Major League baseball Draft

Nationals take Kentucky's Alex Meyer with 23rd pick in MLB Draft

Junior right-hander says he plans to sign

mmaloney@herald-leader.comJune 7, 2011 

Are Washington's pro sports teams enamored with the University of Kentucky?

Following the path of basketball's Washington Wizards and Mystics, whose recent first-round picks have been UK products John Wall and Victoria Dunlap, the Washington Nationals selected Alex Meyer in the first round of Monday's Major League Baseball draft.

Prior to the draft, Meyer was rated by MLB.com as the No. 20 prospect in the draft, which wasn't far off. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound right-hander was selected by the Nationals with the 23rd pick. He was the 14th pitcher to be taken and the second from the Southeastern Conference. Vanderbilt's Sonny Gray went to Oakland with pick No. 18.

Meyer was Washington's second selection. The Nationals took Anthony Rendon, a third baseman out of Rice, with the sixth overall pick.

Meyer monitored the draft from home in Greensburg, Ind., along with his parents, two siblings and a few others.

"When it happened, I took a deep breath and put my hands over my face, and I got a little emotional for a second," Meyer said during a teleconference.

"We had an idea of what we thought was going to happen, and it panned out right. I feel extremely excited to be selected by the Washington Nationals. I don't think it could have happened (with) a better organization. Obviously, you see them on the rise with the prospects that they've been selecting over the last few years with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper and, obviously, this year they selected Anthony Rendon with their first pick. So it's pretty special to be selected by a club like that, and I can't be happier."

Meyer, known for a blazing fastball, recently completed his junior season as the SEC leader in strikeouts (110), going 7-5 with a 2.94 ERA. He held opponents to a .222 batting average and posted 10 quality starts in 14 chances.

His season strikeout total ranks eighth in school history, and his 253 career punchouts are fifth-best ever at UK.

Meyer turned down the Boston Red Sox when he was drafted out of high school in the 20th round. He anticipates signing this time.

"It's just a big opportunity for me and, hopefully, if all goes as planned, the plan is to end up as a Washington National," he said. "And now it's just a matter of getting the business side of it taken care of."

The Pittsburgh Pirates selected hard-throwing UCLA righty Gerrit Cole with the No. 1 pick. He was a first-round pick of the New York Yankees in 2008 but refused to listen to an offer and attended UCLA — as he insisted to teams he would.

"The draft three years ago was obviously somewhat unexpected, but I feel like the Yankees handled that with a lot of class," Cole said, adding that New York scouting director Damon Oppenheimer texted him a congratulatory note Monday night. "I felt it was the correct decision."

Cole, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior, posted mediocre numbers this season for the Bruins (6-8, 3.31 ERA) but has what many consider to be the best pure stuff in the draft.

The Pirates, picking No. 1 for the fourth time in franchise history, are hoping Cole ends up being the ace of their pitching staff. He has a fastball that's consistently clocked at 95 mph and was up around 100 at times late this season. Cole's changeup and slider are also outstanding.

"Gerrit Cole has the size, strength, overall package of stuff and mentality to develop into a top-of-the-rotation major-league starting pitcher," said Greg Smith, the Pirates' director of scouting.

His college teammate, right-hander Trevor Bauer, wasn't far behind, going third overall to Arizona. It marked the first time a pair of teammates went in the top three picks since Arizona State's Bob Horner and Hubie Brooks in 1978.

With the 27th overall selection, the Reds picked right-handed pitcher Robert Stephenson from Alhambra High School in Martinez, Calif.

According to MLB.com, Stephenson, 18, is the first high school player to be taken by Cincinnati since catcher Devin Mesoraco in 2007.

At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, Stephenson is considered a power pitcher who, according to reports, can reach 97 mph with his fastball. He also has a commitment to the University of Washington.

During his senior season, Stephenson threw two no-hitters and posted a 1.19 ERA in 761⁄3 innings.

The 27th pick represented the Reds' lowest first-round selection in franchise history.

The Astros erupted into jubilation in the team's draft room as it became obvious they were going to have a chance to select University of Connecticut outfielder George Springer at No. 11, according to MLB.com.

In keeping with their philosophy of taking the best player available regardless of position, the Astros couldn't pass up the chance to select Springer, a 6-foot-3 center fielder, with in the hopes he can become a cornerstone player for the organization.

A 21-year-old junior, Springer was hitting .350 with 12 homers and 76 RBI though 63 games for the Huskies, who beat Clemson on Monday night to advance to the NCAA Super Regional. He had a .628 slugging percentage with 35 walks, 38 strikeouts and 31 stolen bases in 38 chances.

Western Kentucky University outfielder Kes Carter of Brentwood, Tenn., was taken 56th by the Tampa Bay Rays. He had seven home runs and 40 RBI this season with the Hilltoppers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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