Ethan Skender is in a familiar place. Just last year, the Cincinnati Reds drafted Skender. But the shortstop opted for junior college baseball instead. Now, one year later, Skender is receiving interest from various Major League Baseball clubs ahead of Thursday’s MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Skender, though, isn’t putting a lot of pressure on himself when it comes to this year’s draft.
“Anything can happen in the draft,” Skender said. “So I’ve just kind of not avoiding it, but trying not to think about it as much.”
Skender’s road to this year’s draft meant leaving Metamora, Ill., where he tallied a 23-game hitting streak in his senior season, for Bradenton after he decided not to sign with the Reds or pursue a scholarship with Kansas State.
SCF head coach Tim Hill II said the allure of staying draft eligible this season helped bring Skender to the Manatees.
And he excelled, hitting .374 with eight home runs in 41 games. That performance also came when he was battling through a nagging knee injury he sustained during the fall.
“The injury was putting me down a little bit and coach (Hill II) would always keep me up and say, ‘Just keep your head up. There’s a lot of people that are still on your radar,” said Skender, who has a scholarship to play at Arizona State next season.
Skender’s knee injury isn’t nagging any longer, he said, after resting it during the offseason.
“He’s an athletic guy that can swing the bat,” Hill II said. “So he’s probably a little bit undersized, but that’s the great thing about baseball. You don’t have to be a giant to be able to play.”
Meanwhile, former SCF pitcher Reggie McClain has also garnered interest from several MLB clubs like the Red Sox, White Sox, Mariners and Rockies to name a few. McClain recently graduated with a degree in general studies from Missouri. But long before he got to Mizzou, McClain was re-finding his pitching groove in Manatee County.
The summer before his senior season at Georgia’s Northview High, McClain sustained a shoulder injury sliding back into first base on a pick-off attempt as a pinch runner during a summer league game.
I could’ve been like, ‘Baseball is done for me. Be a student at UGA and be near home.’ But I think just that drive I’ve always had for baseball kept me going.
Reggie McClain, former SCF pitcher on battling past a shoulder injury
“I definitely was down on myself at that point in my life,” McClain said. “I just kind of put it all in perspective. I just wanted to play the game that I loved. ... I could’ve been like, ‘Baseball is done for me. Be a student at UGA and be near home.’ But I think just that drive I’ve always had for baseball kept me going.”
The rehab process, McClain said, wasn’t taken as seriously as it should have been when he was 17 years old. So when he went to the University of Georgia, his shoulder strength wasn’t where it needed to be. The Bulldogs cut McClain. SCF became his new home, and he blossomed into a dominant force in the JUCO ranks.
That led to a scholarship with Missouri, competing in the talent-laden Southeastern Conference. McClain continued progressing into the location-based hurler with more experience, despite scouts telling him he has average stuff.
“It’s definitely a motivation factor,” McClain said. “But I’m not going to change what I’m doing, if it’s ultimately gotten me into the predicament that I am now of hopefully getting drafted.”
McClain, who is ranked No. 474 in Baseball America’s 2016 MLB Draft rankings, posted a 3.56 earned run average and hit a career-high for strikeouts in a game twice this past season with 12-strikeout games against Tennessee and Georgia.
The draft begins Thursday at 7 p.m. on the MLB Network with the first round. On Friday, the action begins at 1 p.m. with the third round through the 10th round. The remaining rounds (11-40) are on Saturday.
Area players that could get drafted
- Tyler Dyson, Braden River H.S.
- Parke Phillips, Out-of-Door Academy
- Greer Holston, IMG Academy
- Anthony Holubecki, IMG Academy
- Nick Neville, IMG Academy
- Reggie McClain, Missouri/State College of Florida
- Ethan Skender, State College of Florida
- Ryan Miller, State College of Florida