KEEGAN THOMPSON (PHOTO BY JASON CALDWELL)

The Major League Baseball Draft A Time Of Excitement, Unknown For Butch Thompson And the Auburn Tigers

Auburn will keep a close eye on the major league draft this week with several current and future Tigers expected to hear their names called.

Auburn, Ala.--On Monday night the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft begins and it’s a time of excitement but also uncertainty for Coach Butch Thompson and the Auburn Tigers.

With the first two rounds coming on the first day with the rest of the draft spread out over Tuesday and Wednesday, there should be plenty of Auburn flavor.

With draft eligible AU juniors as well as several members of the signing class likely to hear their names called over the course of the next three days, the draft will go a long way towards helping to shape the 2018 roster for the Tigers.

“I’m excited for our players that are here wearing the Auburn uniform this year,” Thompson said. “They have worked hard. Some of the guys are new and then you have a guy like Keegan Thompson who has been here for four years.

“The draft is divided into three days and it’s a very select group on day one," Thompson said. "Day two is going to be a big day for a Keegan Thompson and maybe Jonah Todd. Day three is always a big day--Josh Anthony, Andrew Mitchell, you just never know how the draft is going to play out.

“We have got several guys on our roster who are looking towards the draft, even some of our seniors. It may be an opportunity on day three to extend their careers and get an opportunity to play professional baseball, a dream they have always had.”

Leading the way is redshirt junior Keegan Thompson. Coming off a season in which he went 7-4 on the mound with an ERA of just 2.01, the Cullman native is 19-10 in three years with the Tigers and has an ERA of just 2.64.

That should make him a player who hears his name called early on day two. He is projected as the No. 124 overall prospect by Baseball America.

Behind him could be one of the biggest surprises ever for Auburn baseball, center fielder Jonah Todd. A true walk-on without a single scholarship offer, Todd hit .376 to lead the Tigers in 2017. That was good enough for second in the SEC and 30th overall in the country. Combine that with his outstanding defense and the Birmingport native could push his way into the Top 10 rounds. He’s ranked No. 294 by Baseball America.

Another junior college who could hear his name called is third baseman Josh Anthony. While he didn’t have the type of year offensively that many expected, his defense was stellar and made him one of the most important players for the Tigers. Drafted in the 16th round by Atlanta last year, Anthony could be around the same mark this time, but a return to Auburn and improved numbers could really boost his stock as a senior.

A redshirt junior, left-hander Andrew Mitchell was 5-4 this season with a 5.14 ERA, but with velocity in the low 90’s it makes him an intriguing prospect for major league clubs. With the ability to start or relieve, Mitchell’s versatility could see him taken somewhere in the middle of the draft.

The first names off the board for Auburn will come out of the signing class, however, with Decatur’s Tanner Burns a potential first round selection and catcher Steven Williams out of Deerfield-Windsor in Albany, Ga., a potential early selection. A powerful left-handed bat and solid defender, Williams is one of the top catchers in the draft and that could see him taken in the first three rounds, but with his sister already at Auburn along with close friend and football signee John Samuel Shenker, the Tigers will have a shot to get him in school.

STEVEN WILLIAMS

Steven Williams could be a member of the 2018 Auburn team.

The most likely loss for Auburn out of the signee class is junior college left-hander Evan Steele out of Chipola (Fla.) Junior College. Rated the No. 90 prospect overall by Baseball America, Steele’s projectability is very high and already being out of school three years after playing a season at Vanderbilt, he’s expected to sign.

“This second class is such a high-level class,” Butch Thompson said. “I think day one it’s a chance for Tanner Burns and Steven Williams, two of our guys we’re so excited about. Day two, an Evan Steele, Baseball America’s top left-handed pitcher in junior college baseball. He’s going to have a sincere chance to sign a professional contract.

“Day three is going to be a lot of our guys that will get the chance to improve their stock by coming to Auburn, but I think it’s going to show how good of players we were able to acquire to Auburn by getting drafted in their spot by a professional club.”

Ranked No. 357 among draft prospects, junior college slugger Brendan Venter hit 30 home runs in two seasons at McLennan (Tex.) and could play either first or third base on the next level. Batting .385 as a freshman and .353 as a sophomore, Venter should be a taken somewhere between rounds 10-20 with a good chance to wind up at Auburn.

Another top two-way player, Cody Greenhill from Russellville High School had a monster senior season with a 12-2 record on the mound and an ERA of just 0.74. Throw in 16 home runs, 65 RBI and a .336 batting average and you have a player that is expected to play early for the Tigers if he doesn’t sign a pro contract.

A wildcard could be six-foot-six right-handed pitcher Ryan Hoerter out of Wisconsin. A power pitcher who needs to develop physically, Hoerter is someone a major league team could take a flyer on at any moment during the draft.

In the end Coach Thompson said this is a stretch of three days that are good for the Auburn program no matter what happens in the long run.

“Most every one of these players who come to play in the SEC and for us at Auburn have a dream of playing in the big leagues,” he said. “We support that, we embrace that. We’re just trying to create a culture, an environment, and a developmental program that if them and their families choose to come to Auburn for one year or three years and be part of our program and sincerely pursue a degree they’ll be more prepared to start a journey and hopefully wind up being a major league baseball player.”

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