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7 former Chatham players selected in shortened MLB Draft

by Andrew Crane, 06-12-2020

7 former  Chatham players selected in shortened MLB Draft

After the Houston Astros submitted their selection for the 160th pick, ending the fifth round of the shortened 2020 MLB Draft, seven former Chatham players had professional dreams solidified. It started on Wednesday with Spencer Torkelson going first overall. Continued on Thursday with Burl Carraway. And ended when Kyle Hurt was selected by the Miami Marlins — the city where his grandfather spent his one season in the NFL.

With the seven selections, 71 former Anglers have been drafted the last three years — including five first rounders. Here’s what you need to know about the former Anglers and their new MLB sides.

Spencer Torkelson, 1st overall, Detroit Tigers

Torkelson leaned forward on his couch, hands folded and peered at his television. No one from the Tigers organization had called yet, which “scared the living crap out of me,” Torkelson joked the next day. 

When MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that Detroit selected Torkelson as a third baseman, the Arizona State junior’s parents engulfed him with hugs. He became the first Angler selected in the No. 1 slot since Matt Anderson in 1997.

Torkelson will instantly become an integral part of Detroit’s rebuild, where the Tigers hope to claw back from consecutive seasons with 95 or more losses. In three seasons with ASU, he hit 54 home runs and let the country in that category after his freshman season. Torkelson broke a program record set by Barry Bonds, spent parts of the last two summers with Chatham, and over time made the jump from undrafted high school prospect to No. 1 overall pick. Jeimer Candelario, listed on Detroit's depth chart as the primary third baseman, hit .203 over 94 games in 2019 — a lineup spot Torkelson will eventually look to challenge.

“I've thought I was the best player in the draft and I've worked my butt off to get to this point,” Torkelson said.

Burl Carraway, 51st overall, Chicago Cubs

Carraway, who threw just one inning with Chatham in 2019, became the second former Angler off the board when the Cubs selected the junior from Dallas Baptist. In eight appearances out of the bullpen in 2020, the left-hander carried an 0.96 ERA and a 2-0 record. Carraway’s five saves led the Patriots, using a high-90s fastball sprayed across the strike zone. 

He was the first player in program history to play for the U.S. Collegiate National Team, an invite he pursued after his short stint with Chatham. If Carraway maintains a bullpen role during his professional career, he’ll join a group of 31 left-handed Cubs relievers scattered from rookie ball to the majors. Matt Tenuta and Brad Weick are currently in Chicago, while Jordan Minch and Jerry Vasto are with the Iowa Cubs — the organization’s AAA affiliate.

Kaden Polcovich, 78th overall, Seattle Mariners

Right before the 2020 season began, Polcovich’s first with Oklahoma State after transferring in from Northwest Florida State, Matt Holiday noticed a hiccup in his swing. When Polcovich loaded, he’d turned his back shoulder too far from the plate. “You don’t really want to mess with that straight line,” Polcovich said. But he did.

After working through different load mechanics with Holiday, fine-tuning an approach that created a .273 batting average and 38 RBI as a sophomore, Polcovich started to “figure out what I was trying to do,” he said.

Against Saint Louis on March 10, Polcovich finished a single short of the cycle. He doubled in the second, tripled in the fifth, and homered in the sixth inning of an 18-run win for the Cowboys. It was the game he finally noticed that tweak working, he said.

Now, he’ll have the opportunity to continue that, along with his infield work, in the Mariners organization.

RJ Dabovich, 114th overall, San Francisco Giants

After working as a starter and reliever with Chatham last summer, Dabovich opened the 2020 season as Arizona State’s closer and immediately notched a save in the season-opener against Villanova. His ERA during the shortened 2020 season was 0.71, and opponents hit just 0.81 against him. During that time, three more saves accumulated.

Dabovich became the third-straight pitcher selected by the Giants during the 2020 draft, an organization with the reputation of developing homerun relievers like Sergio Romo. After his freshman season at Central Arizona College, the Kansas City Royals selected Dabovich in the 18th round, but he chose to continue playing collegiate ball. Twenty-five appearances later, he rose his draft status 14 rounds.

“Pitching solely out of the bullpen before his junior season was shut down, he was proving to be very tough to hit, but also struggled with his command,” Dabovich’s ESPN scouting report read. “His fastball-breaking ball combination does tick up in shorter stints and he has the chance to be a very effective big league reliever.”

Jeremy Wu-Yelland, 118th overall, Boston Red Sox

Entering the MLB Draft, Wu-Yelland was the highest-ranked prospect Hawaii had. He was the one who traveled across the country, more than 5,100 miles from school and 2,800 miles from his hometown of Spokane, Washington. The one who had allowed just one run through seven relief appearances before the coronavirus pandemic shortened his junior season. And the one who carries a 0.69 ERA, the lowest of his collegiate career, into a professional opportunity with the Red Sox.

He helped clinch Hawaii’s first win of the season on opening day, coming out of the bullpen and throwing three scoreless innings against Hawaii-Hilo. For the final two outs, the two that set the tone for an 11-6 Hawaii season, he blew 1-2 pitches by swinging batters — something he did 26 times for Chatham the previous summer. In 10 games, and one start, for the Anglers, Wu-Yelland threw 25.2 innings and compiled a 3.15 ERA.

Dane Acker, 127th overall, Oakland Athletics

Acker threw a fastball past LSU’s Wes Toups and pumped his fist. It was the bottom of the ninth inning during Oklahoma’s Children College Classic game against the Tigers, and he needed just two more outs for the Sooners’ first nine-inning no-hitter since 1989.

The next LSU batter flew out near the warning track, and the Sooners bounced up and down on the dugout railing. Then a groundout to the shortstop, and Acker’s spot in Oklahoma’s history was etched. His 11 strikeout and one walk performance on March 1 was part of a 1-1, 3.51 ERA junior season that came after four appearances with Chatham the previous summer.

Oklahoma was Acker’s third school in three seasons — a freshman year at Rice, an undefeated, 10-0 sophomore year at San Jacinto College — and turned down a contract from the Diamondbacks after being selected in 2019’s 23rd round. Just one year later, Acker rose to the fourth round.

“There are plenty of college pitchers with more upside than Acker, but he will outlast plenty of them in pro ball because he has a clean delivery, is durable and is a better pitcher than most,” Baseball America’s scouting report said.

Kyle Hurt, 134th overall, Miami Marlins

When the Marlins selected Hurt, it continued the tradition of a USC player being selected in every edition of the MLB Draft, according to a USC press release. During a shortened 2020 season, he won two of four starts while leading the Trojans with 25 strikeouts.  Against TCU on March 6, Hurt struck out nine — including his final batter on a pitch in the dirt — over six innings and helped USC earn a 6-1 win.

Two years ago, his role with Chatham was primarily in the bullpen — and he tallied two saves for the Anglers, including one against Brewster in the EDCS. He started four games during the Cape League’s regular season and picked up his lone win on July 10 against Falmouth, when he allowed two runs, four hits and three walks over five innings.