Ready to take flight: Local ballplayers prepare for MLB draft - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Sports

Ready to take flight: Local ballplayers prepare for MLB draft

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Posted: Thursday, June 5, 2014 10:29 am | Updated: 9:46 am, Wed Jun 11, 2014.

Predicting the MLB draft and the length of the playing career of those selected is a bit like letting go of a paper airplane from the upper deck of a ballpark.

For the most part the destination ends long before the goal of finding the center of the diamond comes to fruition.

There are so many variables — wind, people, stadium structures, poorly made plane, etc., — that the path to the major league field seems impossible at times.

With that said it happens every now and again. Everything goes just right and that paper airplane floats perfectly down to beautiful grass. It takes skill, luck and support. The key is getting an opportunity.

And several area ballplayers are about to take flight.

The MLB first-year player draft is Thursday through Saturday with the first round beginning at 4 p.m. (MLB Network).

Several area players will get a long look from the 30 major league teams with the hope of finding the center of the diamond someday.

Recent Mountain Pointe graduate Cole Tucker heads that list as the slick-fielding, switch-hitting infielder could go as high as the third round.

“It’s so crazy right now,” he said. “It’s all I can really think about. It’s something I’ve been working toward my entire life. And to see it finally come to fruition is something that’s really cool for me and my family. To say I’m excited is an understatement.”

Others expected to get a look are Desert Vista product Shaun Chase, who is a junior catcher at Oregon, Mountain Pointe center fielder Ernie de la Trinidad, Desert Vista shortstop Keenan Bartlett, and the Pride duo of Kevin Cron and Jordan Kipper, who are teammates at Texas Christian.

There could very well be additional players selected as the draft goes 50 rounds over the three days, but it is clear Tucker will be the most sought after.

Tucker has the speed, range, glove and arm that project to being a quality professional shortstop and the performance he had at the plate — 6 for 16 with two doubles, a triple, three RBIs and four runs scored, walking twice and not striking out — at the National High School Invitational in March pushed him into early-round consideration.

MLB.com draft specialist Jonathan Mayo had the Diamondbacks taking Tucker, who is 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds, in the third round. Baseball America has him listed as the 83 best overall prospects and MaxPreps has him ranked as the eighth best high school draft-eligible shortstop in the country.

Tucker — who hit .400 (34 for 85) with 30 runs, eight doubles, four triples, five home runs, 30 RBIs and 13 stolen bases in as many attempts as a senior — is committed to the University of Arizona next year, but he is leaning toward starting his pro career if selected near his projection.

“A lot of teams are interested,” said Tucker, who gained additional exposure when he helped the USA to a gold medal last summer. “Right now, I’m hearing that I’ll go in the top three rounds, which is pretty exciting. If I’m taken there, I plan on starting my pro career now. If not, I’ll have to discuss with my family and decide whether I want to play at UofA or go pro.”

Chase has had a breakout junior year with a power bat that is bound to catch a scout’s eyes after leading the Pac-12 in home runs.

Entering the final day of the NCAA regional play, the 6-0, 214-pound catcher was hitting .277 with 13 home runs, 34 RBIs along with a .977 OPS, including a slugging percentage of .628.

It’s a huge leap after Chase, who is ranked No. 348 by Baseball America, appeared to be overmatched his first two years with the Ducks when he hit a combined .194 with five home runs and 16 RBIs in 160 at-bats over two seasons.

Bartlett is committed to the University of Richmond, but he has a good frame that is expected to fill out in the years to come. He hit .423 with nine extra-base hits including seven doubles and 11 RBIs.

“The scouts think he has a plus arm,” Thunder coach Stan Luketich said. “And he is blessed with good feet.”

The Texas Christian duo of Cron and Kipper have both been drafted before, but where they are selected this time around as juniors is tough to project as they try to help the Horned Frogs earn a berth to the College World Series.

Cron’s stock has dropped dramatically since leaving Mountain Pointe as the state’s all-time and single season home run leader. He was selected in the third round by the Mariners in 2011, but turned down a signing bonus that reportedly was around $900,000.

The 6-5, 245-pound first baseman is listed as the 443rd prospect by Baseball America, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him go higher with the hopes of Cron finding his power stroke again.

Cron had a good freshman year — .338 with six home runs and 34 RBIs — but struggled as a sophomore, .208/2/20.

This year he leads the team in home runs and is making better contact as Cron entered the final day of NCAA regionals hitting .269 with four home runs and 38 RBIs.

Kipper was drafted in the 39th round by the Dodgers coming out of high school in 2011 and then in the 30th round by Philadelphia after his freshman year at Central Arizona in 2012. He wasn’t selected last year after making it known he was determined to head to TCU.

The 6-4, 210-pound right-hander has had a solid junior year as the Horned Frogs’ fourth starter, going 8-2 with a 3.01 ERA in 15 games and 12 starts.

If he isn’t taken in a round to his liking, Kipper could head back to TCU to be one of the weekend starters even though as a senior in 2015 he wouldn’t have much bargaining power.

“The draft is unpredictable so I’m not sure what’s really gonna happen and it will be a decision I’ll make after discussing with my parents,” Kipper said. “We figure out what we feel is the best choice for me come that time.”

However, the draft plays out for local ballplayers the next step on their journey to the center of the diamond is about to begin.

“My dad would always roll me ground balls in our living room growing up,” Tucker remembered. “He used to tell me that if I took enough ground balls and worked hard enough, I could be a pro baseball player. So to see that becoming a possibility is really cool.

“I’m blessed to be in the position I’m in.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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Jason P. Skoda
  • Jason P. Skoda
  • Sports writer
  • Resident sports writer at the Ahwatukee Foothills News

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