College : : Recruiting
Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Rice Keeping Fingers Crossed with Taillon

Jim Ecker        
Wayne Graham has signed a string of excellent recruiting classes during his 18 years as the head coach at Rice University, but he’s never had a class like this.

‘It’s probably, on paper, the best class we’ve ever had,” he told Perfect Game USA. “It all boils down to who enrolls in August.”

More specifically, it boils down to whether Jameson Taillon actually enrolls at Rice next August. He’s the 6-foot-7, 230-pound right hander from Texas who is ranked as the No.1 high school prospect in the country by Perfect Game, making him the premier player in the Class of 2010. He’s got a 97 mph fastball, a 3.80 GPA and immense talent.

Graham signed 11 players this fall, including four of the top-35 high school seniors in Texas and six of the top-300 players in the country. He’s got pitchers, infielders, outfielders and a catcher, probably enough to put a good team on the field with just the rookies.

There’s one proviso, of course.

“Obviously, there’s one player on there that nobody thinks we’ll be able to keep,” said Graham.

He’s talking about Taillon, of course, who in all likelihood will be a high draft pick this June, possibly with millions of dollars thrown at his feet. Graham had never signed a No.1 prospect before.

“Too bad he’s so good,” said Graham, laughing. “We’ll have our fingers crossed until August 15th.”

That’s the deadline for signing a pro contract. If Taillon does not sign by Aug. 15, 2010, he’ll be a Rice Owl.

Taillon, who just turned 18 in November, committed to Rice when he was in the eighth grade, believe it or not. He lives in The Woodlands, Texas, a suburb of Houston that’s near Rice, and got to know their coaches at an early age by attending their games and camps.

He was extremely good, even in the eighth grade. “You could see it,” said Graham.

Graham has won 830 games in 18 years at Rice and has taken the Owls to the College World Series seven times, so he knows talent. Taillon stands alone at the top of this class, but the Owls signed many other talented players as well.

John Simms, a right-handed pitcher from The Woodlands, Texas, is ranked No.5 in Texas by Perfect Game USA. Austin Kubitza, a pitcher/outfielder from Colleyville, is ranked No.30 in the state, and Tyler Pearson, a catcher from Lubbock, is ranked No. 35 in Texas. The Owls also signed nationally ranked players in Dickie Thon Jr., an infielder form Puerto Rico, and Connor Mason, a pitcher/infielder from Suwanee, Ga.

The other members of the class (all from Texas) are Keenan Cook, an outfielder from The Woodlands; Jaime Esquivel, a pitcher from South Houston; Derek Hamilton, a shortstop/pitcher from Lake Jackson; Shane Hoelscher, an infielder from Belton; and Kyle Mueller, a pitcher from Bellville.

“I do believe this is a great recruiting class,” said Graham. “We addressed our needs with high-profile guys.”

Graham credited his assistant coaches, Mike Taylor and David Pierce, for putting the class together. “They get better every year of identifying the best student-athletes who can play and excel in the Rice curriculum. I am amazed at what they did this year,” he said.

Dickie Thon Jr. is the son of a former major leaguer, Dickie Thon, who spent 15 years in the big leagues and was an All-Star during his time with the Houston Astros. “I threw batting practice for the Astros for 10 years, so I’ve known Dickie for years and years and years,” said Graham.

Perfect Game president Jerry Ford said, “Rice is one of the few programs in college baseball that has a chance of actually seeing a prospect like Jameson Taillon attend school. They have been extremely successful in identifying talent and developing players into high draft picks, especially pitchers. However, even without Taillon, this is a very talented class.”
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