Dreams of playing professional baseball are about to come true for several local athletes.
The 2017 Major League Baseball (MLB) Draft wrapped up on June 14, and several baseball players with ties to The Laker/Lutz News Coverage Area were selected.
The first-year player draft is Major League Baseball’s primary mechanism for assigning amateur baseball players, from high schools, colleges and other amateur baseball clubs, to its 30 teams — which offer up millions of dollars in signing bonuses to its top draftees.
There were 40 rounds and 1,205 picks in total, over the three-day draft.
Of those picks, 135 were from the state of Florida, second to only California, which produced 192 selections.
Remarkably, four former Steinbrenner High School players were selected — Kevin Merrell (first round), Patrick Morris (14th round), Josh Falk (17th round) and CJ Van Eyk (19th round).
The draft was also kind to Odessa natives — Bishop McLaughlin product Nate Pearson (first round) and Alonso High’s Jordan Butler (33rd round).
Other local talent selected included Sunlake High right-hander Tommy Mace (14th round) and Bishop McLaughlin outfielder Paul Coumoulos (40th round).
Just two players with local ties were selected in last year’s draft: Saint Leo’s Troy Sieber was picked in the 24th round by the Houston Astros, while Gaither High’s Camryn Williams was picked in the 39th round by the Seattle Mariners. Sieber, a first baseman, is currently assigned to the Greeneville Astros, a rookie-level affiliate in Tennessee. Williams, a shortstop, opted to hold off a pro career to attend Dallas Baptist University, in Texas. He’ll again be draft-eligible in 2019.
Pitcher Nate Pearson (Toronto Blue Jays-first round, 28th pick)
The Odessa native graduated from Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School in 2015, where he was one of the top pitchers in the state (1.24 career ERA). He attended Florida International University as a freshman, then transferred to College of Central Florida in Ocala. In his lone season there, he posted a 1.56 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 81 innings, and was named JUCO Pitcher of the Year by Perfect Game.
An imposing 6-foot-6, 245-pound right-hander, Pearson is lauded for a blistering fastball, which touches 101 miles per hour.
Baseball America ranked him as the state’s second best draft prospect, just behind University of Florida ace Alex Faedo.
Based on his draft position, Pearson could receive a signing bonus upwards of $2.3 million.
Kevin Merrell (Oakland Athletics-first round, 33rd pick)
The Steinbrenner High product and University of South Florida shortstop is widely viewed as the fastest college player in the 2017 draft class. On his high school track team, the 6-foot-1, 189-pound Merrell ran a 10.6-second, 100-yard dash. Those wheels translated well to the baseball diamond, where he stole 56 bases in his three-year college career, eighth-most in program history. Besides pure speed, the left-handed hitter boasts an elite bat, posting a career .353 average, and becoming the only player in South Florida history to lead the team in hitting three-straight seasons.
He also showed power in 2017, slugging seven home runs and 15 extra-base hits.
Merrell’s on-field performance earned him several end-of-year accolades, including 2017 American Athletic Conference First Team and 2017 Baseball America Second Team All-American.
Meanwhile, he was ranked as the state’s seventh best draft prospect and 51st overall, according to Baseball America.
Based on his draft position, Merrell is slotted to receive a signing bonus upwards of $2 million.
Tommy Mace (Cincinnati Reds—12th round, 347th pick)
One of the most effective prep arms in the Tampa Bay area, Mace tallied a 1.29 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 70.2 innings, with an 8-2 record in 11 appearances — and helped guide Sunlake High to the Class 7A regional finals.
A lanky 6-foot-7, 200-pound right-hander, Mace has developed a consistent 90 mph fastball, along with a tight curveball and usable changeup. Previously a University of Kentucky commit, Mace has since elected to play baseball at the University of Florida. If he temporarily forgoes a pro career, he’ll be draft-eligible again in three years, likely improving his draft stock.
Should he sign with Toronto, it could mark solid draft value at pick No. 347 for the pro club, as Baseball America ranked Mace the state’s 12th best draft prospect and 88th overall.
Patrick Morris (Toronto Blue Jays—14th round, 429th pick)
A power-hitting, left-handed first baseman, Morris possessed extra-base and home run power the past two seasons at Steinbrenner High, racking up eight home runs, 17 doubles and 43 RBIs cumulatively. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Morris also was a solid pitcher, posting a career 2.71 ERA, with 82 strikeouts in 95.2 innings.
Baseball America ranked Morris as the state’s 89th best draft prospect. He is a Florida Atlantic University commit.
Josh Falk (Oakland Athletics—17th round, 501st pick)
Falk began his prep career at Steinbrenner High, and then transferred to Bishop McLaughlin, where he graduated in 2013. He started his college career at Hillsborough Community College, before winding up at the University of Pittsburgh, where he developed into the pitching staff’s ace. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound right-hander finished the season with a 3.92 ERA, with a record of 3-7 in 14 appearances. He also ranked among ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) leaders in innings (85), strikeouts (75) and batting average against (.228). Falk, who faced elite competition at Pitt, can locate all three of his pitches for strikes, which includes an effective breaking ball.
CJ Van Eyk (New York Mets—19th round, 577th pick)
A highly touted prospect, Van Eyk possibly dropped in the draft due to medical and signability concerns as a firm Florida State University commit. This past season at Steinbrenner, Van Eyk threw just 38.1 innings and was shut down in April with arm soreness. In his limited action, however, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound righty was virtually unhittable, posting a 0.73 ERA and 56 strikeouts. Besides a blazing 95-mph fastball, Van Eyk possesses a devastating curveball and effective changeup.
Last summer, the Steinbrenner star jumped onto the national radar, as a member of the USA Baseball 18 and under team’s pitching staff, helping the squad win gold at the Pan American Championships.
Also in 2016, he led Steinbrenner to its first state baseball title and was crowned the Florida Dairy Farmers’ Class 8A Player of the Year.
Baseball America ranked Van Eyk as the state’s 18th best draft prospect and 109th overall.
Some believe he could develop into a future first-round selection after seasoning at Florida State.
Jordan Butler (New York Yankees—34th round, 1,022nd pick)
The Odessa native starred at Alonso High for three years, morphing into one of the state’s top two-way high school players. On the mound this past season, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound southpaw registered a miniscule 0.85 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 82 innings, with a record of 9-2. At the plate, he hit .451, with eight home runs and 35 RBIs.
Butler will likely forgo a pro contract to attend the University of Florida, where he can raise his draft stock.
Baseball America ranked Butler as the state’s 41st best prospect and 251st overall.
Also of note: he was a teammate of Van Eyk on the USA Baseball 18 and under squad last summer.
Paul Coumoulos (Philadelphia Phillies—40th round, 1,193rd pick)
A four-year varsity player at Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School, Coumoulos proved one of the best pure hitters in Pasco County each season. In 104 career games, the 6-foot, 205-pound outfielder posted a career .378 batting average, .471 on-base percentage, 21 doubles and 62 RBIs. Also a capable runner, Coumoulos racked up 31 steals on 33 attempts in his career.
He is a College of Central Florida commit.
Published June 21, 2017