Rick Heller will need to replace three starting pitchers in 2018 after all. C.J Eldred, who tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow during his first start, missed the rest of 2017. After going undrafted it seemed like Eldred would return for his senior season and form a solid one-two punch with incoming-JUCO transfer Brady Schanuel.
That won't happen, though. Eldred announced on Tuesday morning that he signed with the Kansas City Royals. Dargan Southard notes that the Royals were at his only start in 2017 and brought him in for a throwing session at their Spring Training Facility after the draft. Eldred's dad, Cal Eldred, played 13 seasons in the majors and now works with the Royals' organization, as well.
Also, Eldred told Mike Hlas of The Gazette that he started a throwing program in the past week and hopes to start throwing off the mound within the next month. Kansas City of course won't rush Eldred's return, meaning he probably won't pitch in a game until the start of next season.
Even though Eldred only made one start last season, he is still a huge loss for the Hawkeyes. Eldred's entire career is a big 'what if' scenario, though. He originally committed to Indiana as a preferred walk-on but redshirted his freshman year. Eldred then had to sit out a year after transferring to Iowa and missed all of last year with an elbow injury. But Eldred was good in 2016, the only year he pitched in college. He owned a 3.43 ERA and pitched 94.1 innings, the 10th most in a single-season in Iowa baseball history. He also struck out 63 batters and walked just 25.
It's also interesting to think about how good Iowa could have been this season if Eldred hadn't gotten hurt in his first start. A Nick Gallagher, Ryan Erickson and Eldred starting rotation would have solved a lot of Iowa's pitching problems and solidified its bullpen. Iowa won a Big Ten Tournament title without him; perhaps Eldred's presence would have enabled them to get over the hump in the regular season (Iowa finished just two games back of Nebraska) or go a bit farther in the NCAA Tournament.
While it's a tough loss for Iowa, and Eldred could have pitched his way up draft boards in 2018, he took the sure thing. Opportunities with major league teams aren't given out every day, and there's no guarantee Eldred would return to where he was in 2016. Hopefully he's able to recover and show the potential that two Big Ten schools, and now an MLB team, have seen in him. Best of luck to Eldred.