Aspirations of playing professional baseball may soon become a reality for a handful of athletes from local high schools and colleges in The Laker/Lutz News coverage area.
The Major League Baseball (MLB) 2021 first-year player draft spanned 20 rounds (and 612 picks) from July 11 through July 13.
The draft is held every summer by conference call among the 30 Major League clubs.
The clubs take turns selecting players in reverse order of their won-lost records at the close of the previous regular season.
Generally, a player is eligible for selection if the player is a resident of the United States or Canada and the player has never before signed a Major League or Minor League contract. Residents of Puerto Rico and other territories of the United States also are eligible for the Draft.
The basic categories of players eligible to be drafted are:
- High school players, if they have graduated from high school and have not yet attended college or junior college
- College players, from four-year colleges who have either completed their junior or senior years or are at least 21 years old; and
- Junior college players, regardless of how many years of school they have completed.
Representing the highest selection from the local community was Sunlake High alum Tommy Mace, now a fourth-year junior from the University of Florida.
The imposing 6-foot-6, 230-pound right-handed pitcher was taken 69th overall by the Cleveland Indians — in Competitive Balance Round B between the second and third round.
The recommended bonus slot value for that lofty pick is just under $1 million, at $929,800.
If and when Mace signs, he’ll join another local product in the Indians organization — Gaither High product Oscar Mercado, who earned a call-up with the big league club in June.
Mace, 22, very well could’ve turned pro last year, but opted to return to school with hopes of further improving his draft stock.
This past season at Florida he posted a 4.38 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 113 strikeouts in 90.1 innings pitched, along with a 6-2 record.
Across his four-year college career, Mace compiled a combined 4.37 ERA, 1.279 WHIP and 258 strikeouts in 269.2 total innings pitched, with a 22-7 mark.
Mace was ranked as the No. 45 draft prospect, according to MLB.com’s 2021 pre-draft rankings.
He exhibits a four-pitch mix — fastball, slider, curveball and changeup. This includes a sinking two-seam fastball that is viewed as his top offering, touching 96 mph with cutting action, according to various scouting reports, including MLB.com.
MLB.com’s draft profile on Mace otherwise states: “Mace has gotten a bit bigger physically, which could help with consistency of velocity and stuff. He’s always been good at throwing strikes, but has been more a contact, ground ball kind of pitcher, rather than one who misses tons of bats. He did increase his strikeout rate while continuing to fill up the strike zone in 2021.”
Mace has been highly-regarded since his prep days at Sunlake, where he was a three-year varsity letter winner.
As a senior, Mace tallied a 1.29 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 77.2 innings, with an 8-2 record in 11 appearances — guiding the Seahawks to the Class 7A regional finals.
He won 19 games during his high school career, posting a combined 1.65 ERA and 196 strikeouts in 165.2 innings.
Mace was rated as No. 72 prep player in the class of 2017 by Perfect Game and No. 15 overall prep player in all of Florida — including the fifth-ranked, right-handed pitcher in the state.
Among other accolades, he was named MaxPreps Second Team All-American and National High School Coaches Association All-Southeast Team.
Mace previously was drafted out of high school in the 12th round (347th overall) by the Cincinnati Reds in 2017.
He, of course, didn’t sign with the Reds, instead opting to pitch for the Gators, which had then come off a 2017 College World Series crown — the first national championship in the program’s history.
Others drafted in later rounds
Mace was one several area players taken, albeit those in later rounds, on day three of the baseball draft.
Wharton High School senior Zach Ehrhard — an Oklahoma State University signee — was picked by the Boston Red Sox in the 13th round (367th overall).
The 5-foot-11, 175-pound switch-hitting shortstop batted .438 this season for the Wildcats, with three homers, 12 doubles, 29 runs scored and 21 RBIs, along with 26 stolen bases.
Ehrhard was this year’s recipient of the Wade Boggs Athletic Achievement Award, which honors a high school baseball player in Hillsborough County on the basis of outstanding athletic, scholastic and community achievements.
Baseball talent runs in the Ehrhard family.
