Just minutes after his LSU career came to an unexpected halt, Aaron Nola stared off into the distance as he leaned over the dugout railing mulling a question from a reporter.
The bitter-sweet moment appeared to hit him right then.
The Tigers’ season ended in a demoralizing defeat to Houston, but Nola’s baseball-playing days were far from over. The draft was around the corner.
Excited about that?
“I’m definitely looking forward to Thursday now,” he said before the lengthy pause. “Whatever happens, happens. I’m going to be happy wherever I get picked.”
He’ll be happy, all right.
Nola is expected to be selected early in the first round of the MLB draft Thursday, a position that could net a signing bonus of more than $2 million.
The right-handed hurler from Baton Rouge plans to forgo his senior season and turn pro, and he might not be the only Tiger making the early jump.
Closer Joe Broussard, catcher Tyler Moore, outfielders Mark Laird and Jared Foster, and second baseman Conner Hale could see their names called anywhere from the fifth to the 15th round.
Broussard and Moore are “50-50” on signing, coach Paul Mainieri said. Foster “will probably” sign, and Laird, a redshirt sophomore, has given the coach his intention to return for his junior season. Hale is also expected to return.
Eight of LSU’s 12 signees could be picked in the top 10 rounds. Of those, three are real “threats” to sign with a pro club, said Kiley McDaniel, Scout.com’s national baseball analyst.
Left-handed pitcher Mac Marshall, righty Jake Godfrey and first baseman Bobby Bradley are the most likely to forgo college careers at LSU, but there’s a shot that all of them can come to school. The Tigers can expect the other nine to end up in Baton Rouge.
The first, second and supplemental rounds of the draft will unfold on MLB Network, starting at 6 p.m. Thursday. Rounds 3-10 are set to start at noon Friday. The 11th-40th rounds will begin at noon Saturday. The final two days will be covered on MLB.com
Nola and Marshall are likely the only two LSU connections to hear their names among the 74 picks scheduled Thursday.
While Nola will make the move to pro ball, Marshall’s plans are still unclear. He told WNXX-FM that anything lower than a first-round selection could very well have him driving to Baton Rouge on Friday and starting summer school Monday.
Marshall, a 6-foot-2 lefty who hits 94 with his fastball, is projected as a second-round pick by many, but the Georgia native’s stock has faded lately, McDaniel said.
“If you’re in a draft room, you don’t want to take the guy who’s looked bad the last three outings,” McDaniel said. “Probably better than 50-50 to get to school now.”
Decisions, though, can carry through the summer. The signing deadline for drafted players is July 18.
Bradley, a power hitter from Gulfport, Mississippi; and Godfrey, a 6-foot-3, hard-throwing righty from Illinois; are like Marshall: They have better than a 50-50 chance on choosing LSU, scouts say.
Other signees like Brother Martin shortstop Greg Deichmann and lefty pitcher Jake Latz could go in the top five, but their signability isn’t high, McDaniel said. Signing bonuses normally fall below $500,000 past the fourth round.
Deichmann’s father recently told New Orleans TV station WGNO that his son has told pro teams he would not sign if drafted. Deichmann, a first-round pick around this time last year, has dropped among scouts.
In all, McDaniel believes LSU could lose one or two of its 12 signees.
“If you lose three (signees), you should be upset,” McDaniel said. “If you lose one, you should be happy.”
It appears LSU will lose two or three current players.
Broussard has a high signability — willingness to sign — with scouts. The Tigers closer had eight saves and an ERA of 1.05. He’s a fourth-year junior. Moore is in a similar position as Broussard.
Laird is an “interesting” prospect, McDaniel said. As a redshirt sophomore who meets the draft’s age requirement (21), McDaniel said he expects Laird to remain in school. Mainieri said he expects Laird to return as well.
Foster, a reserve outfielder who has struggled at the plate, is expected to sign. Mainieri has no qualms with that, saying Foster needs to be in a pro environment where he can play every day.
“He’s an outstanding athlete,” Mainieri said.
McDaniel said of Foster: “He could really take off, scouts say.”
Either way, Mainieri will endure a waiting game over the next six weeks. But there’s one guy he won’t have to wait on: Nola.
Nola will watch the draft with his family from the players lounge at Alex Box Stadium. After Monday night’s loss, the pitcher thought back on a career that spanned three seasons and included 345 strikeouts.
“I gave it everything I had every time I went on the mound,” he said. “That’s what I want everybody to remember.”