First came the 2021 Major League Baseball (MLB) Draft, then came the matter of signing the dotted line to become a professional baseball player — and officially make boyhood dreams become reality.
This was the scenario for several athletes with ties to The Laker/Lutz News coverage area.
Five local ballplayers were taken in last month’s MLB first-year player draft, which spanned 20 rounds (and 612 picks).
All but one of the area selections inked contracts with respective baseball organizations by the Aug. 1 signing deadline.
Sunlake High alum Tommy Mace, a fourth-year junior from the University of Florida, was the highest selection and had the largest signing bonus, among locals.
Mace signed for $1.1 million with the Cleveland Indians, who took him 69th overall in Competitive Balance Round B between the second and third round.
The imposing 6-foot-6, 230-pound right-hander received well-above the recommended slot value for the lofty pick (slightly under $929,800). The announcement was made official on the team’s website July 24.
The 22-year-old is noted for a respectable four-pitch mix — fastball, slider, curveball and changeup — highlighted by a sinking two-seam fastball that touches 96 mph.
Mace very well could’ve turned pro last year, but returned to school with hopes of further improving his draft stock following the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
This past year 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.
The long-limbed pitcher 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 previously was drafted out of high school in the 12th round (347th overall) by the Cincinnati Reds in 2017, but didn’t sign, in favor of college.
Other area ballplayers selected later in the draft also agreed to contract terms with MLB franchises, for varying dollar figures.
Gaither High senior A.J. Graham signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates for $125,000 after being the first pick in the 18th round (523rd overall).
Graham has been assigned to the Pirates Florida Complex League. He was signed on July 30 by Pirates scout Nick Presto, according to a team news release.
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 for Gaither.
Graham comes from an athletic family background.
His mother, Mindy, played volleyball at Ball State University and is a member of the Muncie, Indiana-based institution’s athletics Hall-of-Fame.
His father, Darrell, played defensive back in football at Syracuse University and Ball State University, respectively.
Also picked in the 18th round was Saint Leo University lefty pitcher Jimmy Burnette, landing 542nd overall to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Burnette signed with the club for $50,000 on July 21, according to the team’s website.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound redshirt senior led Saint Leo this season 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 emerged in the inaugural MLB Draft League, a summer showcase for top draft-eligible prospects providing exposure 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.
The league’s advanced statistical metrics underscored Burnette’s standout secondary offerings, including his slider (32.8% chase rate, 41.5% called strike plus whiff rate) and changeup (29% chase rate, 10 inches induced vertical break, 16 inches horizontal break).
Meanwhile, league metrics show a fastball that touches 95 mph, from a quasi-sidearm release.
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 signed for $25,000 with the Kansas City Royals after being taken in the 19th round (559th overall).
The signing became official on July 15, according to the club’s website.
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.
A fourth-year senior, Williams led Texas with 20 doubles and was second with 12 homers, along with a .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 originally was drafted out of high school in the 39th round by the Seattle Mariners, but didn’t sign, electing for Dallas Baptist University and San Jacinto College before transferring to Texas.
Williams joins a growing list of family members to play professional baseball.
His father, Reggie, played four MLB seasons with the Anaheim Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers throughout the 1990s.
Williams three older half-brothers all played professional baseball, too.
They include Reggie Williams Jr., who spent three years in the St. Louis Cardinals organization (2010-2012); J.D. Williams played five years in the Minnesota Twins minor league system (2010-2014); and Javier Reynoso spent two seasons in the Kansas City Royals’ organization (2013-2014).
Wharton High shortstop Zach Ehrhard was taken by the Boston Red Sox in the 13th round (367th overall), but didn’t sign by the Aug. 1 deadline.
Ehrhard theoretically could’ve received a decent chunk of change — as teams can give up to $125,000 to players drafted in rounds 11 through 20 before tapping into their bonus pool allotments.
He instead will attend Division I powerhouse Oklahoma State University, which has made eight consecutive NCAA tournament appearances (the 2020 pandemic-shortened season notwithstanding).
Interestingly, Ehrhard was one of four Red Sox draftees that chose not to sign.
The others were second-round pick Jud Fabian (University of Florida), 15th- rounder selection Payton Green (North Carolina Pro5 Academy) and 20th-rounder Josh Hood (University of Pennsylvania).
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.
The a 5-foot-11, 175-pound switch-hitter batted .438 this season for the Wildcats, with three homers, 12 doubles, 29 runs scored and 21 RBIs, along with 26 stolen bases.
Ehrhard’s older brother, Drew, was a recipient of the prestigious award in 2017 and went on to play baseball at the University of Tampa.
Though just outside of The Laker/Lutz News’ coverage area in Pasco, Fivay High School/University of Mississippi product Gunnar Hoglund signed with the Blue Jays for $3.25 million, after being picked in the first round at 19th overall.
The signing bonus fell slightly below the recommended slot value of $3.36 million.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-hander from Hudson was viewed as among the draft’s most polished arms, but slipped slightly after having Tommy John elbow surgery in May, meaning the 21-year-old likely will be out of action through at least summer 2022.
Locals from the 2021 MLB Draft
- Sunlake High/University of Florida pitcher Tommy Mace— signed with Cleveland Indians for $1.1 million (drafted in Comp B, 69th overall)
- Wharton High shortstop Zach Ehrhard — did not sign with Boston Red Sox (drafted in 13th round, 376th overall)
- Gaither High shortstop A.J. Graham — signed with Pittsburgh Pirates for $125,000 (drafted in 18th round, 523rd overall)
- Saint Leo University left-handed pitcher Jimmy Burnette — signed with Toronto Blue Jays for $50,000 (drafted in 18th round, 543rd overall)
- Gaither High/University of Texas third baseman Cam Williams — signed with Kansas City Royals for $25,000 (19th round, 559th overall)
Published August 11, 2021