After years of speculation, Columbia Academy graduate and star outfielder Slade Wilks will be heading to Hattiesburg to play for the Golden Eagles.
The slugger, who hit 50 career home runs for the Cougars and was a Perfect Game and Under Armour All-American, was among the top draft prospects in the country but went undrafted in last week’s MLB draft.
Wilks was contacted by a few teams during the draft that wanted to choose him, but he said they wanted to sign him for far less than he was willing to forego his commitment for. In baseball there is a system in place where each draft pick has an estimated value for a player’s signing bonus, and oftentimes teams try to agree to contracts with players before selecting them. With Major League Baseball’s season and opportunities for revenue in doubt because of the coronavirus, many teams tried to get players to agree to lesser values than usual, causing several players like Wilks who would’ve been drafted in a normal year to go undrafted because a contract agreement couldn’t be reached.
It’s a relief for Wilks knowing exactly what his future will look like for the first time in a long time.
“There for a while I didn’t know what part of the world I’d be in and to know that I’m only going 30 minutes away from home is always comforting,” he said.
Wilks said he’s glad it’s over now and that he always viewed it as a win-win situation because he’d either get to go play professional baseball or continue his dream of playing at Southern Miss.
Wilks said he’s very excited about playing at USM and for the coaches who he has a great bond with. The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder said he stuck with his commitment he made early on as a sophomore through the years for a few reasons.
“They’re good at baseball every year; they’re never bad. The coaches played a big part, and I just knew I wanted to play for those coaches,” he said. “It’s always special to be able to play for a team like Southern Miss so close to home where your family and friends can come watch.”
Wilks grew up a Golden Eagle fan and said he’s been to his fair share games at Pete Taylor Park over the years.
“I want to thank everyone in the county for the support and encouragement throughout all the years. I hope to see y’all wearing black and gold and supporting the Eagles in the future,” he said.
Wilks will be eligible to enter the draft again after two seasons at USM. Players at four-year schools are eligible to be drafted after three seasons or when they are 21, whichever comes first. Since Wilks will turn 21 during his sophomore season, he will be eligible for the draft early.
The Golden Eagles went a combined 94-34 in 2017 and 2018, making the NCAA Regional both seasons, and were 12-4 this year before the season was canceled because of the pandemic. They last went to the College World Series in 2009. Head coach Scott Berry has been with the team for 11 seasons.