Childhood dreams of playing professional baseball soon will be a reality for a couple athletes with ties to The Laker/Lutz News coverage area.
The Major League Baseball (MLB)’s 2020 first-year player draft was shortened to five rounds and 160 picks, from the usual 40 rounds in previous years, due to COVID-19.
It didn’t stop some locals from hearing their name called on Day 2 of the draft on June 11, however.
The highest-drafted local was Steinbrenner High product CJ Van Eyk, taken by the Toronto Blue Jays in the second round, at pick No. 42 overall.
Since graduating from Steinbrenner in 2017, the 6-foot-1, 198-pound righty pitcher has spent the past three years at Florida State University — where he logged an 18-5 win-loss record, 3.21 ERA, 1.274 WHIP and 225 strikeouts in 176.2 innings pitched across three college seasons.
A summary of Van Eyk’s skillset on MLB.com reads: “After pitching out of the bullpen as a freshman (at FSU), the 6-foot-1 right-hander moved into the Seminoles’ rotation as a sophomore and then continued to improve this spring, operating with a solid three-pitch mix that includes a plus curveball.”
Van Eyk led Steinbrenner to its first Class 8A state championship as a junior in 2016 and that year was crowned Florida Dairy Farmers’ Class 8A Player of the Year. A show of his dominance — he surrendered just 15 earned runs in 173.2 innings pitched in high school.
He also was drafted out of high school by the New York Mets in the 19th round of the 2017 draft, but didn’t sign, opting for college instead.
In signing with the Blue Jays this time around, Van Eyk will join a growing list of Steinbrenner products who’ve been drafted and are now in the minor leagues. Names include Cole Gordon (Mets, 32nd round in 2019), Kevin Merrell (Oakland Athletics, first round in 2017), and PK Morris (Blue Jays, 14th round in 2017).
Though slightly outside our coverage area in Pasco County, Trinity native/Mitchell High catcher Jackson Miller was selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the third round (65th overall).
It’s a name that followers of local high school baseball surely are familiar with, as Miller’s teams have faced these varsity teams at least once throughout his career — Bishop McLaughlin, Cypress Creek, Land O’ Lakes, Pasco, Sunlake, Zephyrhills, Wesley Chapel and Wiregrass Ranch high schools, respectively.
The 6-foot, 195-pound left-handed hitter posted a .414/.498/.591 slash line in 88 games across four varsity seasons. In seven games in this year’s COVID-19 shortened season, he had a .500 batting average in 26 at-bats, with six extra-base hits, five RBIs and scored nine runs.
An MLB.com analysis of Miller reads: “More athletic than the typical catcher, Miller, a Wake Forest recruit, could have average tools across the board, standing out most for his sound left-handed bat and solid defense behind the plate.”
Later on in the draft, the Philadelphia Phillies selected Wesley Chapel native Carson Ragsdale in the fourth round (116th overall).
Ragsdale, who prepped at Bishop McLaughlin, is coming off his redshirt junior season at the University of South Florida.
The 6-foot-8, 225-pound right-handed pitcher transitioned to a starter’s role this year at USF, after pitching out of the bullpen his freshman and sophomore seasons. (He missed the 2019 season following Tommy John surgery). Across those three years of action, he’s tallied a 3.75 ERA, 1.391 WHIP and 77 strikeouts in 50.1 innings.
An MLB.com summary of Ragsdale’s skillset states: “Ragsdale’s 6-foot-8 frame gives him good downhill plane and the potential to add velocity to a fastball that has registered in the 91-95 mph (mph) range. He’s also got a curveball that has acted as a strikeout pitch.”
In a four-year varsity career at Bishop McLaughlin, Ragsdale tallied a 1.58 ERA and .352 batting average, helping steer the program to a combined 77-21 mark from 2013 to 2016. He joins several other Bishop McLaughlin products have been drafted in recent years, including Franklin German (New York Yankees, fourth round in 2018), Nate Pearson (Blue Jays, first round in 2017), Josh Falk (Athletics, 17th round in 2017), and Paul Coumoulos (Phillies, 40th round in 2017), respectively.
Former Sunlake High standout/University of Florida right-handed pitcher Tommy Mace did not hear his name called in this year’s consolidated draft, despite being ranked the No. 70 overall prospect by MLB.com.
Rather than sign with a pro club as an undrafted free agent, the 6-foot-6, 200-pound Mace will head back to Florida for his senior campaign. He was on his way to having his best college campaign yet, tallying a 1.67 ERA in a team-high 27 innings, until the remainder of the season was canceled, thanks to COVID-19. In three college seasons combined, he’s compiled a 16-5 win-loss record, 4.37 ERA, 1.299 WHIP and 145 strikeouts in 179.1 innings pitched.
At Sunlake, Mace was a three-year varsity player, posting a 1.65 ERA and 196 strikeouts through 165.2 innings, and guiding the program to the Class 7A regional final as a senior. He previously was selected by the Reds in the 12th round of the 2017 draft, but opted for college instead. Early projections show Mace being a top-flight pick in the 2021 MLB Draft.
The 2020 MLB Draft was broadcast live June 11 and June 12, on ESPN and the MLB Network.
Published June 17, 2020
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