Hudson awaits pro chance at MLB draft



By Steve Contorno

Rashard Mendenhall sweated through two-thirds of the first round before his name was called. J Leman signed after the NFL draft ended as a free agent. Somewhere in between, their teammate Kyle Hudson will get a phone call – albeit in an entirely different sport.

After finishing his junior campaign as one of the nation’s top leadoff hitters and base stealers, Hudson is a lock to end up in some Major League Baseball team’s farm system by the time the 50-round First-Year Player Draft ends Friday. But where he will fall in the draft, which begins Thursday at 1 p.m., is still up in the air.

“That’s really tough for anyone to say right now,” Hudson said. “Anything could happen come draft day, so it’s weird. I don’t really know where I’ll go. Some people are saying top five rounds, some say could be higher. We’ll just have to see come draft day.”

Hudson – a centerfielder who doubles as a wide receiver for the football team – ended the 2008 season with an on-base percentage of .498 and 40 stolen bases, good enough for 35th and fifth in the country, respectively, and tops on the Illini baseball team. His style of play, specifically his speed, has led scouts to compare him to current Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Juan Pierre, Hudson said. That’s a comparison Hudson is OK with.

“I’ll take that because he’s had a pretty good career,” he said. “Obviously, my best tool is my speed. I take pride in getting on base and force other teams to make errors and get into scoring position off steals. Teams have seen my speed as my best asset.”

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The teams that have evaluated Hudson include, well, all of them. Hudson said he has heard from all 30 major league clubs, and about 10 to 15 teams have been calling him every day – mostly scouts in the area that have been in contact with the center fielder all season.

With the numbers he has put up this year and throughout his career, there was never a doubt Hudson’s name would be called in a selection process that includes roughly 1,500 players. But Hudson believes recent trends in the game have increased his draft stock to make him a top-200 prospect.

“College players tend to be more mature than high school players and have faced better competition, so I think organizations are more confident choosing college players,” Hudson said. “But also the whole steroids issue has put a new emphasis on speed. Teams are relaying on speed over power so that’s definitely one advantage for me.”

A Chicago Cubs fan at heart – to the joy of his father and the dismay of many relatives – Hudson said it would be a “cool experience” to play for the team he loved growing up, a scenario that is possible. Hudson has been in “quite a bit” of contact with the Northsiders; however, he said that didn’t mean much at this point because he has talked with so many teams. In Hudson’s mind, he could end up a St. Louis Cardinal or on the Chicago White Sox, and he’d be fine with that. The opportunity to play at the next level is all he is asking for.

That opportunity will come, and when it does it will be Hudson’s turn to make a choice. Will he forgo his senior year of baseball and make the plunge into the pros? If he does, will he commit 100 percent to baseball and leave the football team in the fall?

Hudson prefers not to answer those questions yet, although he admits they are looming and always in the back of his mind.

“I’ll just wait until after the draft and see what happens and what situation I’m in,” he said. “I’ll talk about it with my family and see what’s best for me and my family. I still have time to decide.”