MOUNT CARMEL -- As the the MLB Draft continued to unveil franchise's selections in the three-day event spanning from Monday, June 3 to Wednesday, June 5, a number of Wabash Valley College Warriors were unveiled as picks -- five to be exact.
Those five, freshman southpaw Antoine Kelly Jr., sophomore southpaw and North Carolina State commit Andy Samuelson, freshman catcher Zade Richardson, sophomore right-handed pitcher and Campbell commit Jon Beymer and sophomore center fielder and South Carolina commit Noah Myers. Each of the five will have tough decisions as to whether to return to college (at WVC or beyond), or opt to further their pro careers.
Though just five Warriors were selected from a team that went 55-4, there possibly could have been two or three additional. Freshman southpaw Cameron Tullar received a call in the early rounds of the draft but couldn't come to an agreement with the unnamed franchise, opting to continue his collegiate career. Sophomore first baseman Cael Baker and sophomore second baseman Brian Fuentes each figured as suspects to hear their name called as well after their stellar seasons but were not selected. Fuentes will attend Indiana State in the fall, Baker will attend Ole Miss.
Now, time to break down each selection in order and offer some insight as to what they might do.
Antoine Kelly Jr.
Kelly was the first to hear his name called, as he was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the second round (65th overall), setting a new Wabash Valley College record for the highest drafted Warrior in program history.
The 6-foot-6 Chicago native boasted a 9-0 record in 52 2-3 innings pitched this season. He allowed just 21 hits and struck out and awing 112 batters, equating to 19.14 per nine innings of work.
He figures likely to sign with the Brewers, a team he's named as his favorite MLB franchise, thus ending his tenure at Wabash Valley College after one season.
"I just thought it was really neat and special that it doesn't always work out that way, but that was his favorite team, the Milwaukee Brewers," Fournier spoke of Kelly. "It was even more special that it happened and obviously couldn't be happier with how he progressed, matured and what he did. 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."
Samuelson was the second Warrior to hear his name called and was selected by the Atlanta Braves with their 12th round selection (367th overall).
An NC State commit, Samuelson will have a tough decision to make in regards to his pro future. Samuelson could opt to become a member of the Wolfpack, or sign with the Braves. Though it's a tough decision, it's a good one to have as Fournier noted.
"At North Carolina State I think they do a phenomenal job, they're always a top ranked team every year," Fournier said. "They do a phenomenal job with pitchers, but obviously the Braves are also well known for what they do with their player development and arms like he has. I really believe whatever he decides to choose, he's going to be an impact guy at whatever level."
The 6-foot-4 Laporte, Ind. native boasted a 1-0 record with a pair of saves in 15 1-3 innings pitched this season. He boasted a lowly 2.93 ERA while fanning 29 batters on the year. His off-speed repertoire is exceptional, highlighted by his curveball, which Fournier says is his best pitch.
"He has a chance to be special," Fournier spoke of Samuelson. "He has a big league curveball right now. If he can clean up his mechanics, his command with his fastball, he has a chance to be around for a long time. This is what he wanted to do and I'm saying this in that they haven't signed yet, but this time I think he has a chance to do something special because he has a big league curveball right now."
Just a freshman at Wabash Valley College, the St. Louis Cardinals elected to pick the New Richmond, Ohio native with their 22nd round pick (665th overall), seeking to vie him away from Wabash Valley and come to terms on a deal.
The risk for the Cardinals might just be worth it. As a hitter Richardson slashed for a .385 BA with six homers and 56 RBIs as the Warriors' everyday catcher. As good as his hitting was, it's not even his strong suit. Richardson commands an excellent game behind the plate and is quick off his feet, ready to throw a laser to put out opposing baserunners.
Fournier was highly complimentary of his young catcher and his ability.
"Zade is the most athletic catcher we've coached at Wabash Valley College and probably the hardest working player we've coached in a long time as well," Fournier spoke of Richardson. "He's a tremendous worker, plus makeup, tremendous character, really talented. He has some things he knows he has to work on, but if I'm looking at him as a scout, it's tough to walk away with as a catcher being so athletic, it's really hard to find those kids. I can see why they drafted him. He meant so much to us, he emptied the tank as a catcher, so we just appreciate him and whatever he decides to do, we're so proud of him."
Fournier said he believes Richardson may be anticipating a move to the next level, but as with the rest of these athletes, the number has to be right for the two sides to converge for a deal. If they're unable to, Fournier would ecstatic to return a catcher the caliber of Richardson to call the Warriors games behind the plate next season.
"It's a very tough question," Fournier said. "I think he's eager to sign, depending on what if they give him what he's looking for. By drafting him where they did, because I thought he was going to go higher, they have something they know that they have to invest pretty good into a catcher with that status. It's going to be interesting to see what happens, but of course we'd love to see him come back."
