By Jamie H. Vaught
During my early days in the 1960s and 1970s, there wasn’t a lot of media coverage in college baseball. It wasn’t easy to find articles or information about SEC baseball, including the Kentucky Wildcats. You really had to look for them hard.
Remember we didn’t have Internet during these days, either. In addition, cable television didn’t really explode in many areas until late 1970s and ESPN didn’t arrive on the scene until late 1979.
But now, thanks to ESPN’s SEC Network and the Internet, fan interest in SEC baseball has exploded. We now can follow our favorite teams on a regular basis and get to know some of the future major league players. There is big-time talent in SEC stadiums.
The conference has several stars who likely will be selected in the first round of the 2017 MLB Draft, which will be held on June 12. The MLB Network will televise the event.
Who are some of the first-round prospects? Well, according to various mock drafts and prospect lists, some of the popular names from the SEC -- mostly pitchers -- are Jeren Kendall of Vanderbilt; Alex Faedo, Florida; Tanner Houck, Missouri; Kyle Wright, Vanderbilt; Wil Crowe, South Carolina; and Alex Lange, LSU. I may have missed a name or two. But also watch out for standouts like Mississippi State’s Jake Mangum, Texas A&M’s Corbin Martin, Florida’s JJ Schwarz, and Kentucky’s Evan White.
According to 2017 College Top 100 Draft Prospects by Baseball America, Florida’s 6-5, 220-pound pitcher Alex Faedo (pictured) is No. 1, while the Vanderbilt duo of outfielder Jeren Kendall and pitcher Kyle Wright are placed at No. 2 and No. 5, respectively.
This past weekend, we saw Faedo outduel another SEC pitching star Clarke Schmidt (ranked No. 17) as the Gators defeated South Carolina 1-0. Schmidt had to leave in the 6th inning due to arm stiffness. Both juniors are expected to be early draft picks in June.
Interestingly, it is the second straight year the Gators have seen their player ranked No. 1 in Baseball America’s list. Florida lefthander A.J. Puk, who was No. 1 in 2016, was later chosen as the No. 6 overall pick in the MLB Draft.
Vanderbilt duo of outfielder Jeren Kendall and 6-4, 220-pound pitcher Kyle Wright, both juniors, is also projected to be early draft picks as well.
LSU’s righthanded pitcher Alex Lange is No. 7 on Baseball America’s list, followed by Missouri’s Tanner Houck, a 6-5, 218-pound pitcher, at No. 8. South Carolina pitcher Wil Crowe is No. 11.
Kentucky’s highest-rated player isn’t far behind. Junior first baseman Evan White is at No. 33. Wildcat pitcher Zach Pop also placed at No. 74.
According to UK baseball media guide, there have been only five Kentucky standouts who were chosen either first or second round in the MLB Draft. They were Joe Blanton in 2002 (first round, 24th overall), James Paxton in 2009 (first round, 37th overall), Alex Meyer in 2011 (first round, 23rd overall), AJ Reed in 2014 (second round, 42th overall) and Kyle Cody in 2015 (second round, 73rd overall).
By the way, a mock draft by Baseball America’s John Manuel – which was posted on April 20 -- has three SEC players among the top 10. Kyle Wright is projected as the first SEC player selected in the draft -- a No. 4 pick by the Tampa Bay Rays. Jeren Kendall and Alex Faedo were chosen at No. 9 and No. 10, respectively.
The No. 1 pick – held by the Minnesota Twins -- in that mock draft is Louisville star Brendan McKay, who can both pitch and hit. The Reds, who have the No. 2 pick, may come up with Hunter Greene, a high school pitching star from California.
Scout.com’s Jeff Ellis and Taylor Blake Ward, by the way, had the Reds pick Kendall at No. 2 in the mock draft, which was posted last week, with Faedo and Houck going at No. 6 and No. 10, respectively.
Certainly, it would be enjoyable to see these current collegiate stars become MLB standouts like former SEC/MLB players Todd Helton, Bo Jackson, Don Kessinger, Max Scherzer, Dave Magadan (who in 1983 hit for a .525 batting average, still an SEC single-season record), Rafael Palmeiro, R.A. Dickey, Frank Thomas, Tim Hudson, David Price, to name a several.
In 2014, Thomas, who starred at Auburn, became the first former SEC baseball player to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Nevertheless, you need to turn on the SEC Network and watch the future MLB players. And SEC baseball sure has come a long way as far as media exposure is concerned.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.
Photo by Tim Casey, UF Athletics