Oregon State pitcher Luke Heimlich went undrafted for the second consecutive year, as MLB teams’ fear of backlash over selecting a player who pleaded guilty as a teenager to molesting a child outweighed the potential of his on-field excellence.
The 22-year-old Heimlich, a left-hander regarded as one of the nation’s best amateur starters, was projected to be an early selection last year until a story in The Oregonian revealed his admission to molesting a 6-year-old female relative when he was 15. In recent interviews, Heimlich contended he was innocent and had received poor legal advice.
While the Baltimore Orioles discussed signing Heimlich after no team drafted him in 2017, he returned to school and has led the Beavers to the Super Regionals, one step short of the College World Series. He will be ineligible to sign with a team as an undrafted free agent until after Oregon State’s season ends.
Executives across baseball expected Heimlich to be chosen among the 1,214 selections made over 40 rounds. A number of teams sought advice from MLB officials on how to handle the fallout should they select him, according to sources.
The specter of criticism spooked a number of executives from putting Heimlich on their draft boards in the first place.
“I’m afraid of the backlash,” a GM said before the draft started. “I like the player. I just can’t rationalize it.”
Heimlich’s attempts to repair his image in speaking with The New York Times and Sports Illustrated, plus allowing the Portland Tribune access to medical records for a story that painted him as rehabilitated, did not persuade teams to look past his past – at least thus far. Perhaps his argument – that much of his family, friends and coaches stand behind him; that he has paid his debt; and that he is in fact innocent – will convince an organization to take on the complications of signing him.
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