UK Baseball

Time for UK ace to switch MLB allegiance after being drafted by Cards

University of Kentucky pitcher Zack Thompson was the 19th overall pick in the Major League Baseball Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday night. He had been projected to go as early as the 12th pick, but he wasn’t upset about sliding down a bit in the order.

“Just be thankful for it,” Thompson said. “I mean, I was still a first-rounder, I can’t complain at all. Amazing moment. Obviously, more important to go to the right team and I was very glad to go to a team that I was the one guy they wanted. And I can’t complain about that at all.”

Thompson, who was drafted in the 11th round coming out of high school by the Tampa Bay Rays, credited the competition in the Southeastern Conference for his development into a top MLB prospect.

“That was huge,” he said. “I mean, how many guys did the SEC have last night? 13? Plus all the first-rounders coming out of there next year. It’s just such an important league for development.”

Thompson finished last season with a 2.40 ERA and a 6-1 record in 14 starts. He ranked 11th nationally in strikeouts per nine innings with 13.0. Thompson was a bright spot in what was a difficult season for the Wildcats, who finished the season 26-29 overall and 7-23 in the SEC.

“I don’t remember how many starts we returned in SEC play this year but it wasn’t very many,” Thompson said. “It was just one of those, I just had to step up every week and just show the guys what this league is like.”

Thompson said that the Cardinals hadn’t told him where he would be assigned to start his professional career. He also said that he didn’t know for sure where he would end up leading into the draft.

“The week leading up to the draft was really pretty quiet,” Thompson said. “Hadn’t heard much. I knew a few picks before that there was a possibility that something would happen, but up until I got the call there was no certainty.”

Thompson, who is from Selma, Ind., said that his rooting interests were altered by the results of the draft.

“I was a Cubs fan growing up,” he said. “But that changed yesterday, so go Cards.”

Thompson wasn’t the only player with a UK connection drafted Monday night.

Jackson Rutledge, a 6-foot-8 pitcher and No. 1 junior-college prospect who had signed with the Cats, was drafted at No. 17 by the Washington Nationals.

“Could not be more excited to be a part of the @Nationals organization!” Rutledge tweeted. “Ready to get to work!”