By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
Because these things rarely work out as they do in dreams, Aaron West had a backup plan.
And what a cool one it was.
Just in case the Snohomish High School graduate and University of Washington pitcher didn’t ever get a career in professional baseball — and this time last year, that dream seemed pretty far-fetched — he was going to jump into the war on terrorism. West is eight credits away from earning his degree in Middle East history; he’s planning on pursuing a minor in international relations; and he’s already learned how to speak Persian.
The FBI was his so-called fallback plan, but that will have to wait.
On Wednesday, West took the first step in achieving his Major League dream when the Houston Astros selected him with the first pick of the 17th round in the MLB draft. Although he has a year of eligibility remaining at UW, thanks to a medical redshirt he took after undergoing surgery as a sophomore, West plans on signing a deal with the Astros as soon as Friday and could be headed to Troy, N.Y., to play in the New York-Penn League shortly thereafter.
“I was excited,” he said of getting the call from an Astros scout Wednesday morning. “I’ve never been drafted before. I’ve been waiting my whole life, since I started playing baseball, for something like this.”
West was one of two UW players from Snohomish County to get drafted Wednesday, when the area was well-represented on the third and final day of the MLB draft. Huskies teammate Chase Anselment, a catcher/outfielder from Meadowdale High School, was chosen by the Atlanta Braves in the 17th round. The junior from Edmonds said he plans to sign a contract and give up his final year of eligibility, even though he’s still a year and one quarter away from graduating from UW.
“It’s kind of time for me to move on,” Anselment said, “to somewhere I can catch every day. For those of us who don’t enter (professional baseball) out of high school, you typically want to go three years just to mature — and I feel like I’ve done that. I’m ready for the next step.”
Anselment led the Huskies with a .325 batting average this season, which was his first while playing catcher as his primary position. He spent last summer playing in the Cape Cod League in an effort to show scouts that he had improved as a catcher.
In a rare stroke of coincidence, Anselment was chosen one pick after University of Portland junior pitcher Chris Johnson — a fellow Meadowdale High product who began playing baseball with Anselment when they were 11-years old. Johnson, a junior right-hander, told the UP website that he plans on signing with the San Francisco Giants and giving up his final year of eligibility.
UP teammate Owen Jones, a senior relief pitcher who went to Edmonds-Woodway High School, was a 19th-round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
A total of eight players with Snohomish County ties were selected Wednesday. Also getting the call were Lake Stevens High School teammates Dylan LaVelle (18th round, Detroit) and Jake Nelson (26th round, Boston) and Edmonds Community College teammates Aaron Brooks (26th round, Mariners) and Taylor Smith-Brennan (37th round, Milwaukee). Smith-Brennan joined Anselment and Johnson to give Meadowdale High three draft picks.
A total of 11 players with Snohomish County ties were picked in this draft. Washington State outfielder Derek Jones (Snohomish High School), Everett Community College pitcher Keone Kela and Liberty University Ian Parmley (Monroe High School) were selected Tuesday.
West watched some of Tuesday’s coverage via the internet and said he wasn’t overly disappointed not to have heard his name then. He was projected to go anywhere from Round 12 to 20, so the right-hander barely blinked when 15 rounds passed Monday and Tuesday without getting the call.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said.
Just getting drafted was quite an accomplishment for West, who had major arm surgery midway through his sophomore year and struggled so badly as a junior that he was moved from the starting rotation to the UW bullpen.
But West’s vigorous rehabilitation began to pay off during the summer, when he was almost unhittable during a short season in a Northern California amateur league made up of college players. He continued to have success as UW’s ace pitcher in the spring, going 7-5 with a 2.53 ERA.
While West, 22, does have one year of eligibility remaining, he said he’ll almost certainly sign with the Astros on Friday.
“I’m still thinking about it,” he said, “because education is important. But you also can’t play baseball when you’re old. Not many people get this opportunity to play professional baseball, and I can always come back and finish school.”
After seeing his career temporarily derailed by injury, West is just happy to have the opportunity to move on to the next level.
“It kind of shows that hard work can pay off,” said West, who plans on finishing his final eight credits and earning his degree from UW at some point in the future. “Even though you might have setbacks, you can still get there if you work hard.”
So while the Middle East might be in West’s long-term plans, he’s just fine with making a stop on the East Coast. And if all goes well, he wouldn’t mind making a stop in Houston along the way.
Local products Aaron West and Chase Anselment weren’t the only University of Washington athletes to hear their names called during the final day of the Major League Baseball draft on Wednesday.
Incoming football recruit Shaq Thompson, a safety from Sacramento who is regarded as the centerpiece of the Huskies’ Class of 2012, was taken by the Boston Red Sox in the 18th round.
But worry not, Husky Nation. Even though Thompson plans on signing with the Red Sox and playing this summer, he’s still committed to the gridiron.
Thompson told The Sacramento Bee: “I’m definitely playing football at Washington, but I’ll report to baseball first.”
Thompson added that he was “surprised” by how high he got drafted Wednesday.