By David Krueger Herald Writer
This is shaping up to be a big week for Branden Kelliher.
The Lake Stevens pitcher is expected to be taken in the first five rounds of the Major League Baseball draft, which gets underway today at 4 p.m. on the MLB Network. The draft’s 40 rounds are spread out with rounds one and two today, rounds 3-10 on Friday and the rest (11-40) on Saturday.
Kelliher is projected by Baseball America to go anywhere from the second to the fifth round.
“I’m pretty excited. I’m a little nervous at the same time,” Kelliher said. “It’s crazy how much is going on.”
The Lake Stevens High pitcher said he’s talked to 29 of the 30 pro teams — with the Washington Nationals being the lone holdout. A few teams — including Oakland, Texas, St. Louis and the Seattle Mariners — have shown a bit more interest than the others.
The Rangers flew Kelliher to Texas for a bullpen session on Wednesday in front of many of their scouts and Rangers general manager Jon Daniels.
“It went really well,” Kelliher said on Wednesday from Texas. “… It was cool. My mind’s going crazy. It’s a grueling process but it’s what you’ve got to do.”
Interest has picked up for the 5-foot-11 pitcher, who is the No. 1 ranked high school baseball prospect in Washington by Perfect Game — which also has him ranked as the 39th right-handed pitcher in the nation.
Kelliher has committed to play at Oregon next year, but says a lot will depend on what happens with the draft this weekend. He said the school and coaches have been very supportive of him in the pre-draft process.
“It’s going to be hard to pass up a scholarship to Oregon,” Kelliher said. “It’s going to have to be a pretty good deal in order to skip Oregon. But I’ve wanted to be a baseball player my whole life.
“I’m still in the 50-50 range. Oregon is a great school and I’d love to go there. And it’d be fun to stay in the Northwest. I’ll definitely consider any offer made to me. Pro ball is a big deal. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
Lake Stevens head coach Roger Anderson echoed that Kelliher is still “very undecided.” Anderson always has been a strong supporter of taking the college route to the big leagues.
“I’m a pro-college guy,” Anderson said. “Talking to guys that we’ve had in the past … a lot of the guys coming right out of high school just aren’t ready for that (pro) lifestyle. And it’s really big to have a chance to get your college paid for now.”
While Kelliher is almost certain to hear his name called at some point during the draft, several other local athletes also have a chance to be selected in the draft.
Local stars such as Cascade’s Ky Dye and KJ Brady, who have committed to Seattle University and the University of Washington, respectively, could see their names get selected by a pro team.
“The draft is kind of a craps shoot,” Cascade head coach Scott Stencil said. “To my knowledge, (Dye and Brady) haven’t mentioned any teams talking to them, so I don’t know. I’m not sure if they will, but they definitely could.”
A pair of Shorewood players, Sam Boone and Kory Longaker, are also candidates to get drafted. Both have committed to Washington State, but have drawn several scouts throughout the season to them play.
Longaker, a shortstop, hit more than .400 with 21 RBI and 23 runs scored. The senior struck out just twice all season. Boone, a pitcher, who at 6-8 has the “physical tools” according to Shorewood head coach Wyatt Tonkin, allowed just three earned runs in the regular season — good for a 0.32 earned-run average.
“I can’t speak for them, but I’m sure they would probably be ecstatic if they were drafted,” Tonkin said. “Scouts have come to watch them and have come to talk to me. … I know there’s been some talk about it.”
Boone’s size might make him coveted by pro teams willing to take a chance with a late-round pick on the right-handed pitcher.
“That’s a lot of the stuff that the MLB, nowadays, wants: tall guys who get a good kilt on the ball,” Tonkin said. “That certainly is Sam. I would think that would draw a lot of interest.”
Tonkin was drafted by Atlanta in the 20th round in the 1976 draft out of Washington. The Shorewood coach says, “it was something I’ll never forget.”
“It’s something special. It doesn’t matter what round you go in. It’s special,” Tonkin said. “It’s an achievement. It was 40 years ago but when I got drafted and I was so excited I couldn’t talk. They were trying to tell me about an airline flight to Atlanta and I couldn’t even think. I just said, ‘Give me an apple and a road map and I’ll be there.’”
Now, Tonkin hopes two of his players get to experience the same feeling. He believes the players are eager to go to WSU to continue their careers, but Tonkin is still hopeful the duo get a chance to play at the professional level.
“I certainly hope so, for both of them,” Tonkin said. “They’re great kids and they’ve had outstanding careers at Shorewood. Both are super kids and great ballplayers.”