Surging Duke baseball faces nerve-wracking days of MLB Draft

Jun. 06, 2014 @ 04:12 PM

Chris Pollard admits he’s facing some nervous days this week.

In his world as a college baseball coach, though, that’s a good thing.

Major League Baseball begins its three-day draft of amateur players today and along with Duke’s improvement on the field is the possibility it could lose important players early to professional baseball.

“Obviously this is a nerve-wracking week,” Pollard said. “If you are signing the right kind of guys, this is a nerve-wracking week.”

The Blue Devils are coming off their most successful baseball season in two decades. Duke went 33-25 overall, including a 16-14 record in the ACC that earned it the No. 4 seed for the ACC Tournament. Considering Duke hadn’t even qualified for the ACC Tournament since 2009, the Blue Devils are clearly on a baseball upswing.

To keep it going in 2015, the Blue Devils hope they’ll have draft-eligible veteran starting pitchers Trent Swart and Andrew Istler along with power-hitting first baseman Chris Marconcini still in the fold.

All three are eligible for the draft as juniors. Though they aren’t projected to be selected in the early rounds, there’s still a chance a team could take them and offer a signing bonus large enough to sway them into starting a pro career a year early.

Swart and Istler both project as weekend — or top three — starters for Duke next season. Swart pitched to a sparkling 1.76 ERA in 11 starts for Duke this season. Istler appeared in 23 games, posting an 8-8 record with a 2.84 ERA.

“They are on (MLB) teams’ radars,” Pollard said.

Marconcini batted .252 with eight home runs for Duke this season and could be picked among the first 10 rounds.

Whether they stay or go, Pollard has a strong recruiting class coming in to help Duke continue its baseball resurgence. But only if the best players decide to come to campus.

Pitcher Chris McGrath, first baseman Justin Bellinger and outfielder Evan Dougherty figure to have important decisions to make on that front this month.

McGrath, a left-handed pitcher from Atlanta, is listed as the No. 201 draft prospect by Baseball America. Equipped with a fastball in the low 90s and quality breaking pitches, he projects as high as a third- or fourth-round pick.

Pollard, though, believes McGrath wants to play college baseball.

“Chris has given us every indication that he wants to come to school and that is his plan,” Pollard said. “Barring something crazy, we hope to get him to campus.”

Pollard has received similar pledges from Bellinger and Dougherty.

Bellinger, in particular, is an intriguing prospect. A power-hitter from Massachusetts, he’s been tutored the last two winters by Oliver Marmol, who manages the St. Louis Cardinals’ rookie level team in State College, Pa. Bellinger’s family hired Marmol to work with their son and Marmol appears to have helped him.

“He’s 6-6 and has tremendous raw power,” Pollard said. “He has the most raw power that I’ve ever seen in a high school player. He certainly is a guy that projects to the next level.”

Dougherty, on the other hand, is a speedy centerfielder who projects as a top-of-the-order hitter with a high on-base percentage.

Again, Pollard is cautiously optimistic.

“These guys are coming to Duke because of the baseball but not just because of the baseball,” Pollard said. “These families are very understanding about what a Duke diploma can do.”

Among players who have already completed their NCAA eligibility, Duke pitchers Drew Van Orden and Robert Huber figure to get professional opportunities.

Van Orden had a chance to sign with Boston last summer as a junior but chose to return to Duke, where he went 6-5 with a 3.19 ERA. He closed his Duke career by pitching a complete game shutout as the Blue Devils beat Georgia Tech 6-0 in the ACC Tournament.

Third baseman Jordan Betts has a chance to be picked among the draft’s first 10 rounds as well, Pollard said .

 

Tar Heels on block today as well

North Carolina saw its season end last weekend at the NCAA Tournament’s Gainesville Regional.

The Tar Heels have a high probability of losing incoming first baseman/outfielder Braxton Davidson to the draft. Baseball America projects Davidson, from Asheville’s T.C. Roberson High School, as the No. 35 prospect which means he could be selected in the first two rounds tonight.

Davidson is the No. 4 prospect in North Carolina, according to Baseball America.

Second-team all-ACC shortstop Michael Russell (.339) and No. 2 starter Benton Moss (4-2, 3.62) are juniors who are also expected to be taken within the first 10 rounds out of UNC and will have a tough choice to make about their future.

— Staff writer Harold Gutmann contributed to this article.

