Returning to Coastal Carolina University for his senior season proved to be a profitable move for Alex Cunningham.
Outfielder Billy Cooke doesn’t plan to see his senior season at CCU.
Both players were selected 15 picks apart in the first nine rounds of the Major League Baseball draft on Tuesday.
Cooke was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the eighth round with the 243rd overall pick, while Cunningham was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the ninth round with the 258th overall selection.
“I’m happy and relieved that it’s over with,” said Cooke, a speedy outfielder who just completed his junior season. “Getting a couple calls and knowing I was getting picked, I was coming to the reality I was going to be playing professional baseball.”
Cunningham, a starting pitcher, parlayed a dominant 2017 season on the mound into a rise up the draft.
He was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 28th round of last year’s MLB draft with the 835th overall pick, and announced he would be turning pro and forgoing his final season of eligibility at Coastal.
But negotiations did not go as he hoped, and he returned to CCU. He was selected 19 rounds and 577 picks sooner this year after going 7-2 with a 2.63 ERA, striking out 117 in 106 innings, twice striking out 14 in a game to match a school record and holding opponents to a .195 batting average.
“I think coming back this year I really put myself in a better position to get drafted in a higher round,” Cunningham said. “It was a win-win situation for me to come back and spend another year with my teammates and coaches and everybody I love there, and I was able to complete about two-thirds of my graduate degree.”
Cunningham has a degree in Management and has two classes and an internship remaining to earn his Master’s of Business Administration.
Cooke, who has two semesters remaining to earn a degree, and Cunningham will likely soon report to the Mariners and Padres rookie league teams in the Arizona League or Class A minor league affiliates.
According to Major League Baseball’s website, the approximate values of the signing bonuses for their draft spots are $156,500 and $147,000.
Cooke was with his family in Orlando, Fla., when he learned he was drafted, and Cunningham, of Duncan and Byrnes High, played 18 holes of golf to keep his mind off the draft after receiving calls in the morning from several teams informing him they planned to take him between the sixth and 10th rounds.
A CCU player has now been selected within the first 10 rounds of the draft for 10 consecutive seasons, totaling 18 Chanticleers. Cooke and Cunningham become the 15th and 16th Chanticleers since 2000 to go undrafted out of high school and be picked within the first 10 rounds after their time at Coastal.
For his career, Cunningham, who is 6-feet and 210 pounds, went 25-7 with a 3.06 ERA in 57 games, holding opponents to a .226 batting average with 262 hits, 102 walks and 295 strikeouts in 315 innings.
He worked to add a slider this year to the fastball, changeup and curveball he has featured. His fastball is generally from 91-95 mph while his curve is in the low 70s and his change and slider are closer to 80 mph.
Cunningham was one of 40 players named to the Watch List for the Golden Spikes Award, given annually to the top player in the nation, and was named a Second Team All-American by Collegiate Baseball following CCU’s 2017 season.
Cooke lost much of his freshman season to a broken hamate bone in his left hand, but he batted .324 and with a team-high 27 stolen bases as a sophomore, and this past season he hit .353 in 56 games with 10 home runs, 52 runs scored, 38 RBI and 21 stolen bases. He’s also a defensive wizard and was named the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year.
“Ever since I broke a bone in my hand freshman year it’s been a complete grind,” Cooke said. “I think I deserve being drafted for all the work I’ve put in and what I’ve been through, and I feel I’m very blessed to get the opportunity.”
Both players contributed greatly to CCU’s 2016 national championship.
“What we did last year for the university and state of South Carolina not many people can say,” Cooke said. “It’s something very special for everyone involved and I’ll never forget that special moment.”