Austin -- Rising Texas senior outfielder Mark Payton has turned down a professional contract with the Cleveland Indians to return for his senior season, he announced Friday. Cleveland had selected Payton in the 16th round of the 2013 Major League Baseball Draft in June.
"I was definitely in a win-win situation," Payton said. "I love playing at Texas, and I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to go professional, but we weighed both options and decided it was best for me to come back to school, finish up my degree and take another run at the College World Series."
A three-year starter, Payton has started all 167 games of his career at Texas and has a .319 batting average (200-of-626), 35 doubles, 14 triples and driven in 83 runs. The 14 triples are tied for the sixth-most in UT history. This marks the second time in his career he has been drafted after being selected in the 31st round of the 2010 MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins prior to joining the Longhorns.
"(This draft experience) was pretty wild, but it's a cool learning experience," Payton said. "I was very fortunate that I've been through it twice now, and we kind of knew what to expect this time.
"It's definitely a huge plus for me coming back to school and being that much closer to my degree and getting a chance to wear burnt orange again. It's every kid's dream to get to put on a Texas jersey and get to run around on the field and represent the state of Texas and The University of Texas. I get to come back and play for the best baseball school, if not the best overall school, in the entire nation."
Payton was a unanimous first-team All-Big 12 selection as a junior last season. He led the Big 12 with a .393 batting average and .483 on-base percentage in 50 games with 11 doubles, eight triples and 29 RBI while recording nine outfield assists. His .393 batting average was the best in a season for a Longhorn since Dustin Majewski hit .401 in 2002. Only three UT players have had better averages in a season dating back to 1976 (37 years). The eight triples are tied for the fourth-most in a season in UT history.
"We are thrilled to have Mark Payton coming back for his senior year," head coach Augie Garrido said. "His experience and leadership will play a key role in getting us back to winning championships at The University of Texas."
Payton led the Big 12 with 20 multi-hit games and finished the season with a streak of reaching base safely in 39 straight games. His .545 slugging percentage also led the team and was third in the Big 12. Payton joins pitcher Nathan Thornhill in returning to Texas as seniors following the draft.
"We're a school based on a winning tradition, and that's where we belong," Payton said. "Having Nate (Thornhill) back is huge and all these new guys that were draft picks coming to campus, it's exciting. It's going to be a fun year. We know we're going to have to put in a lot of work, and we know what we have to do. We've been to Omaha and we've seen the other side of that, so we've been through it all and we need to find a way to get back on top. It's definitely going to be a fun year and an exciting year."
As a sophomore, Payton earned second-team All-Big 12 honors, starting all 52 games, mostly as the right fielder (50 games). He led the team with 40 runs scored, 32 walks and four triples, while ranking second with a .322 batting average, .495 slugging percentage, 13 doubles, five home runs and 29 RBI, while adding eight stolen bases. He did not record an error in 91 chances in the field.
Payton started in all 65 games in his freshman season, batting .263 (63-for-240) with 63 hits, 11 doubles, two triples, 25 RBI and six stolen bases en route to being named to the Big 12 All-Freshman Team and helping the Longhorns reach the College World Series.