Regardless of how the Major League Baseball draft unfolded LSU sophomore Cole Henry decided a celebration in his hometown of Florence, Ala. was in store.
“We didn’t expect to get picked today,” Henry said Thursday night. “We just had a little party and we’d celebrate either way. We’d celebrate going back to LSU or if not, we’d celebrate going to whatever team picks me.”
The fête wound up having a distinct red, white and blue hue of the Washington Nationals. The 2019 World Series champions selected Henry in the second round with the 55th overall selection to highlight LSU’s draft picks on the second day of the event.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Henry, a draft-eligible sophomore, said that he intends to sign a major-league contact and bypass returning to LSU for a third season. The right-handed pitcher reportedly entered the draft seeking a contract worth $2 million, which he expects Washington to reach, thus exceeding the $1,307,000 slot value for the 55th draft pick.
“I probably will sign,” Henry said. “They talked to my advisor (Brandon O’Hearn) and figured out what it would take to sign. I think they’re going to meet it and I’ll eventually probably sign with the Nationals.”
A day after LSU had signee Drew Romo – a catcher from The Woodlands, Texas – drafted with the 35th overall selection in the first round by the Colorado Rockies – the Tigers watched Henry and junior outfielder Daniel Cabrera selected five picks apart in the second round.
Cabrera, who finished his prep career at Parkview Baptist, was taken by Detroit with the 60th overall selection and is expected to sign with the Tigers. His slot value is $1.1 million after turning down a reported seven-figure offer from San Diego (26th round choice) to sign with LSU where he batted .345 with two homers and three doubles in a shortened 2020 season because of the coronavirus.
The truncated draft, which was reduced from 40 to five rounds, only saw one other LSU player drafted when junior college pitcher Beck Way of Northwest Florida went to the New York Yankees in the fourth round (129th selection).
Henry said there wasn’t any indication in the pre-draft stages that Washington could become the organization to kickstart his professional career. He said, like some other teams, there were occasional calls in the days leading up to Wednesday.
But a conversation Henry had with former LSU All-American shortstop Brandon Larsen, a scout for the Nationals, grabbed his attention.
“We had a little bit of talks with them, kind of the same with every other team,” Henry said of Washington. “I talked with Branden Larsen a bit and he told me I was in consideration, so be ready. We were sitting around just waiting and our advisor told us the Washington Nationals were pretty interested.
“We didn’t really know if they were going to pick me or not. Pick 54 got around and we were on the edge of our seats thinking that maybe it could happen here. I got a text from my advisor saying he thought they were going to do it. The next thing was they said my name. I’m excited for what’s to come.”
Henry, who was drafted in the 38th round of out Florence (Ala.) High School by the Detroit Tigers, made four starts during the abbreviated 2020 season, going 2-1 with 23 strikeouts and 1.89 ERA in 19 innings. During his freshman season in which he missed four weeks with an arm injury, Henry was 4-2 with a 3.39 ERA and 72 strikeouts – including a career-high 12 against Florida.
“It’s been my goal ever since I graduated from high school and went to LSU,” Henry said. “That’s to move onto professional baseball. It happened and I’m ready for whatever it comes with.”
With a slot value of $2,095,000 million for being the 35th pick, LSU faces an uphill climb in being able to convince Romo to attend school.
He said Thursday during a Zoom news conference that he hadn’t made up his mind about his future plans.
“I’m not sure as of right now,” Romo said. “I’m just looking forward to talking with the Rockies for right now.”
Romo was considered one of the nation’s top catching prospects and was the catcher the past two years on the U.S. national U18 and U19 teams.
“It really is a difficult decision,” Romo said. “I’ve been committed to LSU for a few years now. They’re the best program in the country. They have the greatest coaches in the country. It’s the greatest program with the best fan base. It is a hard thing to turn down. I’m very thankful for everything they’ve done for me. All the coaches have been kind toward me. They’ve been great.”