June 5, 2008
By Allen Wagner
Playing the waiting game can be harder than playing baseball.
Today is the Major League Baseball Rule 4 Draft, where all 30 MLB teams pick the future of their organizations from the college and amateur talent pool, and the eligible Huskies have waited long enough.
Haughian, a left-handed pitcher from Marysville, Wash., said he has been dreaming of playing professionally all his life.
"I'm excited, I feel I'm ready, but the longer I think about it, the more anxious I get," he said. "It's like as a kid, I know as Christmas got closer and closer the more anxious I got, so it'd be good if [the draft] came around right now."
Merry and Conley are also eagerly anticipating the draft, a day that could determine their future.
"It's just an overwhelming feeling," Merry said. "I've been waiting for this day since I was playing T-ball."
"I'm excited. It could potentially change where I'm going to be in the next months to come," Conley said.
Washington coach Ken Knutson has seen all three players develop and evolve over the past few years; he believes each could potentially bring different skills to the big leagues.
For Haughian (6-5, 3.76 ERA), who ended the 2008 season tied for the Pac-10 lead in strikeouts, being a lefty helps his prospects, but his hard fastball and solid secondary pitches also mean he could be picked in an early round.
"Haughian is left-handed, and that's a premium commodity in the big leagues," Knutson said. "I think he's really talented, throws hard and his command is getting a lot better."
For Haughian, taking advice from his coach helps him understand what he needs to do to succeed.
"In the middle of the Stanford series [Knutson] talked to me," he said. "I'm going to have to make sure that I stay on top [of conditioning], because there aren't going to be many people looking out for me individually."
Merry (8-2, 3.61 ERA), a right-handed pitcher from Pasco, Wash., will likely go a little later in the draft than Haughian, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have the skills to impress.
For a time, he led the Pac-10 in starter's earned-run average and consistently made the pitches he needed to in order to keep batters guessing.
As far as what he's taken out of the whole experience, Merry believes coming to college to play baseball has given him a good perspective on competition and what he will need to do to continue on at the pro level.
Specifically talking about last season when he didn't have quite as much success, Merry said that taking losses and hits made him ready for the future.
"The hitters and competition in the pro level -- it's pro for a reason," he said. "I'm glad I got my lesson taught when I was young and able to make changes."
Another likely draftee will be Conley (.337 BA, 19 HR, 57 RBI), who was hands down the Huskies' biggest offensive producer this season.
The outfielder from Richland, Wash., is only a redshirt sophomore and therefore has an extra year of eligibility in the draft. Whether he decides to sign or stay with the Huskies for another year is somewhat of a toss-up.
Knutson believes Conley has the know-how to succeed but suggested that he would advise him to stay if drafted lower than expected.
"He's pretty good as far as his technique goes. He understands things and he doesn't make a lot of mistakes, so I think he's ready in that respect," Knutson said.
Whether the draft-eligible players choose to sign or return to play another year at the college level, this moment is what they have been waiting for since they first picked up a baseball or swung a bat, and it would be hard to deny them the opportunity.
Haughian said everyone understands what that opportunity means to them.
"I think we're all ready to take the next step, and that doesn't mean we won't come back, but that opportunity is out there and the dream is there," he said. "When you get the opportunity it's hard to pass up."
The same goes for Merry, who sees the draft as a once in a lifetime chance.
"This is my passion," he said. "This is what I've been working for the last 20 years of my life and this is my goal."