FGCU Eagles keep a watchful eye on draft

From the June 6, 2013 edition of the Charlotte Sun

All it takes is for one team to like you.

More than 1,200 of the country’s top high school and college baseball players will keep repeating that to themselves, hoping that one of 30 teams in this week’s MLB draft will show them some love.

The players drafted tonight will see their lives change in a heartbeat, potentially become millionaires and gain a world’s weight of expectations. Those drafted near the 40th round Saturday are essentially long shots with little risk — just like Toledo quarterback Terrance Owens, who was picked in the final round of the 2012 edition.

And as much as the draft means to major league organizations in their quest to find the next superstar, the draft is arguably just as important for the schools the athletes will depart from.

With at least six players likely to be drafted — and possibly as many as 10 — Florida Gulf Coast University has plenty of skin in the game.

“We’re going to have to rebuild next year,” joked FGCU coach Dave Tollett, who also saw multiple players get drafted when he was the coach of Charlotte High School. “It’s great for our program from the development side that we’re able to develop these players and get them ready to go.”

FGCU figures to have more players drafted from it than any other Florida school after nine Gators and six Seminoles were selected in last year’s draft. Even college baseball’s strongest conference — the SEC — had just a handful of teams with as good of draft prospects last year as the Eagles do this year; only Florida, Kentucky (nine), Arkansas (eight) and Vanderbilt (six) had at least six players selected.

One player worth watching is Brandon Bednar, who hit a team-best .336 this year for FGCU. While he was a tough out offensively, it was his defensive versatility that should give him a chance to play pro ball.

“He’s the best utility player in the draft, I’ve been told,” Tollett said. “Somebody asked me what I think Bednar’s body will look like when he’s 28, and I just said, ‘A big leaguer.’”

A scout said it’s the scarcity of players like Bednar that is driving his stock higher.

“There’s not a lot of college shortstops this year,” said the scout, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears about disclosing his team’s draft strategy. “They have a lot of value. He might not go where he deserves to go, but I think he may go as early as the third round, but probably more realistically around the fifth.”

Harrison Cooney, a junior, figures to also be in the mix of being the first Eagle off the board. The scout said when he will be selected depends on whether teams believe he’ll be a starter or reliever.

“Harrison is up to 97 at times in the bullpen, but when he’s starting, the fastball isn’t as big,” the scout said. “He can throw you an above-average slider and above-average changeup at times, but command is going to be the issue.”

Brandon Bixler, a southpaw, also figures to go in the second day of the draft, which will host Rounds 3-10. Catcher Mike Reeves, reliever Danny Patrick, first baseman Brooks Beisner and reliever R.J. Brown all are all considered candidates for rounds 11-40 on Saturday.

While he might not be as high on draft boards as some of his fellow FGCU teammates, one of the more intriguing players on the team is pitcher Ricky Knapp. A former Port Charlotte native, Knapp was 9-2 this year with a 2.10 ERA. His fastball doesn’t touch much more than 90 mph, though, leaving him at an immediate disadvantage.

Tollett said teams wouldn’t be wise to sleep on the junior.

“Ricky progresses quicker than most of those guys in the minor league system because he’s just so solid in so many ways,” Tollett said of Knapp, whose repertoire includes four pitches. “I think Ricky Knapp can go pitch high single-A right now and hold his own. We have guys from our program pitching in high-A, and I think Ricky is better than those guys.”

But when it comes to the draft, the scout was quick to remind that anything can happen.

“It only takes one team to take a higher than anyone else will,” he said. “It’s in the eye of the beholder.”

Email: gzeck@sun-herald.com

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