Baseball: Six players drafted

Isaac Saul | June 14, 2011    

Kevan Smith slept through getting drafted into Major League Baseball.

His father had to wake… Kevan Smith slept through getting drafted into Major League Baseball.

His father had to wake him up during the seventh round when, watching from home, the Chicago White Sox selected the 2011 Pitt grad with the 231st overall pick. Smith had gotten frustrated by the teams who kept drafting high school players in the earlier rounds, and decided to take a nap.

When he woke up, Smith wasn’t surprised to discover that the White Sox drafted him.

“I was hearing that they were calling people and doing background checks,” Smith said. “I kind of had a feeling that it would be them.”

When major league teams selected five more Panthers — David Chester, Ray Black, John Schultz, Travis Whitmore and Corey Baker —  the Pitt group set the record for most players drafted in Pitt baseball history.

Additionally, senior Cole Taylor, a left-handed pitcher, signed with the Traverse City, Mich., team of the Frontier League, an independent professional baseball organization located in the Midwestern United States and Western Pennsylvania.

With seven players now associated with professional teams, the 2011 group surpassed the Pitt record of six signed athletes, set in 1996.

Once drafted, a player has to sign a contract in order to forfeit their eligibility in college. If unsigned, the MLB team loses their rights to a player after the player attends his first draft in the fall.

During the 2011 regular season Smith, a catcher, led the Panthers and tied All-Big East hitters with a .396 batting average. With All-Big East first team selections in 2010 and 2011, he also led the conference with 56 runs scored this season.

Ray Black

Redshirt sophomore Black, a right-handed pitcher, went six picks later to the San Francisco Giants. Capable of reaching the upper 90s with his fastball, Black set the school’s season record for strikeouts per nine innings this year with 14.85.

David Chester

Senior Chester waited through about 800 names before the Boston Red Sox took the first baseman with the 1,012th overall pick.

“I knew I had a chance, I just didn’t know where and when,” Chester said. “You never really know for sure until it happens.”

For Chester, the next step is a move to Florida. There he will play for the Red Sox’s rookie ball club. After that, his future is undetermined.

“You need to go from there and keep advancing,” Chester said. “Just play every day.”

Chester made a name for himself this year as a power hitter, leading all-conference sluggers with 16 home runs. He led Pitt with 60 RBIs and a .470 on-base percentage and was second on the team with a .345 batting average.

He also excelled defensively, finishing the year with a .998 fielding percentage.

John Schultz

The Florida Marlins took Schultz with the 1,033rd overall pick in the 34th round.

A senior, Schultz started all four years in the outfield and was an All-Big East second team selection in 2010 and 2011.

Schultz was one of the most efficient and productive players on the team during his time at Pitt, head coach Joe Jordano said in a release on Pitt’s website.

“He deserves this opportunity, and I know he will have a great pro career,” Jordano said.

Travis Whitmore

The San Diego Padres took Whitmore as the 1,073rd overall pick. The second baseman hit .336 this season and led the team in at-bats (211), stolen bases (12) and sacrifice flies (9).

Jordano said that Whitmore’s ability to adjust to different positions adds to his value as a player.

Corey Baker

In the 49th round, Baker, a senior, made history as the sixth and final Pitt player drafted. The St. Louis Cardinals took the right-handed pitcher with the 1,490th pick.

Baker is the all-time winningest pitcher in Pitt history, collecting 24 wins over four seasons. He’s also fourth all time in strikeouts with 221.

“I actually thought the draft might have been over,” Baker said. “So I was pretty down before I got the phone call.”

Throughout his senior season, Baker made sure to focus on the Panthers and not on his draft stock.

“Before the season I had high hopes for having a good season, but whatever happened, happened, and it was out of my hands,” Baker said. “I wanted first and foremost for Pitt to have a great season. I’m not a scout, I can’t draft myself.”

Baker will go play for the Single-A Batavia Muckdogs in New York. For now, all six players get to enjoy the new opportunities ahead of them.

“It was just a lot of excitement between all of us,” Baker said. “We were all comparing where we’re going and whether we’d run into each other. It makes it so much better to get drafted with your teammates.

“It’s just a chance to keep playing, and we were all just so happy for each other.”

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