Daily Egyptian

23 Salukis eligible for 2017 MLB June Amateur Draft

Itchy Jones Stadium, Home of Saluki Baseball. DE stock photo.

Itchy Jones Stadium, Home of Saluki Baseball. DE stock photo.

By Denton "Gio" Giovenco

With the completion of the 2017 NFL Draft over the weekend, the next professional sports draft to take place is the 2017 MLB Amateur Draft on June 12-14 at MLB Network Studios in Secaucus, New Jersey.

The Rule 4 draft began in 1965, and has evolved through collective bargaining agreements between club owners and the player’s union into what we now know as the MLB June Amateur Draft.

The MLB Draft consists of 40 rounds, with the team holding the worst record from the preceding season garnishing the first overall pick in round one. Teams can only sign draftees to minor league contracts — not major league contracts — unless the draftee is receiving scholarship dollars for another sport other than baseball.

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To gain eligibility for the MLB Draft, players attending a four-year institution must either complete their junior year or turn 21 years of age prior to the draft.

This year, the SIU baseball team will have 23 players eligible for the June Amateur Draft either by process of completing their junior year or having turned 21 years of age.

Southern has a lengthy history of players being chosen in the MLB Draft. Over the 52-year history of the draft, 103 total Saluki ballplayers have been chosen across 47 annual drafts. While no Southern player was chosen in the inaugural draft in 1965, at least one Saluki was chosen in the following 34 drafts, with the streak coming to an end with the 2000 draft.

Beginning again with the 2002 draft, SIU was represented by at least one draftee for 13 years straight. One of those draftees is former Saluki pitcher and current pitching coach P.J. Finigan.

Finigan was chosen in the seventh round of the 2006 MLB Draft by the Detroit Tigers, reaching the Double-A level in a three-year career in professional baseball.

Recent SIU alumni who were drafted and went on to successful major league careers include Jerry Hairston, Jr. and Jason Frasor.

MCT
New York Yankees left fielder Jerry Hairston Jr. (17) catches a pop up by Baltimore Orioles’ Ty Wigginton in the fourth inning at Yankees Stadium in Bronx, New York. The Orioles defeated the Yankees, 7-3. (John Dunn/Newsday/MCT)

Hairston, Jr. was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the 11th round of the 1997 MLB Draft. He made his major league debut in 1998 with the Orioles, playing a total of 16 seasons in the majors with nine different teams. Hairston, Jr. earned a World Series ring with the New York Yankees in 2009, making the postseason roster as a utility player.

Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Jason Frasor throws in the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians on Friday, July 25, 2014, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Royals won, 6-4. John Sleezer • Kansas City Star

Frasor was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 33rd round of the 1999 MLB Draft. He made his major league debut in 2004 with the Toronto Blue Jays, playing 12 seasons in the majors with five different teams. Frasor also played in a World Series, appearing in three games as a relief pitcher for the Kansas City Royals against the San Francisco Giants in the 2014 Fall Classic. The Giants went on to defeat the Royals in the 2014 World Series in seven games.

Junior Sam Coonrod delivers a pitch against Bradley University April 6, 2014 at Itchy Jones Stadium. (Daily Egyptian File Photo)

SIU also has one of its most recent draftees, Sam Coonrod, playing in the minor leagues. He was drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 MLB Draft by the San Francisco Giants. The right-handed pitcher plays for the Giants Double-A affiliate the Richmond Flying Squirrels in the Eastern League. Coonrod has also been a non-roster invitee to spring training with the Giants major league squad the last two seasons.

With no draftees in 2015 and 2016, the Salukis are experiencing their longest drought since the 2000-2001 drafts saw no Southern players chosen. This all is primed to change with the 2017 MLB Draft, as SIU sports a handful of recognized pro prospects on its roster.

Some notable seniors who have garnered looks from major league teams include pitchers Joey Marciano and Chad Whitmer.

Senior pitcher Joey Marciano throws during SIU’s 13-8 win against the Golden Eagles on Sunday, April 23, 2017, at Itchy Jones Stadium. (William Cooley | @Wcooley)

Marciano is listed on Baseball Draft Report’s follow list, and listed 15th overall on D1Baseball’s Missouri Valley Conference prospect list. With a fastball that hovers in the 87-93 mph range, D1Baseball proclaimed Marciano a “raw commodity” as a left-handed pitcher with high potential, and “the top draft prospect on the Salukis squad.”

Senior pitcher Chad Whitmer throws the ball toward a Western Illinois batter during the Salukis’ 8-6 win against the Leathernecks on Friday, March 3, 2017, at Itchy Jones Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @jawiegandphoto)

Whitmer earned second-team All-MVC honors following the 2016 season and made Baseball Draft Report’s follow list for the MLB Draft. He also earned MVC Pitcher of the Week honors twice this season for his starts against Indiana State and Dallas Baptist, both conference opponents.

A handful of juniors on the Salukis roster have also earned an eye from major league teams. Some of the notable include pitcher Michael Baird, second baseman Connor Kopach and infielder/outfielder Greg Lambert.

Saluki pitcher Michael Baird throws from the mound Saturday, March 4, 2017, during a game against Western Illinois University Leathernecks in Itchy Jones Stadium. The Salukis beat the Leathernecks 12-2. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

Baird earned first-team All-MVC honors following the 2016 season and was named MVC Preseason Pitcher of the Year by Baseball America and D1Baseball coming into the 2017 season. He has also been listed on Baseball Draft Report’s follow list, and is considered the 10th overall pro prospect in the Missouri Valley Conference by Baseball America.

Junior infielder Connor Kopach bats during the bottom of the ninth Tuesday, April 4, 2017, at Itchy Jones Stadium. (Branda Mitchell | @branda_mitchell)

Kopach earned an All-MVC Honorable Mention following the 2016 season and entered the 2017 season listed as the 16th overall pro prospect in the MVC by D1Baseball. He has also been regularly listed on D1Baseball’s Position Power Rankings: Second Base list throughout the current season as one of the top 25 second baseman in the NCAA, as well as being recognized on Baseball Draft Report’s follow list. As of Wednesday morning, Kopach is tied for third overall in Division I NCAA baseball in stolen bases with 28 on the year.

Saluki junior infielder Greg Lambert darts toward third base before running home during SIU’s 13-8 win against Tennessee Tech on Sunday, April 23, 2017, at Itchy Jones Stadium. (William Cooley | @Wcooley)

Lambert earned an All-MVC Honorable Mention for the 2016 season, and as of Wednesday morning is leading the Salukis in hits, doubles, home runs, RBI’s, total bases and slugging percentage while carrying a team-best .337 batting average. He has been recognized on Baseball Draft Report’s follow list, and brings position versatility with him to the draft as both an above-average outfielder and infielder.

With an abundance of talent across 23 draft-eligible players on the Salukis roster this season, many baseball outlets see the drought of draftees hailing from SIU coming to an end this June. How many players will be chosen — and which will decide to leave the college ranks to pursue their major league dream — is all up-in-the-air.

For now, winning the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and making the 2017 NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament that begins on June 2, and leads to the College World Series beginning on June 17, is the team’s biggest concern.

Sports writer Denton “Gio” Giovenco can be reached at dgiovenco@dailyegyptian.com or on Twitter @DentonGiovenco.

To stay up to date with all your SIU sports news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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