The Coastal Carolina baseball program has a reputation of consistently churning out pro prospects – especially from the pitcher’s mound – and even after an uncharacteristically down season, it was business as usual for the Chanticleers this week during Major League Baseball’s First Year Player Draft.
Junior left-hander Ben Smith and senior righty Tyler Herb, an accomplished duo who took turns leading Coastal Carolina’s rotation the last few seasons, both had their names called Saturday on the final day of the draft.
Smith was chosen with the first pick of the 17th round (the 496th overall selection) by the Houston Astros and Herb went in the 29th round (No. 861 overall) to the Seattle Mariners.
“It’s just a dream come true,” Smith said. “I can’t really explain it right now.”
Said Herb: “My adviser told me a week or two ago to [expect to go] in rounds 10-15, so when I didn’t get called it was kind of nerve-racking. When I did get called, it was just the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders. It was just a great experience.”
Coastal Carolina previously had senior outfielder Colin Hering drafted on Friday (10th round, 309th overall by the Los Angeles Dodgers), which extended the program’s streak to 18 straight years having at least one player selected and seven straight years with a player going in the first 10 rounds.
And after Saturday, the Chants have now had 23 pitchers drafted since 2000.
Smith had his junior season cut short by an elbow injury and underwent Tommy John surgery in April, but the 6-foot-2 lefty had shown enough in his three years with the Chants to draw interest from multiple Major League organizations.
He finishes his collegiate career with a 2.57 earned-run average, 181 strikeouts and 99 walks over 178 1/3 innings pitched. As a junior this spring, he had a 2.51 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings before going down with the injury.
That made the draft process all the more stressful for Smith.
“I had kind of been waiting. We thought I might get drafted late [Friday], and that was kind of nerve-racking to be waiting through that and have to sleep on it,” he said. “My adviser gave me a call today and said the Mariners were going to take me so I was anticipating that, and then he called me back and said the Astros were going to take me and within a few minutes they took me. …
“[It’s] definitely exciting, but definitely relieving as well knowing that I don’t have to worry about what my future holds and that type of thing.”
Smith said he is disappointed his college career ended as it did, not being able to finish out his final season, but he’s eager for what awaits. He’s expected to report soon to Florida to continue his rehabilitation process under the supervision of the Astros organization.
It’s the second time in three years a Coastal Carolina pitcher has been drafted while recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Chicago Cubs took a chance on injured hard-throwing right-hander Josh Conway in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, and Conway has talked to Smith about what to expect.
“I’ve talked to him a few times and he said that getting in an organization is definitely beneficial and being able to rehab with a team will benefit me very well,” Smith said. “He said, ‘Just stay on track and keep working hard like you’ve always done.’ He’s been a great influence on me and my career.”
Herb, meanwhile, posted a career 3.40 ERA over the last four seasons. The 6-foot-3 righty had a breakout sophomore season in 2012 – going 9-2 with a 2.61 ERA – before battling his own injury concerns as a junior as his ERA rose to 4.15. This spring, he bounced back to go 7-6 with a 3.53 ERA while anchoring the top of the rotation after Smith’s injury.
“[The Mariners] just told me they’re happy to have me. They saw me pitch at N.C. State, they’re impressed and they’re happy to have me,” Herb said of his phone conversation with the team. “I’m not sure the money situation or where I’m going; I’m just happy to be in an organization. I don’t really care about the money, anything. I’m so happy the Mariners picked me up, and I’m going to do whatever I can for them.”
Herb said that in a roundabout way, his struggles last year with injury and the Chants’ collective struggles this season while finishing 24-33 have prepared him mentally for whatever challenges may await in his transition to professional baseball.
“It’s all about grinding it out and being mentally tough and being a road warrior,” he said. “Kind of the last two years, it’s not been [smooth]. I think it’s prepared me a bit for the next level. … As long as I continue to do what I’ve known to do and learned at Coastal, hopefully I’ll make my way up through the [Mariners’ system].”
As usual, the Chants also had a couple of their incoming recruits selected in the draft.
Casey Schroeder, a junior college catcher, was taken by the Oakland A’s in the 14th round with the 432nd overall pick.
Schroeder hit .321 with three homers, five triples, 12 doubles and 38 RBIs in 52 games as a sophomore at Polk State College in Winter Haven, Fla., this season. He posted an impressive .445 on-base percentage and .489 slugging percentage and was set to the join the Chants next season.
Al Molina, a high school shortstop from New Jersey, is another player the Chants are expecting to join the roster this fall. He was taken in the 29th round, 862nd overall by the Philadelphia Phillies – one pick after Herb.
Both players will now have decisions to make about their future while the three departing Chants prepare to begin the next chapter of their own.
For whatever stress transpired this week while awaiting their fates, the opportunity is now theirs to do with it what they can.
“We texted each other a few times,” Herb said of his conversations with Smith. “I actually called him [Friday] after the first 10 rounds were over just to see what he thought. He was a little depressed. In my eyes, I thought he should have been a top-five rounder. … I think the Astros got a great player, great man and I’m so happy for him. And Colin Hering too, I’m so happy for him too.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318 or on Twitter @RyanYoungTSN.