South Carolina had four players selected in this year’s Major League Baseball draft.
Three were seniors: closer Tyler Webb, first baseman LB Dantzler and setup reliever Adam Westmoreland.
The fourth was a surprise to some observers: backup designated hitter Brison Celek, a fourth-year junior from Bishop England High.
But it was not a shock to Celek or his family, and now Celek is strongly considering turning pro, according to his father, Brian.
Celek, a broad-shouldered power hitter, has never been a regular starter during his career. In 2010, he played in nine games and started one. In 2011, he redshirted. In 2012, he played in 29 games and started 12, including 11 at designated hitter. He hit .224.
This season brought more opportunities to contribute. Entering the NCAA tournament, he had played in 29 games, with 24 starts, all at designated hitter – more starts at that spot than anybody else on the team.
But he was bumped out of that role, and played just once as a reserve in the NCAA tournament, because coach Chad Holbrook opted to put the sure-handed Kyle Martin at first base and slide his best hitter, Dantzler, into the designated hitter job.
Celek finished the season with a .307 batting average (27 of 88), one home run and 18 runs batted-in. In 2012, he was 13 of 58 with zero homers and eight RBI.
Despite his lack of playing time, he was drafted in the 31st round by the Toronto Blue Jays, the same team that drafted Dantzler in the 14th round.
Brian Celek said his son had been in contact with Major League teams throughout the season, so being drafted didn’t come as a surprise.
As of late Thursday morning, Brison Celek was preparing to head home to Charleston, and make a decision about whether he will return to USC or turn pro.
“I think it’s too early to tell,” Brian Celek said. “He’s supposed to get his offer and all that straight from his professional team. He’ll make a decision probably today or no later than tomorrow. He’s leaning toward leaving, but nothing is set at this point.”
If he does turn pro, it would be interesting to see where he fits at the next level. Of his 37 career starts, just one was not at designated hitter. In 2012, he got a late February start against Presbyterian at first base. Of course, Toronto is in the American League, which uses the designated hitter.
Christian Walker had the first base job in 2012. LB Dantzler took it over for 2013, though Martin stepped in at the end of the season. Martin will be a junior next season and is slotted as the starting first baseman, at least at this point. But with Dantzler and Martin gone, the designated hitter spot is open. Presumably, Celek would compete for that job if he returned, but his father said he is not banking on that.
“There’s never any guarantees at Carolina,” Brian Celek said. “There’s guarantees for some, but not others. There wouldn’t be any guarantee. You would think he’d be slotted in there, but that would be speculation at best.”
Brison Celek turned 22 in January, which would put him on the older end of players in rookie ball. Now that he has the opportunity to sign – albeit for not a ton of money, because 31st-round picks don’t get a lot – will he consider that a better option than returning to school, being a reserve player again and turning pro as a 23-year-old?
As for his college degree, Celek is one semester away from getting it, his father said. If he turns pro, he plans to finish at some point, possibly in the fall.
Brian Celek said his son wouldn’t even be debating whether to turn pro if USC had defeated North Carolina on Tuesday and advanced to the College World Series. If that happened, Celek definitely would be turning pro.
“He was hoping to go back to Omaha,” Brian said. “It wouldn’t be a question if they went back to Omaha.”
A chance to get back there next year would “be the only factor that I think limits him from going” pro right now, Brian said.
“He really did want to go back one more time,” Brian added.