LSU center fielder Mikie Mahtook will play baseball again soon. He just doesn't know when or where at this point, although the Lafayette native has no qualms about either option at his fingertips.
Mahtook said Friday there hasn't been much progress in his negotiations with the Tampa Bay Rays, who picked him with the 31st spot in the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft last month.
But that's not a problem, especially considering the alternative Mahtook can lean on if things don't work out with Tampa.
The All-SEC and All-American outfielder expects negotiations to heat up with the Rays when the time is right. If Mahtook and the parent club can't reach an agreement by the Aug. 16 deadline, he has no qualms about finishing what he started as a freshman in 2009.
"LSU is an absolutely great, special and awesome place, and I wouldn't hesitate to go back," Mahtook said. "If I could go back for my senior year, get my degree and finish off my career there playing for a really good team that has a chance to win a national championship, I'd love that. The door to LSU is still completely open for me, and that's still a very attractive option to me. I'm very open-minded about the idea of going back."
Mahtook's classmate and close friend, Austin Nola, announced Friday he will return for his final season. Right after the draft, Tyler Hanover said he would be back after being picked by the New York Yankees.
The difference with Nola and Hanover is that neither was a first-round pick like Mahtook.
His spot in the draft is likely worth a signing in the seven-figure range if – when? – he comes to terms with Tampa.
Something he's in no hurry to do.
"I have talked to them a few times since I got drafted and they've been good, informational talks," Mahtook said.
"Whatever pace the process moves at is fine with me. I've enjoyed talking to them and they've been good to me. It all boils down to me wanting to be treated fairly and I feel like they've done that.
"Whatever happens, it's going to happen that way. I don't want to place a deadline on them in any way. If it takes until Aug. 16, that's fine with me. If it gets resolved tomorrow, that's fine, too."
Meanwhile, Mahtook is working out, taking swings and making sure his skills remain sharp should he wind up signing and being sent to a short-season league.
As his process plays out, Tampa has signed five of its top 10 draft picks – including outfielders Kes Carter from Western Kentucky and James Harris, a prep star from the Tampa area – and the first player it took in the second round, Granden Goetzman, a high school star from nearby Naples, Fla.
Depending on how quickly the Rays intend to reload, Harris and Goetzman are potentially the kind of players the Tampa franchise could build around because of their hometown connections.
Goetzman signed for a $490,000 bonus, bringing the total money the Rays have spent so far to just under $4 million.
"I'm not monitoring to see how it affects my situation at all," Mahtook said. "I'm just excited that if I sign with them, they've made a commitment to a lot of great players already."
Is there room for one more in Tampa's latest haul of talent?
If so – and that's likely where Mahtook is headed – he's ready for the new challenge after hitting a team-best .383 in 2011 and leading the Tigers in runs scored (61), triples (5), home runs (14), RBIs (56) and stolen bases (29).
"I have lots of confidence in myself and my abilities and wherever they feel I should be, I'm going to adjust and find a way to be successful and move through the ranks quickly," Mahtook said.
Tigers win tug-o-war with pro baseball to draw Austin Nola back for his senior season…