CHICAGO, Ill. -- As Monday's MLB Draft commenced, Wabash Valley College freshman southpaw Antoine Kelly Jr. was gathered with friends and family in Chicago for the big day as he awaited to hear where he'd be taking his talents to.
It wasn't a particularly easy ride, though. The lengthy first round tested Kelly and his family's patience, commenting that it felt like it lasted 17 hours with MLB Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. announcing picks and the added drama between selections. Adding on, the first night of the draft is just the first two rounds, meaning there was a possibility he wouldn't even hear his name called that night.
That wait become well worth it as the night dwindled, just near 11 p.m. Just as Kelly and his family had dispersed to other sections of the house, Antoine's advisor, who communicates with MLB front offices and personnel, told him to watch the next selection in the draft. It was a moment Kelly will never forget as he was huddled with his girlfriend. Just as the Chicago Cubs had selected Chase Strumpf, the Milwaukee brewers -- Kelly's favorite team -- were now on the clock with the 65th pick.
As the selection came across, Kelly's name was shown across the television screen and he was officially a member of the Milwaukee Brewers franchise.
"I had got a call like the pick before, I don't even know who was picking, but my advisor said to watch," Kelly recalled. "Then the Brewers came up and said my name, I just lost the ability to speak. I was just so surprised, happy obviously, but really shocked."
The amount of players who aspire to play professional baseball, dreaming of playing for the team they rooted for as a child. Now for Kelly, that dream was a reality.
"I'm kind of like speechless with it," Kelly said. "The Brewers are my favorite team, it doesn't happen often -- I don't think it happens. Maybe I was just lucky, I don't know. I'm kind of shook about it still, I don't even know what to think. Not even that I got picked, but [by] the Brewers, it's just crazy."
Just a year removed from being selected by the San Diego Padres in the 2018 MLB Draft with their 13th round selection, Kelly had improved his stock considerably -- an 11 round improvement to be exact.
His decision to attend Wabash Valley College and turn down the Padres appears to have paid off. As a key cog of Wabash Valley's rotation, Kelly (9-0) allowed just 21 hits on the season in 52 2-3 innings of work, complemented by a 1.88 ERA and 112 strikeouts, averaging 19.14 strikeouts per nine innings of work.
In his short tenure at Wabash Valley, Kelly helped the Warriors achieve history. The Warriors reigned as the No. 1 team in NJCAA Division I Baseball for eight consecutive weeks prior to losing to Iowa Western in the Northern District Championship game, they had a win streak reach as high as 49 games, just eight off the NJCAA Division I record and with the selection, he set another record.
As the 65th pick in the draft, Kelly became the highest Warrior ever selected in the draft, besting the mark previously set by Mel Rojas in 2010 when he was selected in the third round (84th overall) by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Though the Warriors fell to the Reivers in the championship game, Kelly's development this season could be a shining banner for the program for years to come.
"Absolutely," Wabash Valley College head baseball coach Rob Fournier said. "Just the development that I thought he showed throughout the course of the year should show just people in general what our program's all about. It's about player development, getting guys better and getting them more well-rounded for life."
He's likely to continue his upward trajectory that he's on. The 6-foot-6 lefty had a fastball that clocked out around 92 mph coming out of high school, but that velocity's since risen to nearly 99, residing in the high-90s pretty consistently. As he continues to gain confidence in his slider, it will become arguably his most important pitch to put away batters. I maintain the comparison which I previously noted, he shows shades of Cincinnati Reds reliever Amir Garrett and Boston Red Sox ace David Price -- though he still has room to improve developmental wise.
Previously Kelly noted his control and the mental aspects of the game as areas he'd like to improve on (and already has somewhat to an extent). He continued suit with that narrative, citing that in order to be successful in the future he needs to come out with an aggressive mindset each outing.
"I know that if I go out on the mound, think I'm the best and just attack -- not really make it my game and hit my spots perfectly," Kelly said. "I think I have so much more success when I just go out there and just attack. Like throw my fastball down there and let them hit it, that mentality right there is how I see myself succeeding in the future."
Many Brewers fans may be unfamiliar with Kelly, but Fournier and Kelly did their best to fill in those who might be as to what Kelly could potentially bring to their franchise and what he's like. A common theme echoed from both, Kelly's dedication.
"You're getting a special, rare talent that when it does click, he will be playing professional, big league baseball for a long time and making a major impact with his talents," Fournier said. "Just the way he works, his routine, his professionalism. It's going to take time, they're going to have to be patient, but he's going to be a special player and I really believe he's going to be a big league ballplayer for a long time."
"I'd say I'm pretty aggressive as a pitcher," Kelly spoke of himself. "I like to attack hitters, give them everything I got. I still have stuff to work on but I'm going to give it my all every time. I'm really aggressive on the mound. Outside of baseball I'm kind of quiet, not shy, but quiet. [I'm] relaxed, very laid back. [I] definitely work hard when I'm not playing. Everything I do basically has something to do with baseball, I can't really get away from it."
Kelly did leave the door open for a return for Wabash Valley College despite being drafted by his favorite team, citing there's other business, such as the negotiations to be handled prior to committing one way or another. His advisor will be handling the negotiations, as Kelly noted he'll be well equipped to help him make a decision in his best interest.
For Warriors fans, don't hold out hopes for a return, though. As fun as he was to watch pitch this season and as successful as his pairing with Wabash Valley College was, he's likely ready to move on to the next level and prove that he's capable of pitching against the higher level of competition.
"Obviously couldn't be happier with how he progressed, matured and what he did," Fournier spoke of Kelly. "He's a rare talent so it's pretty neat, a pretty special relationship that we had, the whole program had and it's just awesome to see him fly away."
As his chapter at Wabash Valley College (likely) ends, one that Kelly called the best thing he's ever been apart of in baseball, another is (likely) set to begin. He's eager to continue forward and show people what he's capable of.
"I'm just excited to get started," Kelly said. "I think my time at Wabash definitely helped and paid off."