Hello Cleveland! LSU loses signee at last minute to Indians, but wins Memphis 2-sport star

Glenn Guilbeau
The Daily Advertiser
Memphis University School’s Maurice Hampton takes off for home plate to score a run against St. Benedict at MUS on Tuesday, April 9, 2019.

BATON ROUGE — LSU coach Paul Mainieri and his staff expected to lose their first three signees of the class of 2020 when they were drafted in the first two rounds of the Major League Baseball Draft on Monday.

Those were were right-handed pitcher Daniel Espino of Georgia Premier Academy by the Cleveland Indians with the 24th overall pick, shortstop Rece Hinds of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, by the Cincinnati Reds in the second round as No. 49 overall selection, and right-hander Jimmy Lewis of Lake Travis, Texas, by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the second round with the 78th pick.

But Mainieri thought he would be able to keep his fourth signee who was selected - shortstop Christian Cairo of Calvary Christian High in Tampa, Florida, who went in the fourth round to the Cleveland Indians as the 130th overall pick. He literally had Cairo in the boat until the last minute.

Cairo and his parents visited Mainieri at LSU in person for about 90 minutes on Tuesday as Cairo was planning on attending LSU. He thought he had priced himself out of consideration with a self-imposed price tag over his slotted value, which ended up being $434,300 as the No. 130 pick of the fourth round by the Cleveland Indians.

"We talked about the future. We talked about the experience he's going to have here," Mainieri said at practice Tuesday night. "I walk him down to show him the new weight room. Mom's crying because she's sending her son off to college. We have a nice visit. Then I send Christian to an academic adviser to set up his summer classes."

Then it happened.

"While he's sitting in there with them (the academic advisers), he gets a phone call from the Cleveland Indians, and they offer him close to a million dollars," Mainieri said. "And they get up and walk out, call and tell me they're going to sign, and they leave and fly back to Tampa. Obviously, that knocked you for a loop."

The draft concludes today.

"It's not my favorite day of the year, I can tell you that," Mainieri said. "But after (today), it will all be over, and I can concentrate on the Super Regional."

LSU (40-24) opens play in the best-of-three Super Regional round of the NCAA playoffs against Florida State (39-21) at 2 p.m Saturday on ESPN. Game two will be at 5 p.m. Sunday on ESPN2. Winner advances to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.

LSU WINS DOUBLEHEADER WITH HAMPTON: The news was better for LSU concerning the decision of two-sport star Maurice Hampton Jr. of Memphis University's lab high school in Memphis, Tennessee.

The Tigers won a doubleheader on Monday, and professional baseball lost for now.

MORE: Dual-sport star is LSU bound

Hampton (5-foot-11, 190 pounds) signed with the LSU football team last February as the No. 21 football player in the nation at the athlete designation by and as the No. 7 prospect in Tennessee and No. 248 in the nation. He chose the Tigers over scholarship offers from Auburn, Arkansas, Florida, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Notre Dame and Oklahoma, among others.

And Hampton, and outfielder who hit .480 with 10 home runs in high school last season, was told by LSU football coaches he would also be allowed to play baseball for LSU. But both Orgeron and Mainieri feared they would never see him in purple and gold as he was projected as a first round pick in the draft Monday.

But on Monday, Hampton Jr. chose football and baseball at LSU after he was not selected in the first round. That followed four teams - Cincinnati, Arizona, Texas and Kansas City - not offering him his minimum asking price of $2.75 million, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper of the USA Today Network.

MORE: LSU's baseball program goes to Omaha every 1.8 years

"Emotionally it was tough, but in my head, I knew what I wanted, and I didn't get it," Hampton Jr. said to the Commercial Appeal. "So it was a no-brainer."

His father Maurice Hampton Sr. identified the four teams with one getting as high as approximately $1.8 million.

"We had a plan for him, and if we couldn't get there, then we weren't going to budge," Hampton's father said.

Then his son started, "Callin' Baton Rouge," the song covered by Garth Brooks - a live version of which is played at football games in Tiger Stadium and baseball games in Alex Box Stadium.

"God knows my worth and has a plan for me," Hampton tweeted. "Baton Rouge, I'm coming home, and I'm ready to work. #ForeverLSU."

Hampton said he plans on reporting to LSU this month. He will play cornerback and/or safety at LSU and could return kicks. He gained 1,835 all-purpose yards with 15 touchdowns as a wide receiver and returner in high school in 2018.

Hampton will count as one of LSU's football scholarships, but would be considered a walk-on in baseball.

Mainieri said he and Orgeron will work out a plan where Hampton can split his time during the spring of 2020 between baseball and spring football.

YANKEES TAKE JOSH SMITH: LSU junior shortstop Josh Smith was drafted by the New York Yankees late Monday as a second baseman with the 26th pick of the second round and as the 67th overall selection. He was the first current LSU player chosen.

Smith, who missed most of the 2018 season with a back injury, leads the Tigers in hitting this season at .346 and in stolen bases and runs scored with 20 and 68, respectively.

Smith went in the 38th round by Detroit out of Catholic High in Baton Rouge in 2016.

OTHER TIGERS DRAFTED: LSU junior center fielder Zach Watson of West Ouachita High in West Monroe was taken in the third round on Tuesday afternoon with the 79th overall pick by the Baltimore Orioles.

Watson is batting .310 this season with a team-high 17 doubles and has hit seven home runs with 41 RBIs and 11 stolen bases. He was selected in the 40th round by the Boston Red Sox last year as a draft-eligible sophomore.

Junior right-hander Zack Hess was picked in the seventh round on Tuesday by the Detroit Tigers with the 202nd overall pick. Hess (4-5, 4.63 ERA, 2 saves, 82 strikeouts in 70 innings) has an 18-12 record in three seasons with the Tigers with a 4.39 ERA and six saves with 272 strikeouts in 223 and a third innings. He has been a starter and closer in his career and is currently one of the Tigers' top relievers.

Coming out of high school at Liberty Christian Academy in Forest, Virginia, in 2016, the Yankees took Hess in the 35th round. Last year as a draft-eligible sophomore, Hess was taken in the 34th round by Atlanta.

Junior right-hander Todd Peterson went to the Washington Nationals in the seventh round as the 213th overall pick. Peterson is 5-2 in the 2019 season with a 3.83 ERA and three saves while striking out 40 in 44 and two-thirds innings.