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Wait and see: MLB Draft presents nervous moments for college coaches

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Florida State baseball coach Mike Martin has spent plenty of seasons worrying about the NCAA Tournament and the MLB Draft at once.
Gene Williams/Warchant

Editor's Note: This is the second installment in a two-part series on the MLB Draft and the impact it continues to have on Florida State's baseball program. Part II examines how coaches view the draft and the choices that come with it.

Part I: College or pro? Decisions loom for FSU signees after this week's MLB Draft

There's the story about Michael Cuddyer. And the one about Joe Mauer too.

Florida State baseball coach Mike Martin tells these stories now with laughter, as enough time has passed.

But Martin also has other tales that present more frustration than fond memories.

"We got literally killed three years ago. We had a great class coming in," Martin said. "We lost five pitchers, four of which were left-handed. And I would say maybe two of them are still playing, and the others are out of baseball."

Martin's point is college baseball programs are often the collateral damage left in the wake of the MLB First-Year Player Draft. This year's draft starts on Thursday, and while some pro clubs could be building their franchises, there are college programs that could take an even bigger loss.

Five of Florida State's 15 baseball signees for 2016 could go in the first two rounds. Million-dollar signing bonuses could lure away the talent Martin and his staff have fought for years to recruit and keep away from other college programs.

Oh. And all this comes as FSU and 15 of the nation's best teams are trying to reach the College World Series in Omaha. FSU faces in-state rival Florida starting Saturday in the Gainesville Super Regional.

"The draft does not come at a worse time for college coaches," Martin said. "Here you are, you're preparing your team for the postseason, and [signees] either get drafted real high or they get drafted real low and they're mad. And they're thinking about a lot of things if they get drafted high. It's not right."

Mike Martin Jr., FSU's hitting coach and recruiting coordinator, said one of the Seminoles' signees already has told the coaches he's not coming to school. Although the younger Martin wouldn't identify the player, the Seminoles do have commitments from potential first-round picks Josh Lowe and Forrest Whitley.

Lowe has been described as the best prep pitcher to come out of Georgia since Zach Wheeler, the sixth pick in the 2009 draft. While the 6-foot-7 Whitley has risen on many boards in the last year.

"He gave us a head's up," Martin Jr. said of the player. "As far as those who we have left, I feel we have a legit shot at all of them."

Then again, as Martin Jr. said, he's seen players who've demanded $2 million before the draft, "cave for $800,000."

"I'm not a lot of fun to be around [on draft night]," Martin Jr. said. "I know that. I put the kids in bed as fast as I can. It may not necessarily be a pretty night. Sometimes, it's whooping and hollering. A lot of time, it's frustration. Having done it as long as I have, a lot of things pop up that can floor you."

Recruiting can be a bit of a gamble for national powers like FSU, North Carolina and Ole Miss. Perfect Game lists FSU as having the No. 7 signing class in the nation for 2016.

The Seminoles are tied with six programs for having the most Top 100 prospects.

"Historically, they didn't spend a lot of time going after those signability risks because they wanted guys who wanted to develop in the system," said Aaron Fitt, who is the editor of D1Baseball.com. "I think Florida's rise changed their approach, and Mike Martin has said as much."

Florida, the No. 1 national seed in the tournament, has seen several draft picks come to college instead of bolting for the minor leagues.

Fitt said Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan and his staff have developed a reputation for protecting power arms and developing positions players. The strongest example being Mike Zunino, who went from the 29th round in 2009 to the third pick in 2012.

"That reputation helps them get more of those top guys that go to school," Fitt said. "Not to say Florida State does not have a good reputation or anything, but Florida has a really, really sterling reputation [in that area]."

Even though FSU has had some tough luck keeping high draft picks, Martin said the Seminoles know the philosophy can pay dividends. He pointed out how both J.D. Drew and Stephen Drew came to FSU and left as first-round picks.

Martin added he's had plenty of other players who've wanted to come to FSU, but they couldn't turn down what was offered. He used Cuddyer as an example.

"Mike called me on Monday night, and I'll never forget this," Martin said. "He called me to say the Minnesota Twins changed their offer from $700,000 to $1 million. He said, 'I really want to come to Florida State.'"

Martin said he told Cuddyer to talk about it with his family before coming to a decision.

Cuddyer called Martin back two hours later. He told Martin that he was going to FSU.

And then Tuesday came.

"I don't even know if my cell phone had numbers that showed up. I answered the phone and [Cuddyer] had a somber tone," Martin said. "He said, 'I don't know what to say to you. I just got a phone call from the Twins, and they changed their offer to $1.3 million.'

"First thing I wanted to say was, 'Michael, I'd have taken the $1 million.'"

Martin said Cuddyer asked for his home address, and three days later, a four-figure check arrived as a donation to the Seminoles' bullpen club.

Of course, the story which Martin and FSU cannot escape is Mauer.

Mauer was a three-sport star and was the first player to be named a USA Today Player of the Year in separate sports. A Florida State football commitment, Martin met with Mauer on his football visit.

"He met me in the right-field bleachers after his football interview on a Saturday. He came in and had on black, horn-rimmed glasses, blue jeans and a long-sleeve shirt ... because living in Minnesota, I am sure he did not have many of those," Martin said. "We talked for 15 minutes ... he was going to be highly sought-after in football. After 15 minutes, I said to myself, 'Martin, make sure you don't mess this up. He's going to be a stud someday, and he ain't coming to Florida State.'

"He's one of the most intelligent young men I've ever talked to. ... Just a brilliant person."

Mauer was the first pick of the 2001 draft by his hometown Twins and has remained with the club ever since.

Martin Jr. said one of the things he and other college coaches do is point out to prospects the advantages of coming to school. He said players who go to college have a stronger chance of reaching arbitration than those who didn't.

Of the 10 richest contracts awarded in arbitration prior to the 2016 season, seven were given to players who played some form of college baseball.

"If you want to be a major-leaguer, you need to go to school," Martin Jr. said. "The numbers don't lie. There are a bunch of kids, and the ones who went to college are the ones that got to arbitration. They got long-term deals. It's completely slanted toward college guys.

"My hope is that a kid's family or their advisor is saying the same thing."

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