Hallsville Baseball Star Justin Slaten Commits To New Mexico
College baseball coaches know their recruiting jobs are not done until they get their prospects on campus for the fall semester.
Panola College lost a solid high school prospect Wednesday. New Mexico gained one.
Recent Hallsville graduate Justin Slaten, a right-handed pitcher and first baseman for one of East Texas' most successful programs, announced via Twitter he received a late offer from Lobos head coach Ray Birmingham and will shortly move to Albuquerque, N.M., rather than following through on his plan to play at least one season of junior college ball.
Turnabout truly is fair play. A few of Birmingham's earlier commitments changed their college plans because, unlike in college football and basketball, the Division I baseball route isn't always the simplest to the professional level.
Slaten is free to make the move because New Mexico is governed by the NCAA whereas Panola College is governed by the NJCAA. His National Letter of Intent with Panola College does not apply to the NCAA and only prevented him from playing baseball for another NJCAA school without getting a waiver from the NJCAA.
The drawback for Slaten is he won't become eligible to be selected in the Major League Baseball Draft until after the 2019 season. To protect NCAA competition, MLB teams are barred from selecting freshmen and sophomore players attending four-year universities.
Junior college baseball players can be selected after their first year of NJCAA competition, which makes it an appealing option to players that either were selected in the Major League Baseball Draft earlier this month and turned their contract down or think they were close to becoming drafted.
Every 2016 high school graduate in the United States and Canada was automatically eligible for the draft regardless of baseball credentials. Slaten was not selected.
At New Mexico, Slaten has the opportunity to be drafted following his junior season. If he is not drafted or doesn't like the contract he's offered, he can get redrafted after his senior year.
The pitcher and first baseman was part of a Hallsville program that reached the Class 5A state tournament in 2014, reached the regional semifinals in 2015 and made a regional quarterfinals appearance this past season.
New Mexico wrapped up a good 2016 campaign a few weeks ago with a loss in the Lubbock, Texas, regional round of the NCAA Tournament. The program -- which has advanced to the postseason the past six years -- recorded a 33-26 record and won the Mountain West Conference Tournament.
For nine seasons, the Albuquerque Isotopes loaned their Triple-A ballpark to the Lobos for games.
New Mexico's rise earlier this decade to a perennial NCAA Tournament contender triggered the school's board of regents to approve massive renovations to the outdated on-campus stadium.
The Lobos have a .730 winning percentage at their own Santa Ana Star Field since renovations were completed midway through the 2013 season.
Slaten is expected to enroll at New Mexico for fall courses and should participate in fall training camp ahead of New Mexico beginning the 2017 season in February.