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Tuesday August 16, 2011As MLB Draft signing deadline comes and goes, Tucker's return a boost for Gators

If you follow the MLB Draft closely, you know Monday night was one of the wildest few hours in its history.

Gators OF Preston Tucker

According to Baseball America, 13 of the top 15 picks and 22 of the 33 first-round picks were still officially unsigned 10 minutes before Monday’s midnight signing deadline.

Talk about some close calls.

One involved a top Gators’ signee – West Boca Raton right-hander Michael Kelly. Kelly was San Diego’s first-round supplemental pick, the 48th overall player taken.

As the deadline approached late Monday, Kelly’s negotiations stalled until 20 minutes before the deadline when he signed with the Padres and received a $718,000 signing bonus. Click here to read more about Kelly from the North County (Calif.) Times.

The Padres experienced a similar last-minute negotiation with Gators right-hander Karsten Whitson a year ago. Whitson was the ninth overall pick of the 2010 draft and turned down San Diego’s final offer to come to Florida.

Whitson was 8-1 with a 2.40 ERA as a freshman, helping the Gators reach the College World Series.

Overall, the Gators’ top four signees in the 2011 class signed professional contracts on Monday, which came as no surprise to Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan and his staff.

The four players – Kelly ($718,000 signing bonus), RHP Hudson Boyd ($1 million bonus from Twins), 1B Dan Vogelbach ($1.6 million from Cubs) and RHP Kyle Smith ($695,000 from Royals) — signed contracts worth more than $4 million in signing bonuses.

Smith’s deal was more than three times MLB’s $227,000 recommendation for his slot as the 126th player taken overall.

So how does this all impact the Gators in 2012? Not that much considering they expected all four players to sign professional deals.

The bigger impact after Monday’s signing deadline came and went is that OF Preston Tucker didn’t sign with the Rockies and is coming back to school, as are RHP Greg Larson and OF Tyler Thompson.

Overall, the Gators lost only four of the 15 players in their 2011 signing class – four who were drafted and seven undrafted.

With Tucker (.308, 15 HR, 74 RBI), SEC Player of the Year Mike Zunino, and the starting trio of Whitson, Hudson Randall and Brian Johnson returning next season, the Gators should be in the mix for another SEC title and trip to the postseason.

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