When Penn baseball coach John Yurkow evaluated his team’s roster at the beginning of the 2017 season, he thought there was enough talent where maybe a couple of guys could go on to play professionally.
But he never could have envisioned a day like Wednesday as a program record four Penn baseball players were selected in the 2017 Major League Baseball draft.
“It was a historic day,” Yurkow told the Gazette by phone. “It’s awesome. I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet, to be honest.”
Although two players were drafted a couple of years ago (Austin Bossart C’15 and Ronnie Glenn C’15), it’s still relatively rare for a Penn player to be picked at all — and certainly not four. But in almost rapid-fire succession, rising senior Billy Lescher was picked by the Detroit Tigers in the 17th round, Jake Cousins C’17 was picked by the Washington Nationals in the 20th round, Adam Bleday C’17 was picked by the Houston Astros in the 27th round and rising junior Jake Nelson was picked by the Tigers in the 33rd round.
“Every time a Penn player would get taken, I would get like 10-15 text messages, like, ‘Hey, another one’s off the board,’” said Yurkow, who was at a recruiting event at the time while trying to follow the draft on a computer. “It was constant. And it’s great publicity for the program.”
All four guys picked are pitchers with seniors Cousins and Bleday anchoring the rotation and Nelson and Lescher being used as relievers for the Quakers. The latter two are also underclassmen, meaning they can opt to return to school to try to boost their draft status for next year if they’re not satisfied with their situation or contract offer from the Tigers.
Yurkow admitted he was “disappointed” that Tim Graul C’17, the team’s top offensive player, did not get drafted but is hopeful the 2016 Ivy League Player of the Year and 2017 Ivy batting champion can sign a free-agent deal, either with an MLB organization or an independent club.
As for the rest of the guys, the Penn coach hopes their college development can help them climb through the minors and raise the Quakers’ profile on a national stage following the team’s first Lou Gehrig Division title in a decade (we’ll have more on that in the upcoming issue of the magazine).
“We’re not gonna have four guys getting drafted every year,” Yurkow said. “But it’s nice to know when sitting down in front of potential student-athletes, we can talk about those players and say, ‘Hey, this is a real thing here. If you come in here and work hard, we have the means and the resources to develop you as a baseball player and a student.’
“This kind of reinforces the things we’ve been talking about over my four years as head coach. Hopefully we can maintain it and continue to have guys move on to the next level.”
— Dave Zeitlin C’03