Marshall Baseball Has Big Day In MLB Draft

Marshall baseball had a great year, and that year is being topped off with the first draft choices from a Thundering Herd team since 1994. Junior center fielder Nate Lape, junior pitcher Steve Blevins and senior catcher Tommy Johnson were all drafted on day two of the Major League Baseball Draft. Also, MU signed recruit Greg Williams of Cincinnati, Ohio was also selected in the draft on June 5-6.


Nate Lape, Marshall's All-Conference USA center fielder, was Marshall's first team player to be drafted since 1994 when the Colorado Rockies choose the junior in the 20th round on June 6. photo courtesy of HerdZone.com.

Lape, who hit .388 for the Herd this year and was first team All-Conference USA, was the first Marshall player selected in the major league draft since pitchers Rick Paugh and Matt Spade were selected in the 1994 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Colorado Rockies made Lape the 617th selection of the draft, going in the 20th round, and he was the first position player (non-pitcher) drafted since Greg Hill was selected in 1984.

Lape, one of four Marshall players named to the All-Tournament C-USA team when the Herd lost to Houston in the finals, 3-2, led the Herd with 17 home runs, 17 doubles and 63 runs batted in, is a junior from Huntington, N.Y. Lape transferred to the Herd from the University of North Carolina prior to the 2007 season.


Steve Blevins, one of four Herd players to be named to the Conference USA All-Tournament team, was drafted by the Minnesota Twins on Friday. photo from HerdZone.com

Next up from Marshall was Steve Blevins, who tied the Marshall single-season win mark with a 9-3 mark. Blevins, a native of Louisa, Ky., who transferred to Marshall after two years with Cincinnati, went to the Minnesota Twins. He was the 636th selection in the 21st round after speaking with the Twins over the last week. Blevins was second team All-C-USA and All-Tournament as he pitched 15 innings in the conference tournament, including out-dueling C-USA Pitcher of the Year Shooter Hunt (a first round supplemental pick) in a complete game 10-5 Marshall win. That win propelled the Herd to another win over Tulane in games one and three of the tourney in New Orleans on the Green Waves' home field. Marshall beat TU twice, Southern Miss twice and lost in the championship game on an unearned run to the Cougars in the eighth inning.


Herd catcher Tommy Johnson finished a four-year career with a flourish, being drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 27th round on Friday in the Major League Draft after hitting over .300 all four seasons. photo from Herdzone.com

While Lape and Blevins will have to decide if they want to go pro or return to Marshall for their senior seasons, Tommy Johnson is ready to go after an outstanding four-year career at Marshall. Johnson, who was a DH in his first year and caught the last three years, hit .311 and had career-bests with both eight home runs and 46 RBI. He caught every inning but one of the 55 innings MU played in the C-USA Tournament in New Orleans heat and humidity, including the final four games in two days due to rain early in the tournament. Johnson went in the 27th round to the Seattle Mariners, selection number 822 for the career .330 hitter who also hit a career best 14 doubles for the 30-30-1 Herd.

Marshall played very well in C-USA, a league that sent five of nine teams to the NCAA Tournament. The Herd was 10-13-1 in the regular season, 4-2 in the tournament for a 14-15-1 overall league mark, most wins in any league MU baseball has ever played in, back to founding the West Virginia Athletic Conference in 1925. The Herd won 11 games in 1928 and 1978, then 12 games in league play in 1981, all three seasons ending in conference titles. The Herd won ten in 2004, when MU finished 27-27.

For the third consecutive season, a Marshall recruit was drafted. Greg Williams, who signed in the fall of 2007 out of Moeller High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, is a 6-foot-4 left-handed pitcher. In 2007, Williams was 8-0 with one save while in 2008 he led the Crusaders to the state semi-finals with a 6-2 record. Williams had an earned run average of 2.15, with 60 strikeouts in 52 innings pitched. He was choosen by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 31st round, pick number 923, although the rule of thumb is those picked 800 or above should possibly consider continuing to play amateur baseball to enhance their draft possibilities in their junior season in college.

In 2007, Samuel Freeman was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 24th round. The outfielder/left-handed pitcher committed to Marshall but did not sign with the Herd or Cards, instead ending up at the University of Kansas. He was drafted by St. Louis again this year in the 32nd round after going 4-1 with a 8.53 era for the Jayhawks.

