June 14, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Batter up … finally!
Marshall’s baseball alumni in the MLB-affiliated leagues is best reflected by Aaron Blair, the tall right-hander who was the No. 36 overall pick in last week’s MLB Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Herd certainly is strong-armed in the Majors – with Dan Straily in the Oakland rotation – and minors. Coach Jeff Waggoner’s program will have 11 current pros once first-round pick Blair signs with the D-backs, and finally on Monday, the pitching stranglehold will be broken.
Isaac Ballou, who patrolled centerfield for the 2013 Herd, will start his pro career in the Washington Nationals’ system on opening day in the short-season New York-Penn League with the Auburn (N.Y.) Doubledays.
Ballou was the Nats’ 15th-round pick in the draft a week ago and signed earlier this week.
He was picked in the 36th round (Pittsburgh) after his redshirt sophomore year at Marshall, and then this Smithfield, Va., native went undrafted a year ago, and ends up in the 15th round with the Nats.
So, he went from being the 1,036th pick in 2011, to unpicked, to No. 466 last week.
The only other former Herd player in the minors who is not dealing from the mound is working exclusively with pitchers – also in the Nationals’ organization.
Catcher Thor Meeks, who signed with Washington earlier this year as a free agent, moved last month from extended spring training in Jupiter, Fla., to the Hagerstown Suns of the South Atlantic League. Meeks is with the Suns only as their bullpen catcher, listed on the club’s SAL 7-day disabled list.
Waggoner’s program has four pitchers with full-season clubs in low Class A, two of those – Joe Church
and Mike Mason
-- moving up from extended spring since the 2013 season began. The other two – right-handers Arik Sikula
and Ian Kadish
– have been with the Midwest League’s Lansing Lugnuts all season, in the Toronto Blue Jays’ system.
Here’s a look at the Herd in MLB-affiliated pro ball, starting with Straily, who is scheduled to make his next start for the Athletics on Monday at Texas:
*Straily has helped the torrid A’s – 21 wins in their last 26 games – to first place in the American League West. He started the season in the Majors, then went down to Triple A Sacramento where he went 3-0 with a 0.96 ERA, with 20 strikeouts and only 11 hits and six walks allowed in 18 2/3 innings.
Straily – drafted by Oakland in the 24th round in 2009 -- struggled upon returning to the bigs, his ERA soaring to 7.27. However, in his last five starts, the right-hander from Springfield, Ore., is 3-0 with a 2.20 ERA. In those five starts, he’s allowed 21 hits with 20 whiffs and only four walks. And he’s allowed only three homers in 52 innings over 10 starts.
*Kevin Shackelford has spent the season in the high Class A Florida State League with the Brevard County Manatees in the Milwaukee system. After a very rough April, the right-hander is now 1-3 with a 5.28 ERA. In 29 innings over 21 games, the Brewers’ farmhand has 20 strikeouts and only four walks.
In his last nine appearances (11 1/3 innings), Shackelford has been strong, allowing only three earned runs out of the Brevard bullpen.
*Arik Sikula is tied for seventh in the Midwest League with seven saves, and is 3-0 with a 1.55 ERA in 21 games (29 innings) in the Lansing bullpen. The Toronto farmhand (36th-round pick in 2011) has allowed 16 hits with 30 strikeouts and 12 walks.
*Ian Kadish has worked in middle relief for the Lansing, where he spent part of last season, too. Kadish is 2-2 with a 3.03 ERA in 33 games. Over 32 2/3 innings, Kadish, who was not drafted, has given up 27 hits and has shown superb control, with 40 strikeouts to go with eight walks.
*Joe Church, a 17th-rounder in the 2012 draft, began the season in extended spring training in the San Diego system. He spent a week (April 25-May 2) at Lake Elsinore in the high Class A California League, pitching 2 2/3 innings in two games with a 13.50 ERA.
The right-hander headed back to extended spring, and on May 28 joined the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps in the low A Midwest League. He’s 1-0 with one save and a 6.10 ERA with 10 innings pitched in four TinCaps outings. He’s recorded eight strikeouts.
*Mike Mason, like Church a 2012 draft pick from the Herd (24th round by Colorado), started the season in extended spring training. He moved to Asheville in the South Atlantic League on May 13. The lefthander is 2-0 with a 2.93 ERA in middle relief for the Tourists. In 15 1/3 innings over 10 games, Mason has 14 strikeouts and six walks.
*Jesse Fernandez, signed as an undrafted free agent by Baltimore last July, is in the short-season New York-Penn League like Ballou. Fernandez, after extended spring training, opens the NY-P season Monday night with the Aberdeen (Md.) IronBirds – a club owned by Cal Ripken Jr.
Fernandez was 0-1 with a 2.79 ERA in 10 IronBirds games last summer.
*Greg Williams, a 12th-round pick in 2011 by Texas, pitched at all Class A levels for the Rangers last season, including Myrtle Beach in the advanced Class A Carolina League. Williams is rehabbing his (left) pitching arm after undergoing Tommy John surgery back in October and may not pitch this season.
*Blair, a Competitive Balance A pick (end of first round) last week and the highest draft selection in Herd history, is expected to sign with the D-backs. However, only 13 players picked among the 35 ahead of the ex-Herd star are reported as signed (to date, afternoon of June 14).
The bonus pool amount for Blair’s No. 36 slot is $1,547,700, with the pool limit for the slot at $1,633,900.
# # #
Meanwhile, there seemed to be some confusion last week when Blair became Marshall’s highest MLB Draft pick in history.
Some chronicled that the previous top pick from MU was catcher Joe Goddard in the eighth round by San Diego in 1971. Others reported it was another catcher, Greg Hill, who went to the Minnesota Twins in the third round (59th pick overall) in 1984.
Why the confusion?
Well, Goddard, like Blair, was picked in the June draft. Baseball formerly also held a January draft (1966-86), and Hill was the seventh selection in the third round of the January 1984 draft … and of the 26 players picked in that round, he was one of only two players from four-year colleges. The others were junior college players.
Hope that clears up the confusion over which Herd pick was where.