Daily Egyptian

Dawg talk with Dodd: Predicting Salukis’ MLB Draft candidates

Southern+Illinois+senior+infielder+Drew+Curtis+%2819%29+gets+congratulated+by+his+teamates+after+hitting+a+homerun%2C+Saturday%2C+April+7%2C+2018%2C+during+the+Valparaiso+University+Crusaders+6-2+victory+against+the+Southern+Illinois+Salukis+at+Itchy+Jones+Stadium.+%28Corrin+Hunt+%7C+%40CorrinIHunt%29
Southern Illinois senior infielder Drew Curtis (19) gets congratulated by his teamates after hitting a homerun, Saturday, April 7, 2018, during the Valparaiso University Crusaders 6-2 victory against the Southern Illinois Salukis at Itchy Jones Stadium. (Corrin Hunt | @CorrinIHunt)

Southern Illinois senior infielder Drew Curtis (19) gets congratulated by his teamates after hitting a homerun, Saturday, April 7, 2018, during the Valparaiso University Crusaders 6-2 victory against the Southern Illinois Salukis at Itchy Jones Stadium. (Corrin Hunt | @CorrinIHunt)

Corrin Hunt

Corrin Hunt

Southern Illinois senior infielder Drew Curtis (19) gets congratulated by his teamates after hitting a homerun, Saturday, April 7, 2018, during the Valparaiso University Crusaders 6-2 victory against the Southern Illinois Salukis at Itchy Jones Stadium. (Corrin Hunt | @CorrinIHunt)

By Nathan Dodd, Sports Editor

The SIU baseball program featured four professional players on its 2017 roster, all of whom signed contracts with their respective clubs following the 2017 MLB Draft.

Among those drafted from SIU were pitcher Chad Whitmer, infielder/outfielder Greg Lambert, catcher Nick Hutchins and pitcher Joey Marciano.

This season, the Salukis have an abundance of talent that could hear their name called by the conclusion of the MLB Draft on June 6.

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In my opinion, the most likely Saluki to advance to the next level is senior shortstop Connor Kopach.

Arguably the top shortstop in the Missouri Valley Conference, Kopach was recently named one of 53 players in the nation as a finalist for the Brooks Wallace Award, an honor that recognizes the best shortstop in the country.

Standing at 6-foot tall and only 175 pounds, Kopach has been a giant in the Saluki lineup this season.

Through 40 games he has turned in a .354 batting average, 39 runs, 31 RBI, four home runs, and four triples. Kopach has also doubled 12 times and boasts a .429 on-base percentage to go along with 21 steals, which ranks second in the nation.

Although shaky with the glove this season, Kopach has been a weapon on defense in his career and was a member of the MVC All-Defensive Team a season ago.

With blazing speed, consistent hitting, sneaky power and solid glove, Kopach could hear his name called in the middle rounds on the second day of the draft.

Along with Kopach as a mid-round selection, senior starting pitcher Michael Baird has a strong shot to join a Major League organization.

Baird blew the doors off the MVC with his sophomore campaign when he went 9-4 with three complete games and a 1.76 ERA, earning a nod for First Team All-MVC.

In his junior season, Baird got roughed up and saw his ERA spike to 4.56 with a 4-4 record.

So far this season, the senior has improved in his final audition for MLB clubs.

His record currently sits at 3-3 with one complete game and a 3.39 ERA. Baird has also gained command of his pitches as he has only allowed 13 free passes in 10 games in 2018.

Nearly drafted out of high school, I believe that Baird’s bounce-back year will finally land him in the pro ranks.

A strong 2018 senior campaign should land another Saluki, Logan Blackfan, his spot in a professional franchise.

In a somewhat of a slightly inconsistent career at Southern, Blackfan has still always shown reason to believe he belongs at the next level.

The senior first baseman made a name for himself in his sophomore season with a .296 average, six homers and 50 RBI, earning First Team All-MVC honors.

However, 2017 was not near as kind to Blackfan as his average dropped to .215. He did still blast four homers but only drove in 29.

Hitting behind Kopach in the cleanup spot of Southern’s lineup has once again solidified Blackfan as a run producer and a feared hitter.

So far in 2018 Blackfan has cranked a career-high nine long balls and has collected 48 RBI. He also leads the Salukis with his absurd .364 batting average.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the slugger’s game is his defense.

An MVC All-Defensive Team recipient in 2016, Blackfan has only committed 18 errors in 204 career games at Southern.

A power bat that can flash the leather will definitely spark the interest of professional scouts and Blackfan should be the third Saluki to hear his name called on draft day.

The fourth and final Saluki to be drafted could be senior closer Ryan Netemeyer, although that possibility is much murkier now than it was a season ago.

Last year I would have told you that Netemeyer was a lock to be drafted after dominant sophomore and junior campaigns as Southern’s closer.

In 2016, his sophomore season, Netemeyer overwhelmed opponents and held them to a .208 batting average en route to 12 saves and a 1.95 ERA.

He followed the next year with a 3.48 ERA and 15 saves as opponents only hit at a .192 clip, making Netemeyer a finalist for National Pitcher of the Year and NCBWA Stopper of the Year.

However, his senior season has not gone as planned as he is the owner of a ghastly 6.60 ERA through 17 appearances.

Netemeyer did nail down the program record for career saves and currently has six on the season.

I think that his devastating senior season will drop Netemeyer to the late rounds of the draft. However, his electric arm and high upside should at least give him a chance to develop in the minor leagues.

The 40-round 2018 MLB Draft will be held on June 4-6 in Secaucus, New Jersey.

Sports editor Nathan Dodd can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @NathanMDodd.

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

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