In 2006, MU recruit Burke Baldwin passed up playing for the Herd when he was choosen in the 21st round (No. 617) by the Kansas City Royals. The left-hander was coming out of Elgin (Ill.) Community College. Burke was 5-1 with a 2.87 era and 42 strikeouts with the Idaho Falls Chukars of the Pioneer League in 2007.

Marshall's last draft choices from the active roster the previous season were both pitchers. Spade, who was 804 for the 1994 Herd and had a 2.50 era, was selected by Pittsburgh in the 28th round with the 774th selection. He struck out 100 batters that season, setting a MU record that is still second for "Ks" in a single-season.

Paugh, who slipped to 3-7 with a 3.96 era after a 5-6 record with two saves his freshman and sophomore seasons. He went to the Pirates as the first pick of the 45th round, the 1,239th player selected. Paugh was with the Bucs organization from 1994-98, while Spade was with Pittsburgh from 1994-96. Marshall's highest draft pick was Greg Hill in 1984. The Twins took the Herd shortstop/catcher in the third round with the 59th selection.

Marshall's two top professional pitchers are Jeff Montgomery and Rick Reed. Montgomery, who led the Herd to the 1981 Southern Conference title, was drafted first by the San Francisco Giants in 1982 (42nd round, No. 823) and then by the Cincinnati Reds in the ninth round in 1983 (No. 211), but would go on to greater glory with the Kansas City Royals. Montgomery, who recovered from "Tommy John" surgery on his elbow early in his professional career, saved over 300 games, was a three-time All-Star and is a member of the MU and KC Halls of Fame.

Reed, who helped the Herd to a runner-up finish in the Southern Conference in 1985 in the only season he lettered at Marshall and led the team with 17 appearances, was drafted by the Pirates in 1986 (26th round, No. 644). He would make his first appearance with the Bucs in 1988. He was released in 1992, but signed with the K.C. Royals. In 1993, Reed signed with the Texas Rangers and was selected off the waiver wire in 1994 by the Reds.

In 1995, Reed signed with the New York Mets, and posted some of his best seasons including appearing in the 2000 World Series against the crosstown N.Y. Yankees. He was the game three starter, pitching into the seventh inning and leaving a 2-2 game. He won 93 games in a career that ended in 2003 with the Twins.

Marshall's All-Time Drafted Players:
Nate Lape, 2008, Colorado Rockies, 20th round, No. 617, center fielder;
Steve Blevins, 2008, Minnesota Twins, 21st round, No. 636, pitcher;
Tommy Johnson, 2008, Seattle Mariners, 27th round, No. 822, catcher;
*Greg Williams, 2008, Tampa Bay Rays, 31st round, No. 923, pitcher (*MU signee);
*Burke Baldwin, 2006, Kansas City Royals, 21st round, No. 617, pitcher (*MU signee);
Matt Spade, 1994, Pittsburgh Pirates, 28th round, No. 774, pitcher and (H.S.) 1991, San Diego Padres, 52nd round, No. 1,328, pitcher;
Rick Paugh, 1994, Pittsburgh Pirates, 45th round, No. 1,239, pitcher;
John Chafin, 1988, Chicago White Sox, 18th round, No. 457, pitcher;
Rick Reed, 1986, Pittsburgh Pirates, 26th round, No. 644, pitcher;
John "J.D." McKinney, 1985, Philadelphia Phillies, 11th round, No. 278, pitcher;
Greg Hill, 1984, Minnesota Twins, 3rd round, No. 59, shortstop/catcher;
Jeff Montgomery, 1983, Cincinnati Reds, 9th round, No. No. 211 and 1982, San Francisco Giants, 42nd round, No. 823, pitcher;
*Steve Verrone, 1983, Houston Astros, 2nd round, No. 33, pitcher (*MU signee);
Lou Packer, 1976, Philadelphia Phillies, 21st round, No. 497, outfielder;
Larry Berkery, 1974, Chicago White Sox, 15th Round, No. 342, out of high school, and White Sox retained his rights for 1978. Berkery played baseball, at first base and outfield, and football, at quarterback, while at MU;
Joe Goddard, 1971, San Diego Padres, 8th round, No. 168, catcher;
Carl Hewlett, 1970, Pittsburgh Pirates, 44th round, No. 873, pitcher;
Steve Miller, 1969, Cincinnati Reds, 11th round, No. 252, pitcher;
Bob Lemley, 1968, Cincinnati Reds, 42nd round, No. 844, infielder.


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