 

A LOOK AT UNC'S INCOMING BASEBALL RECRUITING CLASS

Originally published Dec. 5, 2013 at goheels.com ... Courtesy UNC Athletics

CHAPEL HILL --- The University of North Carolina baseball program continued its strong showing on the recruiting trail by signing 17 of the nation's top prep baseball student-athletes and one junior college standout to National Letters of Intent during the early signing period, head coach Mike Fox announced Friday. Included in this class are five of the nation's top 100 prospects according to Baseball America and eight of the top 200 prospects according to Perfect Game.

The 18 student-athletes will enroll at UNC in August 2014 and will take the field for the Tar Heels in the 2015 season.

"I am very excited to welcome another outstanding class of young men to the University of North Carolina," Fox said. "Coach Jackson has once again done a tremendous job putting this class together along with the tireless recruiting of Coach Forbes and Coach Gaines. We are confident that these young men are the types of players, students and people that can help us continue our success on and off the field."

On the national level, Carolina has signed five of the nation's top 100 players according to Baseball America: No. 10 Braxton Davidson (1B/OF, Asheville, N.C.), No. 19 Forrest Wall (2B, Winter Park, Fla.), No. 26 Cameron Varga (RHP, Loveland, Ohio), No. 29 Joe Gatto (RHP, Hammonton, N.J.) and No. 49 Jack Flaherty (3B/RHP, Burbank, Calif.).

Perfect Game tabbed eight players in its Top 200 in the country: No. 11 Davidson, No. 18 Flaherty, No. 27 Wall, No. 45 Varga, No. 46 Gatto, No. 88 Jacob Bukauskas (RHP, Ashburn, Va.), No. 120 Ryder Ryan (3B, Huntersville, N.C.) and No. 136 Hunter Williams (Chesterfield, Va.).

The Tar Heels will welcome the top player in three states next fall in Davidson (North Carolina), Gatto (New Jersey) and Varga (Ohio).

 

Name Position Ht./Wt. Hometown (High School)
Jackson Bellenkes RHP 6-3/175 Greensboro, N.C. (Northwest Guilford)
J.B. Bukauskas RHP 6-1/187 Ashburn, Va. (Stone Bridge)
Hansen Butler RHP 5-11/182 High Point, N.C. (High Point Central)
Brett Daniels RHP 6-1/180 Fuquay-Varina, N.C. (Fuquay-Varina)
Braxton Davidson 1B/OF 6-1/217 Arden, N.C. (T.C. Roberson)
Jack Flaherty 3B/RHP 6-3/217 Burbank, Calif. (Harvard-Westlake)
Zack Gahagan SS 6-2/185 Fletcher, N.C. (North Henderson)
Joe Gatto RHP 6-3/209 Hammonton, N.J. (St. Augustine Prep)
Mitch Keller RHP 6-3/200 Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Xavier)
Brooks Kennedy SS 5-11/175 Charlotte, N.C. (South Mecklenburg)
Jason Morgan RHP 6-6/210 Fredricksburg, Va. (Chancellor)
Nick Raquet LHP 6-1/190 Boalsburg, Pa. (State College)
Ryder Ryan 3B 6-3/205 Huntersville, N.C. (North Mecklenburg)
Elijah Sutherland INF 5-9/160 Kingsport, Tenn. (Dobyns Bennett/Walters State CC)
Cameron Varga RHP 6-3/205 West Chester, Ohio (Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy)
Forrest Wall 2B 6-0/176 Winter Park, Fla. (Orangewood Christian)
Logan Warmoth IF 6-0/180 Longwood, Fla. (Lake Brantley)
Hunter Williams 1B 6-3/215 Chesterfield, Va. (Cosby)

Jackson Bellenkes
Greensboro, N.C., Northwest Guilford High School, RHP, 6-3, 175
Ranked the No. 9 right-handed pitcher and the No. 19 player overall in the state of North Carolina by Perfect Game • 2012 Underclass Honorable Mention and 2013 Underclass High Honorable Mention by Perfect Game • Coached by Sonny Gann at Northwest Guildford High School.

J.B. Bukauskas
Ashburn, Va., Stone Bridge High School, RHP, 6-1, 187
Ranked the No. 29 right-handed pitcher and the No. 89 overall player in the country by Perfect Game • Also ranked the No. 3 righty and the No. 2 overall player in the state of Virginia • 2013 PG Underclass First-Team All-America • First-team All-Met as a sophomore • Coached by Sam Plank at Stone Bridge High School.

Hansen Butler
High Point, N.C., High Point Christian Academy, RHP, 5-11, 182
Ranked the top right-handed pitcher and the No. 5 overall player in the state of North Carolina by Perfect Game • Named a 2012 PG Underclass All-America Honorable Mention and 2013 PG Underclass Third-Team All-America • Coached by Corey Gesell at High Point Christian.

