On the second day of the major league baseball draft, Georgia Tech’s Mark Pope and Matt Skole went fairly early, as expected. The strange turn came later, when the Florida Marlins drafted shortstop Jacob Esch in the 11th round.
Strange not because Esch is a slouch. Esch was a productive hitter (.319, .490 slugging percentage) and a team captain as a junior. Strange because the Marlins want Esch to pitch, despite the fact he only threw five innings all season for Tech.
“Let’s put it this way,” Esch said Tuesday evening. “Throwing five innings and going in the 11th round – [hoping to get taken earlier] would be greedy.”
Esch knew from interaction with scouts that they saw him as a pitcher. That being the case, considering he was almost exclusively a field position player this season and had only thrown 23.2 innings total in his college career, Esch wasn’t even sure he’d be drafted at all.
“I hoped someone would pull the trigger on me as a position player,” he said.
Esch is substantive evidence of the desperate need teams have for pitchers and also what sort of arm he has. He can hit 94 or 95 with his fastball and can locate with precision.
Further, he said, “I’ve got a real loose arm. It’s pretty easy. I think that’s the biggest thing that guys like when I throw.”
Esch was “kind of a closer” at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, Minn., and threw once a week in summer ball but mostly played shortstop. Still, Esch said, when the team held a day last fall to meet with major league scouts, “most of the scouts seemed really geared towards what I’d done in fall practice as a pitcher.” In the spring, scouts often asked him when he was going to pitch, which turned out to be not very often.
Esch didn’t complain Tuesday about not getting more than six opportunities to pitch this season, in which he threw 5.0 innings with 1 earned run, 6 strikeouts and 2 walks. (He also pitched 18.2 innings as a freshman with a 4.82 ERA.) He and Skole were the only two starting position players to return and the Jackets were deepest at pitcher.
Esch has reason to hold off on pro ball. He is a phenomenal student one semester shy of a civil engineering degree. He has a 3.65 GPA and has done research work for a professor developing a device that tests poured concrete to “make sure that the proper amount of air is in the concrete,” he said. Further, with starting pitchers Jed Bradley and Pope headed for pro ball, there’s a possibility Esch could get more opportunities to pitch and improve his draft prospects.
But he sounds like he’s ready to give pro ball a shot.
“I’ve told everyone that I want to get into their system as quick as possible,” he said. “You can’t win a World Series until you make it to the big leagues.”
New Padre, National
As for Pope and Skole, both were elated about getting selected. Both fifth-rounders, Pope to San Diego and Skole to Washington.
“It’s crazy,” said Pope, who was at home fretting with his family at their Marietta home when he learned he was drafted. “It’s definitely something we’ve been looking forward to for a long time. Now that it’s here, living in it, it’s crazy.”
Pope said he and former teammate Jed Bradley (taken 15th overall) had talked about how cool it would be to be drafted to a West Coast team, particularly San Diego. He joked that he’s going to have to learn to surf. Still, Pope figured an East Coast team like the Braves (who drafted him out of high school), Washington or perhaps the New York Yankees would take him, not San Diego.
“I never even knew I would get interest from the West Coast; it was cool to find out,” said Pope, a Walton High grad. “It’s just so far away. I’d never heard much from them at all.”
Pope spoke with a Padres area scout for a few minutes after getting selected but didn’t know much yet about negotiations or the team’s minor-league plans for him.
“I’m just planning on working my tail off from the get-go and doing whatever they plan for me,” he said.
Skole, from Blessed Trinity High, was a little more circumspect.
“I’m just glad that the Nationals have given me an opportunity to pursue my career and my dream,” he said. “Hopefully, we can make it work. If not, hopefully another team can make it work next year.”
That said, it would be a considerable upset if Skole were part of the 2012 Jackets. Skole described getting drafted as a monkey off his back. Like Pope, Skole spent the day at home with family, glued to the MLB Network. From different sources, he’d heard he could go anywhere from the first round to the 10th.
“I like what they do with their young guys, how they get them through the minor leagues and up to the big leagues,” he said. “That’s exciting for me.”
He said he expected to hear more from the Nationals soon regarding a contract and the team’s plans for him. Skole said he hadn’t gone so far yet as to see what sort of players are ahead of him in the farm system.
Said Skole, “I figured they drafted a third baseman because they must need one.”
Jed Bradley spoke with Tech sports information staffer Mike Huff Tuesday after his first-round selection to Milwaukee. Two of the better answers.
Q: What do you know about Milwaukee?
A: “I know it’s in Wisconsin, and they like cheese [laughing]. I have only been there once before and I was about five years old.”
Q: What has been the biggest thing that helped you get to where you are at today?
A: “Hard work and determination. I have always prided myself in working hard. When I was young I told myself I that when I set a goal, I am going to stick with it. I think that has really helped me get to where I am at today.”