Oregon State’s Luke Heimlich posted a microscopic 0.76 ERA last year, and he went 15-1 this season with a 2.42 ERA while winning his second straight Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year award. Yet when the last of 1,214 players was selected Wednesday in the MLB draft, the hard-throwing left-hander, who fervently wants to move on to the professional ranks, was passed over.
The same dynamic unfolded last year, when Heimlich was projected to be a first- or second-round pick until the news emerged that changed everything for MLB teams, and for plenty of other observers: When he was 16, Heimlich pleaded guilty to having molested his niece, who was approximately nine years younger.
Since then, the 22-year-old college senior has claimed that he did not do it but was instead the victim of terrible legal advice. With a year to let the shock of the news subside, many analysts thought that a team would decide somewhere during the 40-round draft that Heimlich’s talent was worth the scrutiny his selection would bring, but all 30 MLB organizations clearly viewed him as still too toxic.
In a lengthy feature published last month, Heimlich told Sports Illustrated he was “confident that I’ll have the chance at professional baseball after this year.” His coach, Pat Casey, opined that his star pitcher would be a very high MLB draft pick, but Heimlich may have to try to sign with an independent team to keep his career going after OSU is done competing this month in the NCAA playoffs.
Of the charge of child molestation, stemming from accusations made by the then-six-year-old in 2011, Heimlich told SI, “I pled guilty to it. But ever since that day and even before that, in court records and everything, I’ve denied ever committing the offense. I stand by that.”
When asked if he was alleging that his niece had described to investigators incidents that never happened, including that he first touched her two years previously, he said, “Yes.”
The girl’s mother, who had been married to Heimlich’s older brother, disagreed, telling The New York Times last month that “there is no way he didn’t do it,” and telling SI, “Honest, I would advise everyone to keep their little girls away from him.” When The Oregonian first broke the news last year, she said to that newspaper, “I’m appalled that the college he’s going to would even have him on their team.”
The brother, who first brought his daughter’s accusations to authorities, has not wanted to comment, but other members of Heimlich’s family have reportedly supported him. His record in juvenile court was sealed last year, and after a court-ordered five-year period, he is no longer a registered sex offender, with no more restrictions on his activities than most other people.
Heimlich is set to lead OSU against Minnesota this weekend in the NCAA super regionals, with a trip to the College World Series at stake. But whenever his college career comes to a close, and with however much on-field glory, it could also mean the end of his baseball career.
It certainly appears that it will be a while longer, if ever, before MLB teams want to have any association with Heimlich. As for his niece, her mother told SI that the girl is “great” and “stronger than most full-grown women,” and that it doesn’t appear any resultant trauma has been an issue, but the mother added, “I do worry that in the future that it will.”