His older brother, Drew, received the same prestigious county award in 2017 and went on to play collegiate baseball at the University of Tampa.
Another area prep position player, Gaither High senior A.J. Graham, was taken with the first pick in the 18th round (523rd overall) by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The 6-3, 180-pound right-handed shortstop batted .346 with two homers, seven doubles, 18 runs scored, 14 RBIs and 12 stolen bases in 78 at-bats across 23 games this season.
Also picked in the 18th round was Saint Leo University left-handed pitcher Jimmy Burnette, landing 542nd overall to the Toronto Blue Jays.
This season the 6-foot-2, 205-pound redshirt senior led the Lions in innings pitched (45.0), wins (three) and strikeouts (53) to go along with a 5.80 ERA and 1.53 WHIP and a pair of complete games.
Burnette appears to have emerged in the inaugural MLB Draft League, a summer showcase for top draft-eligible prospects providing exposures to scouts, coaches and advanced baseball technologies.
Playing for the league’s Mahoning Valley Scrappers in Niles, Ohio, Burnette posted a 3.09 ERA, 1.4 WHIP and 44 strikeouts in 23.1 innings pitched.
A Chicago native, Burnette transferred to Saint Leo from the University of Illinois this past season.
Gaither High/University of Texas third baseman Cam Williams was taken in the 19th round (559th overall) by the Kansas City Royals.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Odessa native starred for a Longhorns squad that had a third-place appearance at the 2021 College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
The fourth-year senior led Texas with 20 doubles and was second with 12 homers, to go along with .295 average, 42 runs scored and 51 RBIs spread across 61 starts at third base.
Prior to college, Williams led Gaither to the 2016 7A state championship his senior year and was named Rawlings-Perfect Game Honorable Mention All-American.
He was drafted out of high school in the 39th round by the Seattle Mariners, but didn’t sign, opting for Dallas Baptist University and San Jacinto College before transferring to Texas.
Williams’ father, Reggie, played four MLB seasons with the Anaheim Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers.
(Note: While slightly outside our coverage area, Fivay High/University of Mississippi product Gunnar Hoglund went in the first round (19th overall) to the Blue Jays. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-hander from Hudson was viewed as one of the draft’s most polished arms, but slipped slightly after having Tommy John elbow surgery in May.)
Robust draft history
It’s not uncommon for at least a few ballplayers from area high schools and colleges to be drafted each year.
In 2020, Steinbrenner High/Florida State University right-handed pitcher CJ Van Eyk went to the Blue Jays in the second round (42nd overall), and Wesley Chapel native/Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High/University of South Florida right-handed pitcher Carson Ragsdale went in the fourth round (116th overall) to the Philadelphia Phillies.
(Though slightly outside our coverage area on the west side of Pasco, Trinity native/Mitchell High catcher Jackson Miller went in the second round (65th overall) to the Reds.)
The 2019 MLB Draft also yielded a trio of area selections.
Land O’ Lakes High/St. Petersburg College second baseman Dustin Harris was selected in the 11th round (344th overall) by the Oakland Athletics; Pasco-Hernando State College/University of Tampa pitcher Tyler Beck was selected in 30th round (899th overall) by the Minnesota Twins in the; and Steinbrenner High/Mississippi State University pitcher Cole Gordon was selected in the 32nd round (958th overall) by the New York Mets.
Prior drafts yielded several community picks as well, including four in 2018 and six in 2017, respectively.
Locals picked in the 2021 MLB Draft
- Sunlake High/University of Florida pitcher Tommy Mace (Cleveland Indians, Comp B, 69th overall)
- Wharton High shortstop Zach Ehrhard (Boston Red Sox, 13th round, 376th overall)
- Gaither High shortstop A.J. Graham (Pittsburgh Pirates, 18th round, 523rd overall)
- Saint Leo University left-handed pitcher Jimmy Burnette (Toronto Blue Jays, 18th round, 543rd overall)
- Gaither High/University of Texas third baseman Cam Williams (Kansas City Royals, 19th round, 559th overall)
Published July 21, 2021