Brett Daniels
Fuquay-Varina, N.C., Fuquay-Varina High School, RHP, 6-1, 180
Ranked the No. 2 right-handed pitcher and the No. 6 overall player in North Carolina by Perfect Game • Among the top 150 right-handers and the top 400 players overall nationally • All-state performer as a junior • Coached by Milton Senter at Fuquay-Varina High School.

Braxton Davidson
Arden, N.C., T.C. Roberson High School, 1B/OF, 6-1, 217
Ranked the No. 10 player in the country by Baseball America • Rated as the No. 2 outfielder and the No. 11 player overall nationally by Perfect Game • Considered the top player in North Carolina by PG • 2013 First-Team Underclass All-America and 2012 Underclass High Honorable Mention by PG • All-state performer as a junior • Coached by Eric Filipek at T.C. Roberston High School.

Jack Flaherty
Burbank, Calif., Harvard-Westlake High School, 3B/RHP, 6-3, 217
Ranked the No. 3 shortstop and the No. 18 player overall in the country by Perfect Game • Ranked the No. 49 player in the country by Baseball America • Rated as the No. 2 shortstop and the No. 4 player in California by PG • 2013 First-Team Underclass All-America and 2012 Second-Team Underclass All-America by PG • Coached by Matt LaCour at Harvard-Westlake High School.

Zack Gahagan
Fletcher, N.C., North Henderson High School, SS, 6-2, 185
Ranked the No. 2 shortstop and the No. 15 player overall in North Carolina by Perfect Game • Considered the No. 76 shortstop in the county by PG • 2013 Underclass High Honorable Mention by PG • Coached by Justin King at North Henderson High School.

Joe Gatto
Hammonton, N.J., St. Augustine Prep, RHP, 6-3, 209
Ranked the No. 29 player in the country by Baseball America • Considered the No. 1 player in the state of New Jersey by Perfect Game • Rated the No. 14 right-handed pitcher and the No. 46 player nationally by PG • 2013 Second-Team Underclass All-America and 2012 Third-Team Underclass All-America by PG • Coached by Mike Bylone at St. Augustine Prep.

Mitch Keller
Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Xavier High School, RHP, 6-3, 200
Considered the No. 2 right-handed pitcher and the No. 3 overall player in the state of Iowa • Ranked among the top 125 right-handers nationally by PG • 2013 Third-Team Underclass All-America and 2012 Underclass Honorable Mention • Coached by Dave Schemmel at Xavier High School.

Brooks Kennedy
Charlotte, N.C., South Mecklenburg High School, SS, 5-11, 175
Ranked the No. 3 shortstop and the No. 16 overall player in North Carolina by Perfect Game • Considered the No. 81 shortstop in the country by PG • 2012 and 2013 Underclass Honorable Mention by PG • Coached by Jon Tuscan at South Mecklenburg High School.

Jason Morgan
Fredericksburg, Va., Chancellor High School, RHP, 6-6, 210
Ranked the No. 5 right-handed pitcher and the No. 12 player overall in Virginia by Perfect Game • Rated the No. 103 right-hander in the country by PG • 2013 Underclass High Honorable Mention by PG • Coached by J.P. Gibbons at Chancellor High School.

Nick Raquet
Boalsburg, Pa., State College High School, LHP, 6-1, 190
Ranked the No. 2 left-handed pitcher and the No. 8 player overall in Pennsylvania by Perfect Game • Considered the No. 32 left-handed pitcher in the country by PG • 2012 and 2013 Underclass Honorable Mention by PG • Coached by Dave Williams at State College High School.

Ryder Ryan
Huntersville, N.C., North Mecklenburg High School, 3B, 6-3, 205
Ranked the No. 1 third baseman and the No. 3 player overall in North Carolina by Perfect Game • Considered the No. 5 third baseman and the No. 120 player in the country by PG • 2012 and 2013 First-Team Underclass All-America by PG • All-state performer as a junior • Coached by Sean Ryan at North Mecklenburg High School.

Elijah Sutherland
Kingsport, Tenn., Dobyns Bennett High School (Walters State CC), INF, 5-9, 160
Started 55 games and helped lead Walters State to the NJCAA World Series • Tied for the national lead in doubles with 25 • Hit .384 with three home runs, 25 doubles, three triples, 31 RBIs and 54 runs for Walters State en route to first-team All-TCCAA honors • Former Tar Heels Jesse Wierzbicki and Cody Stubbs were also Walters State products • Coached by Joey Seaver at WSCC.

