Two Illini baseball draftees to return after being drafted

This year’s MLB First-Year Players draft was much easier for the Illinois baseball team to take than last year’s.

The Illinois team that won the Big Ten Championship in 2011 saw nearly half its members leave for graduation or because of the draft. It forced the Illini to go into 2012 with 18 players who had never played an inning at Illinois.

Four Illini were drafted in this year’s draft this past June, three of them underclassmen — Matt Milroy, Kevin Johnson and Jordan Parr — along with senior Willie Argo, who had no choice but to go to the next level. Milroy decided shortly after that he would sign with the Miami Marlins minor league system.

That left Parr, the Illini’s leading hitter, and Johnson, Illinois’ Friday starter and ace of its staff, to decide just how high the Illini’s incoming expectations could be next year. Losing those players would’ve forced the Illini into a situation similar to last year’s, trying to replace so much production and find consistency in the team.

Both Parr and Johnson are currently playing on the same team in Northwoods League during the summer and had a decision to make. They both expected to go somewhere in the top 15 rounds and neither did. Parr fell to the 26th round to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Johnson to the New York Yankees in the 31st. They both spoke to their families to decide what’s best for them, but also confided in the coaching staff.

Parr spoke to bench coach Eric Snider and head coach Dan Hartleb separately three times, each over the phone, while Johnson spoke with pitching coach Drew Dickinson and coaching assistant Jason Anderson, each of whom had a large impact on both players’ decisions to stay.

“The cool thing about them is they never tried to tell me what I should or shouldn’t do,” Parr said. “They never tried to do it selfishly for the program, so they could get me back and they could have a good player on the team.

“I think that it was one of the those experiences that was really cool of your coaches to help be your mentor too.”

From speaking with his coaches before the draft, Johnson drew a line at the 15th round, although he admitted that he probably would have signed a contract if he got drafted in the top 20 rounds.

Even then, seeing his name getting drafted, especially by an organization with the history and tradition of the Yankees, was enough to make Johnson think twice about his previous precedent.

He spoke with Anderson, a former Yankees player, about how the team’s system worked; he ultimately decided that he should stay in school.

Johnson said the opportunity he wanted would not likely be there in the Yankees system, adding that he wants to go into the big leagues as a starter and he was likely being drafted as a reliever.

Hartleb praised the idea of consorting with his players, but said he really thought the two were intelligent enough to make their own decisions.

“We didn’t try to sway them, but I think they needed to be educated and they needed to understand exactly what they’re dealing with,” the eight-year head coach said. “I think they both made good decisions.”

Johnson and Parr are taking this experience as a motivational tool.

Both players mentioned how not getting drafted as high as they liked increased their desire and intensity training during the summer.

“I feel like there’s some things I can improve on and that there’s no reason I can’t get drafted again higher next year,” Johnson said. “It is a little bit of a disappointment. It kind of makes me want to work a little harder than last year.”

With Parr and Johnson a part of the Illini next season as well, Illinois could be in position to make a run at the Big Ten Championship. Parr says he is excited about the prospects of next season, in what will be his second at Illinois. He wants to take on a leadership role, not necessarily by being the most outspoken, but with his play and leading by example.

Johnson, who was on the 2011 Big Ten championship team, said he believed this team could be “the best team since I’ve been at Illinois.”

However, Hartleb isn’t buying into the hype too much. He’s excited to not have had his roster depleted by the draft but he still knows nothing will be handed to the Illini.

“We have to improve,” Hartleb said. “If we don’t improve, then we’re right back where you were a year ago.

“I think we can be a very good team, but you can’t talk about being a good team you have go out and you have to prepare and then you have to go out and get your job done.”