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For McCullers, $2.5 million Astros deal too much to pass up

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 06:10 PM

Sporting a Houston Astros cap and jersey for Monday's news conference, Lance McCullers said it really didn't matter where he got picked in the recent Major League Baseball first-year player draft.

So what if the recent Jesuit High graduate was picked 41st when most expected him to go in the top 20 in the first round? At the end of the day, McCullers said he is a professional pitcher owning a contract worth a reported $2.5 million - the largest signing bonus earned by a Hillsborough County player straight out of high school.

"You know, the draft's over and at some point, you just have to turn the page," McCullers told the media gathered at a news conference at Minute Maid Park in Houston. "I was picked No. 41 overall by the Houston Astros, I'm extremely honored and blessed to have been selected. I couldn't be more excited and ready to get started."

True, many expected McCullers to go much higher in the draft. In fact, he was projected to be selected anywhere from No. 10 to No. 23.

However, signability seemingly became an issue as draft day approached. McCullers had already committed to the University of Florida and had stated his preference to be a starting pitcher and not a reliever. Add to the fact that Scott Boras, the agent known for having his clients hold out to get the most money possible, was his representative and teams opted to pass McCullers by and draft day.

The Astros, on the other hand, had a different plan. Instead of taking Stanford pitcher Mark Appel or high school standout Byron Buxton with the No. 1 overall pick like most thought they would, Houston opted to take Puerto Rico shortstop Carlos Correa. The result was the Astros avoided a lengthy negotiation period by signing Correa for reportedly $2.6 million less than his slotted value.

By doing so, the club had enough signing money remaining to offer McCullers the type of deal he likely would have earned as a player who went in the top dozen or so players.

So when it came to decide between the money offered by the Astros and the scholarship offer he had from the University of Florida, McCullers said it was an opportunity he and his family "couldn't walk away from."

For McCullers, a right-hander who led Jesuit to the state semifinals this season with 140 strikeouts, the journey starts not far from his family's home in north Tampa. Following a physical and light pitching workout Monday in Houston, McCullers was slated to join the Astros' Gulf Coast League team on Wednesday in Kissimmee.

"It's a dream come true, honestly," McCullers said with his mother, Stacie, and father, former MLB pitcher Lance Sr., as well as his brothers and grandparents in attendance. "Every single kid who ever plays baseball wants to be at this point right now and obviously beyond, and in the big leagues, and things like that.

"This is just the first of, hopefully, many steps and I couldn't be more excited."

If all goes well in Kissimmee, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said McCullers will probably be sent to Greenville, Tenn., of the rookie-level Appalachian League to pitch for a few games "under the lights."

"We will watch how many innings he throws," Luhnow said. "We obviously are going to take care of him and his arm and we expect him to be here a long, long time."

Luhnow said he was surprised McCullers was still available late in the draft and taking him at pick No. 41 "felt like we were getting two first-rounders."

"There was absolutely no hesitation when pick 40 went by and he was still there," Luhnow said. "He represents exactly what we're looking for - a young man with a bright future, tremendous arm, a great pitcher who absolutely dominated the high school level and is clearly ready to move on to a higher level."

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