finished 10-0 with a 1.06 earned run average after being converted to a starting pitcher after two seasons as the Golden Eagles’ closer, said he got a call from his advisor about 10:30 p.m. Monday.
“He said, ‘All right, you’re about to be part of the Indians here,’ and it was like one or two picks away,” Sandlin said.
Sandlin, who collected 20 saves in first two seasons with the Golden Eagles, said he had heard from nearly every MLB team and had face-to-face conversations with about 20 teams.
“Cleveland seemed to be interested,” Sandlin said. “They were, at times, sending like three guys to watch me a couple times. I had talked with the area scout, and our pitching coach (Christian Ostrander) had talked with their scouting director and some other people in the organization, so we knew they were really interested.”
Sandlin said he had agreed to terms with the Indians, though details were not available. The signing bonus at the 67th pick was slotted at $939,700, according to MLB.com.
“(Sandlin’s representatives) let me know when they had reached an agreement, and it happened pretty quick from there,’ Sandlin said. “The Indians called a little bit later, and I went through a little bit of stuff with them, but that was after they had picked me.”
Sandlin and Reynolds were among 10 players from Mississippi colleges or high schools drafted during Monday and Tuesday’s first 10 rounds.
Joining the USM duo were a pair of first-round selections, Ole Miss left-hander Ryan Rolison (Colorado Rockies, 22nd overall) and Brandon High School right-hander J.T. Ginn (Los Angeles Dodgers, 30th overall).
Hattiesburg High School outfielder Joe Gray, who helped the Tigers to the Class 5A state championship, was taken in the second round as the 60th overall pick by the Milwaukee Brewers.
Mississippi State left-hander Konner Pilkington was the 81st overall selection, going to to the Chicago White Sox in the third round.
Ole Miss teammates, catcher Nick Fortes and right-hander Brady Feigl, went in back-to-back rounds. Forest was the 117th overall pick, taken by the Miami Marlins in the fourth round, and Feigl was pick No. 143, taken by the Oakland Athletics in the fifth round.
Two high school players went in consecutive rounds to the Minnesota Twins, with Pascagoula High School outfielder Joe Garry Jr. going in the ninth round as the 274th overall selection and Madison Central High School right-hander Regi Grace taken in the 10th round with the 304th pick.
Sandlin finished his USM career as the program’s leader in career ERA (1.70), tied for third with 23 career wins and sixth with 268 strikeouts.
He said the move from closer to starter allowed MLB teams to assess his versatility on the mound.
“I think it helped me a lot in the draft,” Sandlin said. “It’s kind of hard for college relievers to go very high, so I think it showed that I could do different things.
“Whatever comes after that, I don’t know. I’ll probably get an opportunity to start, but if worst comes to worst, you still can go back to the pen. But at least they know I can do some different stuff now after watching me do it.”
The move from the back of the bullpen to the front of the starting rotation was not a given.
“I thought it was a possibility in the fall, but I really didn’t even throw in the fall,” Sandlin said of the move. “I rested from the season before through the whole summer and the fall, and then spring intrasquads came around and we wanted to extend my pitch counts a little bit for relief purposes.
“Then, a couple weeks before the season, I started begging Coach Oz and Coach (Chad) Caillet to let me start, and a about a week before, they decided to let me do that. Coach Oz let me pitch (as a starter) a few times, and he just thought we could get the most out of me in that role.”
Sandlin said he was grateful for the experiences he had at USM.
“This is really why you come to a school like Southern Miss, to hopefully develop and learn a lot and develop into a player who has an opportunity to do something like this,” Sandlin said. “I’m excited to get going, get back out there on the mound and show what I can do.”
A number of collegiate players were drafted Monday and Tuesday from opponents that appeared on USM’s 2018 schedule, including University of South Alabama outfielder Travis Swaggerty, who was the overall ninth pick of the draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Two more former foes went in the second round: Dallas Baptist University center fielder Jameson Hannah (50th overall, Oakland Athletics) and Florida Atlantic University shortstop Tyler Frank (56th overall, Tampa Bay Rays).
The third round saw the selections of University of Louisiana-Lafayette left-hander Hogan Harris (85th, Oakland); University of Arkansas right-hander Blaine Knight (87th, Baltimore Orioles); and Rice University shortstop Ford Proctor (92nd, Tampa Bay).
Three more players went in the fourth round, including Tulane University center fielder Grant Witherspoon (120th, Tampa Bay); Arkansas center fielder Eric Cole (122nd, Kansas City Royals); and Ohio State University right-hander Ryan Feltner (126th, Colorado Rockies).
Arkansas catcher Grant Koch was the 144th overall selection, taken by Pittsburgh in the fifth round.
Dallas Baptist outfielder Devlin Granberg was taken by the Boston Red Sox in the sixth round as the190th overall selection and, four picks later, University of New Orleans left-hander Bryan Warzek was taken by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
South Alabama outfielder Brendan Donovan went to the St. Louis Cardinals in the seventh round as the 213th overall pick, and Arkansas shortstop Jax Biggers went in the next round to the Texas Rangers as the 239th overall selection.
Four players went in the ninth round, including Louisiana-Lafayette right-hander Logan Stoelke (264th, Pittsburgh); Louisiana-Lafayette right-hander Nick Lee (270th, Tampa Bay); Dallas Baptist catcher Matthew Duce (273rd, St. Louis); and Georgia Southern University right-hander Brian Eichhorn (283rd, Cleveland).
In the 10th round, Western Kentucky University right-hander Ben Morris was as 304th overall selection by the Los Angeles Angels, University of North Carolina-Charlotte left-hander Josh Maciejewski went to the New York Yankees as the 307th overall selection and Arkansas second baseman Carson Shaddy went 311th overall to the Washington Nationals.
The third day of the draft concludes Wednesday with rounds 11 through 40.
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