Junior left-handed hurler Patrick Merkling and right-handed pitcher Vince Spilker became the second and third Lee baseball players to be selected in the 2012 Major League Draft on Wednesday. Merkling was chosen by the Miami Marlins in the 18th round (557th pick overall) and Spilker was tabbed by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 25th round (783 overall).
Later on Wednesday, right-handed pitcher Andy Hillis and catcher Jorge Saez joined their three teammates on the draft list. Hillis, 6-foot-7, 210 pounds, went in the 29th round to the St. Louis Cardinals and Saez was grabbed in the 32nd round by the Toronto Blue Jays. Hillis (5-1) was used mainly in relief by the Flames. In 29.2 innings he struck out 24 and issued 11 walks. Saez came on strong late in the season. He batted .303 with six homers and 13 doubles. He had 42 RBIs and a .404 on-base percentage.
Another Flames’ pitcher, Kris Hall, was chosen by the Oakland A’s in the 8th round on Tuesday.
The five picks represent the most Flames to be taken in one draft. In 2011 four Lee players were selected.
Merkling, who was also chosen in the 44th round of the 2011 draft, turned down an offer and signed with Lee. He finishing the 2012 campaign with a 9-2 record, posting a 2.08 ERA and in 82 innings had 103 strikeouts and walked 51. Opponents hit only .169 as a team against him as the Flames posted a 56-11-1 mark.
“Patrick has a lot of what the scouts are looking for — left-handed, velocity, and a plus slider,” said Lee head coach Mark Brew. “He really threw well in some big games down the stretch for us. He came to Lee to improve his draft stock and really succeeded in that, moving from a 44th rounder in 2011 to an 18th rounder this year.
“The Miami Marlins are a great organization and should be a great fit for Patrick. Patrick really finished the season strong,” added Brew. “Patrick is a hard worker and keeps his body in great shape. His family has a baseball background and he knows how to pitch. Of course, being a left-hander helps. I look for him to have a solid pro career and I think the scouts might be viewing him as a relief-role hurler.”
Spilker finished the 2012 season with a 7-3 record. At 6-foot-3, 230, he has the size and arm strength scouts are always searching for. He tallied a 3.42 earned run averaging. In 89.1 innings, he fanned 67 and walked 22. Teams compiled a .246 batting average against his offerings.
“Vince had a super year for us and his power arm projects well on the next level,” noted Brew. “I think his pitch ability has improved as well as his secondary stuff under coach (Michael) Moody. The Diamondbacks really liked him and were fighting to get him as early as possible. I’m excited for Vince and seeing what he does with this opportunity.”
“Andy (Hillis) has everything they are looking for in a pitcher. He has great size and is very projectable for the future. His fastball is in the low to mid 90s, and his slider has shown steady improvement,” said Brew after viewing his fourth hurler being drafted. “He is not too far off Tommy John surgery and should continue to improve his velocity and command over the course of the summer. The Cardinals drafted Andy out of high school and remain intrigued by his ability. It is a great organization and would be a good fit for Andy.”
“Jorge (Saez) has improved tremendously since arriving on campus this past fall, added Brew. “He has always possessed the arm strength they look for and is a very athletic catcher. His bat really came on late in the year and he was one of our top hitters down the stretch. His performance down the stretch really attracted several teams and propelled him into the MLB Draft. The fact that he is a bilingual catcher will be a huge asset for him in minor league baseball.”
“Wow, what a day. Five current players and three recruits were drafted from yesterday until today,” said Brew after the draft came to a close Wednesday. “We planned to lose some of these guys, but in no way could we have projected everything that happened. It shows the great level of respect MLB scouts have for our program. I am really excited for these guys. We hope we retain some of them, but certainly it is a boyhood dream of all to get this opportunity and most will likely seize that opportunity. We wish them the best as they work through this process.”
Side Notes - LHP Clint Terry, from the College of San Mateo (Calif.) and a Lee University commitment, was drafted in the 36th round by the San Francisco Giants. Lee signee Gabriel Roa (SS at Wabash Valley College) was a 25th round pick for the Texas Rangers.