Finally, at 9:12 p.m. on Monday night, Ashe Russell heard his name called by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.
The Cathedral High School pitcher sat through the first two hours of the 2015 MLB Draft at the league’s MLB Network studio as 20 players enjoyed a moment Russell patiently waited for.
With the 21st overall pick the Kansas City Royals gave it to him. The selection ends a stretch where scouts camped out at his games to study him, and begins one that could see him in a Major League ballpark sooner rather than later.
“They’re on the come-up with all their young talent,” Russell said of the Royals to MLB Network. “I’m excited. I’m happier than ever.”
The right-hander could turn down an offer to play professionally now for the chance to play college ball and attend Texas A&M — which boasts one of the top baseball programs in the country. Likely, Russell would be parting with a big payday if that’s the case. According to Baseball America, the last two 21st picks got approximately $1.9 million in signing bonuses.
Before the round was over, Kansas City dove back into the Indiana talent pool and grabbed right-hander Nolan Watson from Lawrence North High School with the 33rd overall pick.
“Both are high quality, young right-handed pitchers,” Royals General Manager Dayton Moore said. “Ashe has a lot of power, a real high-profile guy. Watson is a very polished high school pitcher and commands his fastball very well.”
Russell was projected as the 17th pick by Baseball America and had drawn interest from the Atlanta Braves, who held the 14th pick, with some suggesting he could end up with the San Francisco Giants — who have a history of developing high school pitchers. Instead he fell to the American League champion Royals, who surprised an admittedly “extremely anxious” Russell with the pick. Moore said even the Royals were surprised he was on the board when they made their pick.
In 41 innings pitched for Cathedral this year, Russell dominated with 67 strikeouts, nine walks and just 21 hits allowed. He gave up only six earned runs with a 1.02 earned run average.
Russell is mostly known for two pitches: a fastball siting in the mid-90s, and a slider breaking around 80 miles per hour. He was the eighth pitcher selected and the ninth high school player.
Baseball America had Watson projected 56th overall. Instead the Vanderbilt recruit could be heading to the Kansas City farm system with Russell. Watson was 5-1 this year with a 0.63 ERA in nearly 45 innings pitched. He recorded 70 strikeouts in that stretch.
“We’re intentionally trying to stockpile as many arms as we can,” Moore said. “As far as them being from the same area it’s a coincidence. We’re proud to have them.”
Only six Indiana high school players have been selected higher than Ashe. Trey Ball (2013, 7th), Jarrod Parker (2007, 9th), Tim Maki (1980, 14th), Pat Underwood (1976, 2nd), Jeff Wehmeier (1971, 16th) and Larry Hutton (1966, 19th). Gary Thurman was also selected 21st in 1983 by, of course, the Kansas City Royals. Thurman went onto a 10-year career in the majors.
A few other Indiana ballplayers are still waiting for their moment as the draft continues Tuesday and Wednesday: Jarrett Montgomery of Lawrence Central, Crown Point’s Noah Burkholder and Batesville’s Bryan Hoeing.
3 shortstops lead off MLB draft for 1st time
Shortstops were a big hit leading off the Major League Baseball draft.
The Arizona Diamondbacks selected Vanderbilt slugger Dansby Swanson with the No. 1 pick Monday night, setting off a history-making run at the position.
With the second pick, Houston took LSU’s Alex Bregman — marking the first time the first two players chosen were shortstops since Shawon Dunston (Cubs) and Augie Schmidt (Blue Jays) got drafted in 1982. Colorado made it 3 for 3 by taking Florida high schooler Brendan Rodgers at No. 3 overall.
A fourth shortstop went 10th, with Philadelphia selecting Georgia high schooler Cornelius Randolph.
Swanson, who helped lead the Commodores to the College World Series earlier in the day, was the first college shortstop to be the top pick since Brown University’s Bill Almon in 1974.
“I think it sounds pretty good,” a smiling Swanson said in an interview on MLB Network.
It marked the first time the Diamondbacks had the No. 1 selection since they took Justin Upton in 2005.
Swanson seamlessly switched from second base to shortstop this season as a junior. He was the Most Outstanding Player at the College World Series last year, helping the Commodores to the national championship. Swanson is a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award and Howser Trophy, given to college baseball’s top player.
“An exceptional baseball player that has all of the intangibles and makeup of a championship-type player for which this organization is building a foundation on,” Diamondbacks scouting director Deric Ladnier said in a statement.
Swanson also is the first shortstop — college or high school — to go No. 1 since Houston took Carlos Correa out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy in 2012. Correa made his major league debut Monday night, just more than three years to the day after he was drafted.
It was the 50th anniversary of the first draft in 1965, and the first for new Commissioner Rob Manfred, who took over when Bud Selig retired in January.
“I haven’t spoken to Commissioner Selig about the draft. I actually was going to call him on the way out here and I got tied up,” Manfred said, minutes before stepping to the podium to begin announcing the first-round selections. “So I didn’t get any advice. I think I can get through it.”
The Astros received the No. 2 pick as compensation for not signing pitcher Brady Aiken, last year’s No. 1 overall pick. Aiken was taken by Cleveland at No. 17 despite having Tommy John surgery in March.
Bregman is the offensive leader of an LSU team that will play in the College World Series and has been ranked No. 1 in the country in several polls for most of the season. The Golden Spikes Award finalist is hitting .312 with nine homers and 49 RBIs, and has stolen 37 bases.
Bregman has shown good patience at the plate, striking out just 20 times in 239 at-bats. He has also improved defensively in each of his three seasons at LSU, and could remain at shortstop in the pros.
Houston kept things in the family at No. 5, taking Florida high school outfielder Kyle Tucker, the younger brother of Astros outfielder Preston Tucker. He broke his brother’s school record with 31 career homers, and has the power to potentially move to a corner outfield spot at the next level.
Rodgers was the first of four players in attendance to have his name called by Manfred, shaking hands with the commissioner while slipping on a Rockies cap and jersey. “I really have no words right now,” Rodgers said. “I’m in awe right now. This is a dream come true.”
Rodgers, from Lake Mary High School, was widely regarded as the best prep player in the draft.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow Star reporter Blake Schuster on Twitter: @Schustee.