Once upon a time, Jaxon Hallmark’s gut led him to Nebraska. Now it’s telling him to move on.
The four-year Nebraska outfielder on Wednesday signed with the Houston Astros as an undrafted free agent after a week of internal debate about whether to turn pro or return to the Huskers for one more season. He consulted his parents, NU coach Will Bolt and even former Husker skipper Darin Erstad.
Late last weekend the 22-year-old college graduate made up his mind.
“I didn’t want to leave Nebraska,” Hallmark said. “I love Nebraska — Lincoln’s my home now. But ever since I was a little kid I wanted to play professional baseball. I want to make it to the MLB one day and it just seemed like the right thing to do. And when I made my mind up I was like, ‘OK, I’m all in.’”
Hallmark signed his papers Wednesday from the Astros’ spring-training site in West Palm Beach, Florida. He joins an organization that already has two other former Husker outfielders in Scott Schreiber (Double-A) and Jake Meyers (Triple-A). Though multiple teams expressed interest in Hallmark before the draft last week, Houston was the lone team to follow up afterward.
The Midland, Texas, native grew up a Texas Rangers fan — actively rooting against the ‘Stros — though he laughed that that all changes now.
Hallmark departs following an All-Big Ten first-team spring performance in which he led Nebraska in batting average (.342), home runs (10) and steals (16) while making just one error in 47 starts in center field. The co-captain found his niche as a bunter and threat on the base paths while serving as one of the team’s most vocal leaders.
NU could have an entirely new outfield next season — Cam Chick and Leighton Banjoff combined for 21 starts in left field but both could be right-side infielders moving forward. Hallmark said 2021 underclassman outfielders Luke Sartori and Tyler Palmer impressed him behind the scenes as future difference-makers. Palmer, from Columbus, redshirted last season.
“Palmer came in and really didn’t know what the hell he was doing out there,” Hallmark said. “He kind of had a little bit of an issue of not wanting to be told to do stuff different because he’s been so good his entire life. But toward the middle of the fall he snapped in the right direction and was really good the rest of the fall. His (batting practice) got better as the year progressed and it’s paying off for him in summer ball – he’s balling out right now.”
Combined with Cade Povich’s official signing with the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday, Nebraska has full clarity on its roster as it relates to the draft, which wrapped up a week ago. All three Huskers drafted ended up signing with their respective pro teams including closer/shortstop Spencer Schwellenbach and reliever Cam Wynne. Hallmark becomes the fourth Husker to parlay his final college season into a pro opportunity.