Texas Tech baseball: Red Raiders hit hard by MLB defections

The Texas Tech baseball program will have to replace a number of its top players from the abbreviated 2020 season after the MLB  recently plundered Tim Tadlock’s talent pool.

When the 2020 Texas Tech baseball season was cut short after just a handful of weeks, there was a general consensus that this year presented head coach Tim Tadlock with his best opportunity yet to win his first national title.  But if next season is going to be the one that brings Tech’s first College World Series crown, the Red Raiders will face a serious reloading task.

That’s because Tech has seen arguably its four best players head to the professional ranks.  That’s a bit of a disappointment given the fact that this year, seniors could have decided to come back to school per a special one-time NCAA allowance due to the coronavirus shutdown.

But seeing the Red Raiders lose top talent to the professional ranks is just a standard right of summer similar to July 4th fireworks,100-degree days, and the buzzing of cicadas at the top of live oaks.  In fact, the program recently Tweeted that in the last five years, 39 Red Raiders have been drafted by MLB clubs.  That’s the most of any school in either the Big 12 or the state of Texas.

However, that number grew by only two players this year.  But that wasn’t because the 2020 team lacked MLB talent.

Rather, it was because this year’s draft was cut to just five rounds due to the financial crisis that many minor league clubs are facing.  With no games to bring in revenue, it would have made little sense for teams to conduct a full 40-round draft because the minor league teams, which already live on a razor-thin financial margin, have no way to welcome those players and the MLB parent clubs don’t want to take on the extra salary of paying their new draft picks at a time when the owners and the players association are arguing over how to divide the financial pie of what will be shortened season (if one happens at all).

The first of the two players Tech saw drafted this year was Clayton Beeter.   After being discussed in the weeks leading up the draft as a potential first-round pick, the former relief pitcher turned starter was taken at No. 66 by the Los Angeles Dodgers.  That’s higher than all but two pitchers to ever come out of the Texas Tech baseball program have even been taken.

Beeter had a solid 2018 for Tech after missing all of the previous year following Tommy John surgery.  In 20.2 innings, he had an ERA of 3.48 and he struck out 40 hitters while walking just 20 out of the pen.  This year, he was on pace for a truly dominant season as he had already tossed 21 innings over the span of four starts while striking out 33 and walking just four.  He had an ERA of 2.14 to go along with his 3-0 record.

Meanwhile, Tech lost a second starting pitcher to the MLB last week when Bryce Bonnin was also tabbed as a second-round pick.  Taken at No. 84 overall by the Cincinnati Reds, the righty’s departure only enlarges the hole that Tech now has at the top of its rotation.

After transferring in from Arkansas because the Razorbacks would not allow him to be a starter, Bonnin made 17 career starts for Tech over the last two years, with four coming this season.  In 2019, he compiled a 7-1 record and a 4.08 ERA (which was inflated by some early-season struggles) and this year, he had gone 2-0 despite a bloated 7.36 ERA.

But don’t let his ERA fool you.  Bonnin was a weapon for Tech in the weekend rotation.  In his 17 career starts, Tech went 16-1 overall.  That included a win against Florida State in the 2019 College World Series in which he tossed five innings allowing just one run on two hits while fanning seven.

However, the damage to the Tech roster wasn’t over when the draft concluded.  That’s because two more long-time Red Raider stalwarts have since been signed as free agents to MLB organizations.

Taking yet another huge brick out of the foundation of the pitching staff was the Kansas City Royals as they signed the team’s top reliever, John McMillon to a deal this week.  After being a two-way player when he arrived as a freshman, the flamethrower decided to focus on pitching the last two seasons and the results were fantastic.

In 2019 and 2020 combined, he tossed 57 innings while striking out 87 hitters thanks in large part to a 100-MPH fastball.  In all, he concluded his four-year Texas Tech career with an ERA of 3.41.

Another senior that is going to be missed is second baseman, Brian Klein.  Known for his all-out hustle, his timely bat, and the two crosses he drew on his face in eye black, he was a fan-favorite in Lubbock and one of the best hitters in the program. At Tech, he hit .318 with 10 homers and 124 RBI.  Recently, he agreed to a free-agent deal with the defending World Series Champion Washington Nationals.

Both Klein and McMillon could have come back to Tech for another year despite being seniors in 2020.  But the opportunity to chase their professional baseball dreams proved to be too much for them to pass up.

So now, Tech has lost arguably the four most important players on the 2020 team.  But the good news is that Tadlock always has a new wave of elite talent headed to shore.

That’s true in 2020 as the Red Raiders have landed the No. 9 recruiting class in the nation according to PerfectGame.com.  The 22-member class is second in the Big 12 behind Texas, which has the No. 8 class in the country.

We know that Tadlock seems to be able to overcome yearly departures in a manner than almost looks relatively easy.  But though the cupboard is still plentifully stocked in Lubbock, don’t underestimate the significance of these four losses to the Texas Tech baseball team.