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August 14, 2007

Kendall's Mailbag: Pro decisions ahead

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He'll be working all summer to get you ready for the fall and answer your questions every week in his College Baseball Mailbag.
July 13: Are you ready for '08?
July 20: Oregon has Ducks in a row
July 27: Making the last push
For many talented players, decision time is approaching.

With the MLB signing deadline coming Wednesday night, Texas has its eyes focused on hard-hitting outfielder Kyle Russell and third baseman Bradley Suttle.

Both Russell and Suttle were drafted in the fourth round and are nearing their decisions. Though some have indicated that Russell may return to Texas, others are saying that Suttle will likely sign with the Yankees.

While Texas' dynamic duo highlights this week's mailbag, we also take an inside look at the Nebraska program with coach Mike Anderson in charge.

New Mexico's Ray Birmingham and UAB's Brian Shoop also highlight our discussion.

Longhorns with decisions to make

If you had to guess, which Texas players out of Kyle Russell, Bradley Suttle and Preston Clark will sign a pro contract by the deadline?

Larry in Austin, Texas

With the Longhorns hoping to get back to the College World Series in 2008, they received some bad news last week when talented left-hander James Russell unexpectedly signed with the Chicago Cubs for $350,000 as a 14th round selection.

Though James Russell's departure leaves a void, the 'Horns have greater interest in the possible return of Kyle Russell and Bradley Suttle.

Russell dazzled observers with his power last season, while Suttle showed why he's considered to be one of the more complete players in college baseball.

Both players have yet to make a decision, but I have a feeling on both accounts.

Russell was a fourth-round selection of the St. Louis Cardinals and sources inside the Texas program have told me that he intends to return to campus in the fall. However, as negotiations continue with the signing deadline coming Wednesday night at 11:59 p.m. (eastern), the Cardinals could surprise everyone with an offer well over slot money.

Though many believe Russell returns to Texas, the same can't be said for Suttle.

The talented third baseman has yet to sign the dotted line, but sources close to the situation have indicated that the Yankees will submit a substantial offer before the deadline strikes Wednesday night. Of course, Suttle may have already struck a deal in principle. We'll find out more Wednesday.

Another drafted Longhorn - catcher Preston Clark - plans to return for his junior season after getting drafted in the 33rd round by the Cubs.

Russell's return would give the UT offensive lineup the services of one of the nation's top power hitters, while Suttle's return would be icing on the cake.

For now, we'll say that Russell returns to Texas while Suttle signs with the Yanks.

Cornhusker controversy

What are your thoughts on the state of Nebraska baseball and coach Mike Anderson?

Jim in Omaha, Neb.

After finishing the 2007 season with a less than stellar 32-27 record, coach Mike Anderson's critics were out in full force.

Sure, the Huskers could've put together a more impressive campaign. But when the dust settled, they appeared in yet another NCAA Regional. Even with another postseason berth, there were some in Lincoln, Neb., that weren't happy with the program.

The Huskers entered '07 with some holes to fill, but I have to agree with one conclusion - I, too, expected more from them last season.

Not only did the Huskers tally less than impressive offensive numbers, they also finished the year with a 4.60 team earned-run average.

Disappointing as those numbers were, the Big Red still managed to reach the finals of the Tempe Regional, where they were eliminated by hard-hitting Arizona State.

The Anderson critics use last season as their rallying cry, but his accomplishments in 2005 and 2006 should overshadow last season - for now.

Nebraska failed to make it out of the Lincoln Regional in 2006, but did finish the year with an impressive 42-17 record. Additionally, the Huskers won the Big 12 regular season title and went 57-15 in 2005. They also reached the College World Series. There, they defeated Arizona State before losing two-straight.

Looking at the past few seasons, it's tough to transmit the arguments of those that believe Anderson should be fired.

Did Nebraska's 2007 campaign raise a red flag? Perhaps, but we'll find out the legitimacy of that claim sooner rather than later.

If the Huskers fail to impress in 2008, I might start growing weary. But until then, Anderson and the Husker coaching staff should be in great shape. Anything else would be considered a tragedy when you weigh their accomplishments.

Birmingham bringing excitement

Here in New Mexico, we're excited about the addition of head coach Ray Birmingham. What are your thoughts on the hire?

Joe in Albuquerque, N.M.

After finishing the 2007 season with a 28-30 overall record, New Mexico decided to head another direction with its baseball program.

With the departure of long-time coach Rich Alday, the Lobos went out and hired one of the most successful coaches in the JUCO ranks - Ray Birmingham.

Some might disagree, but I consider Birmingham to be an excellent hire.

Not only do the Lobos now have a New Mexico JC pipeline, they also have a coach that knows what it takes to win national titles.

The Birmingham hire reminds me a bit of the Wayne Graham hire at Rice.

With the Owls hoping to make a statement, they went out and hired Graham from nearby San Jacinto JC. As a result, the Owls have experienced a wealth of success.

Birmingham may or may not experience a wealth of success, but the Lobos definitely made a bold statement by hiring him.

After finishing in a tie for third in the Mountain West last season, Birmingham and the Lobos will aim for more in 2008.

New Mexico has the facilities - now they have a coach to take them the rest of the way.

Shoop has the right idea

What are your thoughts on the UAB program with Brian Shoop in charge?

Bob in New Orleans

It will definitely take some time to turn things around, but Shoop has the UAB program headed the right direction.

In his first season with the Blazers, he guided them to a 25-33 overall record. However, a 12-12 record in the C-USA helped the Blazers earn a tie for fourth place. It marks the highest conference finish since the 1998 season.

Before arriving at UAB, Shoop made his mark at Birmingham Southern.

Overall, Shoop has surpassed the 700-win mark. That says something.

As the Blazers move forward, recruiting will be a key ingredient. For UAB to turn the corner, Shoop and the coaching staff must make a splash on the recruiting trail. They must also improve facilities, while also making a stronger commitment to baseball.

Though turning UAB into a winning baseball program is a tough proposition, Shoop is the right guy for the situation. The Blazers can also look at conference foe Memphis as a role model for a substantial turnaround.

To answer your question in a more direct way, yes, I see the Blazers making a move for the better sooner rather than later. Shoop is simply the real deal.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. To send him a question or comment for his Friday Mailbag, click here.