Renfroe Is Ready For A Draft Day Ride

He claims to be a comfortable flier. So should Hunter Renfroe show any nerves during Thursday's transit, well, the reason is obvious. Though he insists, by now he's no longer worried what will happen on opening day of the Major League June draft. "I won't be too bad."

Actually, Thursday night could be very, very good for Renfroe. The most optimistic projections have Mississippi State's junior outfielder being picked mid-way of the first round. Few anticipate Renfroe lasting past this round, which is all that will be selected Thursday.

Just don't ask the man himself when he figures to hear his name called. "This draft is weird," Renfroe said Wednesday, as the Diamond Dogs began serious preparations for their NCAA super regional trip to Virginia. "You don't know anything for sure, nothing is set in stone.

"You could be hearing somebody wants you in the third round; somebody wants you the 13th pick, 12th pick, something like that. Who knows?"

Most know it won't be Friday's third round when the Bulldog star is snapped up. The true five-tool prospect has consistently been listed in the first round and mostly in the teen-numbers. And, not necessarily at his primary college position either.

Scouts were tracking him long before reporting to campus in fall 2010 for that matter. He was drafted out of Copiah Academy by Boston, in the 31st round. And if his attitude going into this draft seems casual, check his response of three years ago.

"Actually I was on my high school field, just hitting. And a guy yells you got drafted. I looked at my phone and I had three or four missed calls. Danny Watkins from the Red Sox, I called him back and he said you just got drafted. I said, obviously! But it was kind of surreal."

Fortunately for Mississippi State he came to college first, though it was quite a challenge figuring out exactly what Renfroe was best-fit for. He played some leftfield with five starts, caught a little bit (many scouts love his potential as a professional backstop still), and even pitched a few innings. Though Renfroe would have loved doing it all, all the time, by 2012 he was forced to focus on outfielding and shone at it as both right- and centerfielder.

This year, now, the bat came alive. He goes to Charlottesville with a .352 average, 15 home runs, and .634 slugging rate; all best on this 2013 team. Put another way, all the tools have been on display this junior season.

"I've always the speed, I've always had the arm strength. It was just the hitting wasn't showing up. It finally did and it's been fun to compete at this level. Other than that it's been fun helping the team win."

Yet, it is his hitting which has been perhaps the top individual topic of Bulldog fans for the last five, six weeks. At one April point Renfroe was leading the SEC with a .405 batting average and was contending for a conference triple-crown. Losing fifty points down the season stretch should have left Renfroe frantic for a solution.

It didn't. Even after his worst weekends, this greatly-matured veteran stuck to his business.

"In BP it was there, in practice. It wasn't showing up in games. I was pressing, I believe, and not swinging at the right pitches. But I knew it was going to show up eventually and it was going to be fun when it happened."

Over the Starkville Regional weekend, it happened. Renfroe went 6-of-16 in the four games, though in the three wins he was a more meaningful 5-of-13. And four of his five RBI were in the victories, which is clearly no coincidence for him or club. It is also worth noting that even during the struggles Renfroe has not been prone to strikeout. For the full season he's fanned just 39 times in 273 total appearances. He's made base for-free 40 times too, whether on walks or plunkings.

What also bodes well for his draft standing is that during the slump—a label his coach disagrees with by the way—Renfroe had opportunities to show those other tools. His running catch and rifle-throw for a double-play at Hoover was maybe the brightest but far from the only defensive highlight of his junior season.

And during the Regional, Renfroe turned a bases-loaded dribbler down the third base line into an infield single and RBI on pure speed. Coach John Cohen reported a 3.96 clocking home-to-first on that dash. A truly, shall we say, big league number.

So which number will be by his name, hopefully Thursday night? Or rather, what club will make the call. Renfroe has talked to a lot of scouts and contacts but can't truly tell who is most interested.

"Not really. The ones that really like you don't say anything at all because they don't want other teams to know! So you don't really know who wants you the most." And equally, he has no favorite franchise either. "I never really had a team. The Atlanta Braves of course because I'm from the South. But I grew up a Mississippi State fan at heart, other than that I didn't watch much Major League baseball. I wanted to play it but never really watched it."

Assuming Mississippi State's flight and bus connections are made on time, he will be able to watch the one-round Thursday draft. Renfroe said he's talked before to Chris Stratton, the 20th overall pick in last year's first round, and other drafted former teammates about the experience.

"They said it's different from any college baseball or summer team you've been a part of. But it will be fun."

At the same time he expects to transition from draft-fun to super Regional-duty instantly. This is a working trip after all, and a #6 national seed of Virginia's skills and reputation will grab all attention. Renfroe has never been to Charlottesville for a game, though he did play a few times in Virginia state addresses last summer in the Cal Ripken League. At some of those three parks he hit home runs en route to smashing the League's longball record in fact.

Why, it's possible some of the locals will have seen him swinging last summer in those venues. "I'm telling you, there's a lot of good fans up there. And I'm sure a lot of people will show up for Virginia, but I'm sure a lot will show up for the Bulldogs, too." He won't be looking to go long this weekend so much, as Davenport Field is a bit bigger than even Dudy Noble Field.

"So it's going to be a line-drive, ground-ball ballpark. And that's how our team is made, every once in a while you'll hit one and it will leave the park but that's not what we're looking for."

What Renfroe will look for tomorrow is, besides a smooth trip, to have the draft-day run its course and with luck get any intangible weight off his shoulders in time for Saturday's 1:05 (et) start. "It's going to be a huge relief, great excitement Thursday night in getting the call," he said. Sure, but…what if the call is delayed a day?

"That would be pretty tough!"

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