The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

June 5, 2014

WVU’s Fleming faces major (league) dilemma

MORGANTOWN — A case can be made for junior second baseman Billy Fleming as West Virginia University’s best player last season on a team that was heavy in talent.

He finished second in the Big 12 in batting with a top-heavy .351 average, which put him just behind teammate Bobby Boyd and just ahead of teammate Ryan McBroom in the conference batting race while playing a solid and fundamentally sound second base.

This has put Fleming in a most interesting situation, for this weekend he, Boyd and McBroom, along with pitchers Harrison Musgrave and Sean Carley — at least — are expected to be selected in the endless major league draft proceedings.

Fleming — as are Boyd, Musgrave and Carley — is a junior.

That means that all four have the option of returning to WVU next season, which would make the Mountaineers into favorites to win the Big 12.

But it is an unlikely option, for McBroom, Musgrave and Carley were drafted after last season and opted to return. Turning down a chance to go after the big league dream twice is a bit much to expect, especially with pitchers like Musgrave and Carley, both of whom are well aware of just how fragile a pitching arm can be.

Boyd and Fleming, however, both do have the option of returning as both a bargaining chip and as something a little bit more … a chance to raise their game a notch should they not like where they are drafted or if they somehow go undrafted.

Fleming understands the situation.

“You can always improve your game by coming back to West Virginia, but you can improve with professional coaches, too,” he said.

And, as well as he played, he knows that he has not really yet scratched the surface of what is necessary to make it where he wants to be.

“Every part of my game I could improve on,” he said. “It comes with experience and getting older every year. Obviously, I’m not good enough to be playing in the major leagues right now. That’s why you have to keep improving and be put in the best situation for yourself.”

See, there is sort of a two-fold legacy left behind by Jedd Gyorko, who was drafted by San Diego in the second round of the June 2010 draft and given $614,000 to sign. He reached the major leagues last year and led all rookies in home runs with 23 and was rewarded with a five-year, $35-million contract.

Such success and financial reward certainly gives them all something big time to shoot for.

“He came from West Virginia. He’s probably the best hitter who ever came through. He was a high draft pick. He’s given us all someone to live up to,” Fleming said.

But he also is showing them just how far their game has to go to reach his.

Gyorko was a second-round draft pick because in three seasons at WVU he batted .409, .421 and .381 as a senior, the average falling but his home run total jumping from 9 to 21. And in those three season he drove home 63, 58 and 57 runs.

All of this, of course, towers over the numbers Fleming and Boyd have produced, a warning light that it isn’t easy to make it in professional baseball … especially when they see Gyorko struggling around .160 this season to date.

But it goes back to what will be the best fit for those players, coming back to WVU and working on their game in a collegiate setting while earning degrees or going off into the cutthroat world of minor league baseball and putting all of yourself into right now.

“It’s about if it’s the right situation. Money can come into it. We’ll just wait it out and see what happens,” Fleming said. “Even if I do sign out of the draft, I can always come back and finish school.”

The unknown is what makes the draft so interesting and intriguing, for awaiting each player is the first step toward the ultimate dream they have had, but it thrusts them into a situation far removed from the comforts of college baseball.

And unless you are a high pick, the money that comes with it isn’t really significant compared to what you can earn should you make it to the major leagues, complicating the sign or don’t sign decision even further.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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Bob Herzel
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