By Kyle LoJacono
Millions of kids grow up dreaming of one day playing professional baseball and four local talents took a step toward completing that fantasy during the MLB draft June 6-8. They have until Aug. 15 to sign with the team that selected them, but for now the lucky few can be easily spotted by the beaming smiles they are likely showcasing.
Matt Campbell’s long journey
Matt Campbell was named Freedom’s Pitcher of the Year as a senior in 2006, but the former Patriot had to put in three years on the University of Florida’s (UF) club baseball team before getting a chance to shine in college.
Campbell, who just completed his civil engineering degree, helped the Gators club team win the 2009 South Atlantic South Conference championship and posted a 7-1 record with a 0.16 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 55.1 innings. However, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound right handed pitcher wanted his shot with the real UF squad.
He finally got that chance as a junior in 2010, when he appeared in eight games working 11.1 innings. Campbell’s workload increased to 15.1 innings in 15 appearances with a 5.28 ERA, 13 strikeouts and recording one save as a senior this season through the NCAA Super Regionals.
It’s been a winding road for Campbell, but that journey may serve him well as he works toward making an MLB roster.
“There was some adversity along the way,” Campbell said. “I had to play catch up my last two years on the team because I didn’t have that coaching and game experience a lot of the other guys drafted have. But even though I may be a little behind, I know what it takes to put my time in and not expect things to be handed to me.”
Campbell was taken in the 24 round, pick No. 751, in the MLB draft by the Philadelphia Phillies on June 7. His mother Connie Couey was the first person to tell him he was chosen.
“I was watching the draft tracker and somehow I must have missed my name the first time it went by,” Campbell said. “She called and asked me if I was excited and I think my exact words were ‘am I excited about what?’ It didn’t take me to long too figure out what she was talking about.”
Campbell was picked the year before in the 42 round by the Cincinnati Reds, but opted to return to UF to complete his degree and get more experience.
“I wanted to walk on to the team earlier, that didn’t happen, but I believe Florida was the right place for me academically,” Campbell said. “They have a strong engineering college and that’s what I majored in. It’s the best school in Florida and it had what I was looking for even though I had to wait a few years.”
Campbell played at Freedom as a junior and senior after playing his first two years at Tampa Catholic. He uses a two-seam fastball, slider and split-finger changeup.
Tough decision for Bulls’ Gant
John Michael Gant’s pitching for Wiregrass Ranch earned him a difficult choice.
He signed a scholarship with Division I Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus, earlier his year, but was also drafted by the New York Mets in the 21 round with the No. 642 overall pick on June 7.
Gant said it was his dream to play Division I baseball at his signing, but the chance to sign professionally was too big of an opportunity for the Bulls’ ace. He inked his name to a contract with the Mets on June 10.
The shock of being drafted still hasn’t full sunk in for Gant, or the fact that he has signed with a profession team.
“I figured I would be drafted, but it was still a surprise because it’s every little kid’s dream,” Gant said. “It’s a huge opportunity.”
Gant participated in a pre-draft workout a few days before the draft began at the Mets’ stadium.
“That was my first time there,” Gant said. “I got to throw off of the bullpen and the regular mound. It was really cool. The stadium is huge. It was awesome throwing in there.”
The 6-foot-4, 180-pound Gant throws a fastball, curveball and changeup. He had a 6-0 record with two saves, a 1.90 ERA and 107 strikeouts as a senior for the Bulls. He was named to the Sunshine Athletic Conference first team in 2011 despite being somewhat new to pitching.
“It was awesome working with coach (Jeff) Swymer in high school,” Gant said. “He’s basically made me into the pitcher I am today. We’ve worked together the last two years and I didn’t really pitch before that. I was a shortstop my freshman year and pitched a little as a sophomore, but really first took to the mound as a junior.”
That move to the pitching seems to have been a good one, earning Gant his first real job ever.
“I guess I’ve just concentrated on baseball,” Gant said with a laugh. “I never had any job before.”
Former Gator picked by Cardinals
Jonathan Cornelius, a 2006 graduate of Land O’ Lakes High, was selected in the 24 round with the 740 overall pick by the St. Louis Cardinals on June 7. The 6-foot, 200-pound left-handed pitcher recently graduated from Florida Institute of Technology, a Division II program in the Sunshine State Conference (SSC).
As a senior at Florida Tech, Cornelius had an 8-1 record with a 2.39 ERA in 15 appearances while setting the Panthers single season record by striking out 129 batters in 98 innings, the most for any pitcher in Division II baseball in 2011.
Cornelius was a workhouse for the Panthers, completing five games, including a one-hitter at Eckerd College on April 8. He held the opposition to a .201 batting average as a senior.
The southpaw had an 8-4 record with a 4.17 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 2010. He had a 28-9 record with two saves and a 3.19 ERA during his time at Florida Tech. He is the program’s all-time leader with 356 career strikeouts and 12 complete games.
Cornelius received several honors for his work on the rubber his final season at Florida Tech, including being named to the All-SSC first team, All-South Region first team, Academic All-District first team and the American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings All-South Region second team. He was also honored as the Panthers’ Co-Male Athlete of the Year.
While at Land O’ Lakes, Cornelius had a 6-3 record in both his junior and senior seasons under current Gators coach Calvin Baisley.
Maggard picked by the Tigers
Former Pasco High and current Florida Southern College senior catcher Zach Maggard was picked by the Detroit Tigers in the 34 round with the No. 1,037 pick in the MLB draft on June 8.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Maggard was a four-year starter for the Moccasins, where he played in 182 games, 177 starts. He hit .291 with 30 runs scored, 26 RBI and nine home runs in 2011. His 34 career homers are the third most in Florida Southern program history.
Maggard graduated from Pasco in 2007.
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