Once a seldom used freshman, Wabash Valley College sophomore RHP Jon Beymer morphed into the Warriors' most reliable relief arm this season.
"He improved so much from his freshman to sophomore year, it's amazing," Fournier spoke of Beymer. "If you look at all of these guys, especially the sophomores, it's amazing how much they've improved. This kid didn't pitch that much for us at all, this year he was a major guy for us out of our bullpen, [and] a spot starter. Watching him mature was just truly impressive."
Though he was used primarily in a relief role, Beymer filled in as a spot starter for the Warriors as well, but often threw in long relief situations due to his durability. He was the second most utilized reliever out of the Warriors bullpen, having hurled 41 1-3 innings this season in successful fashion, with his 5-1 record, 2.18 ERA and 66 strikeouts on the year.
The 6-foot-3 Hopkinsville, Ky. native's development was recognized by the Kansas City Royals as well, as they selected Beymer with their 29th round selection (859th). Fournier noted that Beymer had received a phone call in the early rounds similarly to that of Tullar, but the two sides couldn't come to terms. The Royals were so high on Beymer that they selected him anyway later in the draft with anticipating of coming to terms on a deal this time around.
Beymer's committed to attend Campbell in the fall, thrusting another tough decision upon the right-handed pitcher.
"I think he was called early on and wasn't ready to make the decision apparently," Fournier said. "So they stuck with him, they're obviously really, really high, invested and committed to him. They're going to try to chase him hard. He's a true talent, I think he's ready for professional baseball and I think he'd make a major impact for Campbell as well. He's going to have a tough decision to make."
One of the most intriguing Warriors as far as their pro potential was the last to go off the board -- sophomore center fielder Noah Myers.
Serving as the leadoff hitter for the Warriors this season, Myers made remarkable improvements this season and it showed in his stats and his performance on the diamond. The speedy Wyoming, Ontario native led the nation with 77 stolen bases and led the Warriors with 92 runs scored, while hitting to the tune of a .397 BA, with eight homers, 60 RBIs and a .482 OBP.
At the plate he displayed incredible patience, vying for the opposing pitcher to throw a pitch to hit and often working the count as a result. In center field Myers can cover a tremendous amount of ground quickly, making him an ideal center fielder.
"I don't even know where to start with Noah," Fournier spoke of Myers. "He meant everything to us in two years. He's one of the most special kids as far as his leadership on and off the field, his loyalty to the program, but watching improve as well was truly amazing. To watch him come from his freshman to sophomore year [it was amazing]. The thing that was impressive about it was that we think he's the most pro ready all-around player that we have."
With all of that considered, the Toronto Blue Jays opted to select the Canadian-born Myers with their 30th round selection (897th pick).
Myers likely would have gone higher, but Fournier and scouts feel that Myers, a South Carolina commit, desires to further his education and is set on becoming a Gamecock. Though he was selected and it's a tremendous honor, it appears he'll hold off his pro career -- at least for now.
"I do think [he'll go to South Carolina]," Fournier said. "Just talking to scouts and especially ones that called in regards to him. They're going to make a hard run at him, that's going to be a tough sign. To me, whatever he decides to do, I think he's ready for professional baseball, but I also think he's ready for South Carolina because that's a very difficult level to play and if anybody's going to be impactful, Noah Myers is ready for anything. He's just a special young man."
As a group, these five young men, combined with the others Wabash Valley College will be losing have been a special team. As aforementioned, they set a number of marks, had a historic season and won't be an easy act to follow. They will however add to Fournier's pro pedigree, likely adding a couple onto his total of 17 alumni playing in major or minor league baseball and in turn helping the program.
"They're going to leave a special mark like no other," Fournier spoke of the 2019 Warriors. "I think it was truly awesome to watch these guys form together, a true brotherhood. Miguel Rivera talked about what they're going to leave, it's just a true brotherhood in every sense of the word. They did everything for us, they were so professional about everything. Just watching those kids grow and what they accomplished, winning 55 games and 49 straight, we could go on and on about things, but it was more impressive to just watch how they grew together. It was awesome. It was a special year to coach and a privilege to coach these guys. . . . "We're just so proud of them. Whatever they decided to do, they deserve everything. What they did for the program, what they did for themselves, it's truly what Wabash Valley College is all about."
Fournier and his staff will have the unenviable task of replacing such a talented group, but they're more than capable of replenishing the roster, while returning a crop of talented players who'll lead as sophomores.
"This is a team that we'll always remember and will have a place in the program forever," Fournier said. "Our staff and what we do at Wabash Valley, it's just another year and we're going to make another year that's going to make its mark and do something special as well. We don't try to compare each team, but I think it's hard to compare ever with that team. We're going to try to do something that's special next year and we're looking forward to that challenge."
For the five Warriors, they all have decisions to make as to the future of their careers. Fortunately for them, they're provided with incredible options and will likely finalize their choice in the coming weeks.