Draft

The life and times of Sam Stafford

Sam Stafford, shown here after being drafted by the Yankees in 2011, had quite a year.
Sam Stafford, shown here after being drafted by the Yankees in 2011, had quite a year.

You have been drafted by the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers.

 

You have, in the same season, started inconsequential Tuesday games and the postseason opening -- and in that time period have fluctuated from the most inconsistent starter to the staff's best.

 

You are Sam Stafford, if you haven't figured it out by now.

 

It has been a wild ride for Stafford, who was drafted by the Yankees in the second round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. Concerns over a slight tear in Stafford's left shoulder cooled New York's interest, and Stafford returned for his senior campaign, but lost it to shoulder surgery in February. Despite missing a year, Stafford was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 13th round of this years draft.

 

So, what's the talented left-hander up to now? Well, thanks to that shoulder injury, he's just waiting until next month.

 

"I should start my throwing program at the beginning of August," Stafford said via text this week. "I'll start slow with it, and see how my shoulder responds."

 

Stafford, one of four Longhorns drafted, doesn't expect to be "game ready" until Spring Training in February.

 

But until then, let's recap -- blurb by blurb, quote by quote -- Stafford's last 16 months.

 

Feb. 19, 2011: In his first action of his junior season, Stafford yields four runs in 5 2/3 innings pitched against Maryland.

 

March 6, 2011: Earns a win with 5 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out seven, against Stanford.

 

March 23, 2011: After giving way to Hoby Milner in the weekend rotation on March 15, Stafford is given the weekday pitching spot -- charged with stopping Houston Baptist (at the time, 1-16). It's not primetime, but Stafford approaches it as such.

 

"We have to make sure we're focused [on weekday series]," Stafford told The Daily Texan the day before the game. "I'm not going to look at Houston Baptist any differently than I would another team."

 

April 5, 2011: Improved to 4-0 with seven innings of no-hit ball, with seven strikeouts, against Texas A&M Corpus Christi.

 

April 15, 2011: Texas' middle-relief is struggling, so head coach Augie Garrido moves Milner to the bullpen and names Stafford the Sunday starter. Again, same mental approach.

 

"The dugout and the environment will be a little more intense during the weekend games, but I have to have the same approach," Stafford said on the day Garrido announced the news.*

 

*Of all my interviews with Stafford, this remains my favorite: in the Texas training room, holding my voice recorder up to Stafford's mouth as he spins on the stationary bike.

 

Let's skip ahead to June 2, 2011, when Garrido announces Stafford will start the postseason opener against Princeton in the Austin Regional. At this point, Stafford has five wins with a 1.70 ERA. But, evidenced by his 37 walks in 63 innings, there are some command issues.

 

"He's had trouble being consistent from inning to inning, pitch to pitch, but he's brought most of that under control now," Garrido says at the time.

 

It doesn't hurt that Stafford has experience facing something-to-prove teams, as he did most Tuesdays.

 

"Princeton is going to come in with a chip on its shoulder," Stafford said.

 

June 3, 2011: Stafford tosses seven innings, giving up two hits and one run, as Texas beats Princeton 5-3.

 

June 6, 2011: With the season on the brink, Stafford takes the ball against Kent State in the Austin Regional Championship. The Longhorns used six pitchers in the game -- including Taylor Jungmann and Cole Green in relief scenarios -- but it was Stafford who set the tone, going 3 2/3 innings and striking out five. Texas wins, 5-0.

 

June 7, 2011: One day later, the New York Yankees take Stafford No. 88 overall in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. Stafford is definitely ready for the jump, and that's apparent to all in his same-day availability.

 

"Who wouldn't want to be drafted by the Yankees?" Stafford said. "To go from the University of Texas to New York is awesome. I couldn't imagine myself going to a better ballclub. I've always loved the watch them play."

 

June 13, 2011: With a trip to Omaha on the line, Stafford pitches four innings against Arizona State in the Super Regional Championship, giving up two runs, all off a home run in the first inning.

 

June 20, 2011: In a win-or-go-home situation in the College World Series, Stafford enters the game against North Carolina in the sixth inning, with his team trailing, 2-0. He goes three innings, giving up run. Texas loses, 3-0. Stafford's last ever pitch as a Longhorn? A swinging strike.

 

August 15, 2011: Shockingly, MLB's deadline to sign draft picks passes without Stafford inking with the Yankees. Whispers of "shoulder tear" are prevalent.

 

September 29, 2011: The Longhorns begin fall practice, and 'ole No. 19 looks ready to fill the role as staff ace.

 

"At first there were mixed emotions about coming back," Stafford said. "I thought I was about to start my professional career...but it's a business. I keep saying everything happens for a reason, though, and I'm excited to begin this year."

 

February 13, 2012: A crushing blow: Texas announces Stafford will have season-ending shoulder surgery a week before the opener. Continued tightness had led Stafford to get an MRI, which told him his left shoulder -- the one the Yankees were so worried about -- had not fully healed.

 

May 24, 2012: The Longhorns lose to Kansas, 4-2, in the Big 12 Conference Tournament, and are not invited to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.

 

June 5, 2012: Despite being out of baseball a full year, Stafford is selected in the 13th round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers. No. 426 isn't quite No. 88, but there's no way Stafford is passing it up. Stafford signs two days later.

 

"I'm extremely excited," he told MLB.com. "In my opinion, as a pitcher, you can't have a better boss than Nolan Ryan. He's the best one to do it. It'll be a lot of fun. I'm a Texas guy, so I'm extremely excited to be staying with a Texas team."

 

Some things just don't change. 

Sam Stafford and Brandon Loy received the fanfare of being selected in the higher rounds of day two of this year’s MLB First-Year Player Draft, but there were other Longhorns who came off the board later Tuesday.

Senior pitcher Cole Green was chosen by the Cincinnati Reds in the ninth round. Relief pitcher Andrew McKirahan went to the Chicago Cubs in the 21st round, and senior first baseman and Austin Regional Most Outstanding Player Tant Shepherd was selected by the New York Mets in the 24th round.

Last year, Green was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the fourth round, but turned down a $300,000 signing bonus for the opportunity to stay in school. Monetarily, that decision looks like it might end up hurting Green, who probably will not get as high an offer this time. But he has repeatedly said all season long that he has no regrets about his decision to turn down big money for the chance to win a national championship. As a junior, Green went 11-2. This year, he is 7-3 with a higher ERA. However, most agree Green has improved in terms of mechanics — his strikeout numbers are higher, and opponents are hitting at a lower average against him. In the long term, Green projects as a back-of-the rotation pitcher or, most likely, a relief pitcher.

Though he didn't see much action this season, McKirahan went a little earlier than most would have projected. The junior left-hander is 3-0 with a 3.05 ERA and, if he signs, would bring pitching depth to an organization that needs all the help it can get.

Shepherd, who despite putting up good numbers and being an above-average defender at first base, has never been very high on many scouts’ boards. Last year, Shepherd was a 47th round selection, and he fell lower in this draft than he probably should have before the Mets picked him. He is the second Longhorn headed to the Big Apple in this year’s draft class (assuming Stafford signs with the Yankees).

The draft continues Wednesday with rounds 31-50. Cohl Walla, Jordan Etier and Kendal Carrillo are hopeful to hear their names called.