Cameron Varga
West Chester, Ohio, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, RHP, 6-3, 205
Ranked the No. 26 player in the country by Baseball America • Considered the top right-handed pitcher and the No. 2 player in Ohio by Perfect Game • Rated the No. 13 right-hander nationally and the No. 45 player overall by PG • 2012 and 2013 First-Team Underclass All-America by PG • Coached by Larry Redwine at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy.

Forrest Wall
Winter Park, Fla., Orangewood Christian High School, 2B, 6-0, 176
Ranked the No. 19 player in the country by Baseball America • Ranked the No. 6 shortstop and the No. 27 player overall in the country by Perfect Game • Considered the No. 2 shortstop and No. 7 player in Florida by PG • 2013 Underclass High Honorable Mention All-America and 2012 Underclass Honorable Mention by PG • Coached by Scott Hilinski at Orangewood Christian High School.

Logan Warmoth
Longwood, Fla., Lake Brantley High School, IF, 6-0, 180
Ranked the No. 2 middle infielder in Florida and the No. 6 middle infielder nationally by Perfect Game • 2013 Underclass High Honorable Mention and 2012 Underclass Honorable Mention by PG • Coached by Eric Entriken at Lake Brantley High School.

Hunter Williams
Chesterfield, Va., Cosby High School, 1B, 6-3, 215
Ranked the No. 1 first baseman in Virginia and the No. 5 first baseman in the country by Perfect Game • Considered the No. 7 overall player in Virginia and the No. 136 player in the country by PG • 2013 First-Team Underclass All-America and 2012 Underclass High Honorable Mention by PG • Honorable mention all-state as a junior • Coached by Tim Lowery at Cosby High School.

 

A LOOK AT DUKE'S INCOMING FRESHMAN BASEBALL CLASS

BY ASHLEY WOLF, Duke Sports Information

Fourteen of the nation’s top baseball student-athletes are set to join the Duke baseball program for the 2014-15 campaign, the Blue Devils’ third under the direction of head coach Chris Pollard. The newest additions to the Blue Devil family will join the team this fall and take the field for Duke during the 2015 season.

The Class of 2018 includes pitchers Christopher Koppenhaver (Davie, Fla.), Chris McGrath (Atlanta, Ga.), Michael Smiciklas (Boca Raton, Fla.), Mitch Stallings (Atlanta, Ga.) and Luke Whitten (Lakewood, Texas),  infielders Ryan Day (Phelan, Calif.), Jack Labosky (Clovis, Calif) and Max Miller (Ponte Vedra, Fla.), outfielders Evan Dougherty (Fort Meyers, Fla.), Johnathan Lloyd (Graham, N.C.) and James McGhee (Pensacola, Fla.), and catcher Peter Zyla (Alpharetta, Ga.).

On the national level, Duke added seven of the top 500 players in the country according to Perfect Game: No. 71 Justin Bellinger (1B | Weston, Mass.), No. 229 Ryan Day (SS | Phelan, Calif.), No. 248 Christopher Koppenhaver (RHP | Davie, Fla.), No. 260 Chris McGrath (LHP | Atlanta, Ga.), No. 266 Jack Labosky (3B | Clovis, Calif.), No. 320 Evan Dougherty (OF | Fort Myers, Fla.) and No. 500 Peter Zyla (C | Alpharetta, Ga.).


Name

Pos.

Hometown (High School)

Justin Bellinger

1B

Weston, Mass. (St. Sebastians School)

Daniel Calabretta

2B

Weddington, N.C. (Weddington)

Ryan Day

SS

Phelan, Calif. (Los Osos)

Evan Dougherty

OF

Fort Myers, Fla. (Bishop Verot)

Christopher Koppenhaver

RHP

Davie, Fla. (Pine Crest)

Jack Labosky

3B

Clovis, Calif. (Clovis North)

Johnathan Lloyd

OF

Graham, N.C. (Southern Alamance)

James McGhee

OF

Pensacola, Fla. (Pensacola Catholic)

Chris McGrath

LHP

Atlanta, Ga. (Marist)

Max Miller

SS

Ponte Vedra, Fla. (Ponte Vedra)

Michael Smiciklas

RHP

Boca Raton, Fla. (Boca Raton Community)

Mitch Stallings

LHP

Atlanta, Ga. (The Lovett School)

Luke Whitten

LHP

Lakewood, Texas

Peter Zyla

C

Alpharetta, Ga. (St. Pius X Catholic)