A large haul of North Carolina-based talent in the first round of the Major League Baseball Draft was even bigger than projected, as six players with state ties had their names called Monday night.
The group includes NC State shortstop Will Wilson, the 15th overall pick to the Los Angeles Angels, Elon pitcher George Kirby at No. 20 to the Seattle Mariners, UNC Wilmington shortstop Greg Jones to the Tampa Bay Rays at No. 22, Wilmington high school pitcher Blake Walston to the Arizona Diamondbacks at No. 26 and North Carolina first baseman Michael Busch to the Los Angeles Dodgers at No. 31.
Campbell pitcher Seth Johnson was also selected at No. 40 by the Rays in the “Competitive Balance” phase sandwiched between the first and second rounds.
Of the six new draftees, Walston is by far the most intriguing pick.
A 6-foot-4 left-hander who helped New Hanover win its second straight 3A state championship last weekend, Walston is signed to play at NC State next season.
The natural assumption as a first-round pick is that he will never play a game in a Wolfpack uniform and that’s likely to happen. But unlike Green Hope’s Jordyn Adams, who passed up a two-sport career at UNC to sign for $4.1 million as the 17th overall pick last year, it’s still up in the air as to what Walston might do.
As one of the youngest players in this year’s draft, with a low-90 mph fastball that promises to improve as he gains experience and physical maturity, some scouts project him as the possible first overall pick in 2022 if he chooses college over the minors.
“There’s so much more growth and development for him,” Diamondbacks scouting director Deric Ladnier said on a conference call Monday night. “Over the course of the spring, we watched him develop into a power pitcher. Obviously, he’s young, big, strong and has tremendous upside.”
One player that definitely won’t be returning to the Wolfpack is Wilson.
The ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2019, the junior from Kings Mountain led State in average (.335), doubles (20), homers (16) and slugging percentage (.661) this season while also drawing 33 walks.
Although Angels scouting director Matt Swanson described Wilson as having “high-end upside” during a conference call Monday night, he believes that the Wolfpack star is polished enough to play in the majors sooner rather than later.
“We think extremely high of Will,” Swanson said. “Obviously on the field, I think the performance in a major conference speaks for itself. I think sometimes what is lost in the shuffle is the makeup and character, and this is just an awesome, awesome young man who is going to blend right in.
“He has a chance to move quick, but (he’ll) work on his own pace and just get acclimated to being an Angel and see how quickly he can move.”
Busch also has the potential to be a fast mover through the Dodgers’ system, provided the club can decide on where to play him defensively. Dodgers scouting director Billy Gasparino said during a post-first round conference call he was impressed with the ACC Tournament MVP’s maturity at the plate.
“He’s been a staple in the UNC program,” Gasparino said of Busch, who is hitting .294 with 16 homers and 57 RBI this season. “They rave about his makeup and his character, and we’re excited to add him to our organization.”
On the flip side of Wilson and Busch is UNCW’s Jones.
A draft-eligible sophomore, his selection in the first round was something of a surprise after being ranked No. 51 in this year’s class by Baseball America. His rapid rise up the board has a lot to do with his speed — he ranks sixth nationally with 40 stolen bases in 50 attempts — along with defense, potentially as a center fielder.
“He’s somebody we think has a really good chance to contribute on both sides defensively and offensively,” Tampa scouting director Rob Meltzer said. “We’re really excited to have him.”
The Rays’ other local first-round pick, Campbell right-hander Jones, is also something of a project after being converted from shortstop just two years ago.
“He has a shorter track record; this is his first year of full-time pitching,” Meltzer said. “But in terms of his arm action, delivery, body type, he really fulfills all the things we’re looking for in a young starting pitching prospect.”
Elon’s Kirby is an even more attractive prospect because of his combination of power — his fastball tops out at 98 mph — and control — he walked only six hitters in 88⅓ innings on the way to becoming his school’s first first-round draftee.
UNC right-hander Tyler Baum was the only player with state connections taken in the second round, going No. 66 overall to the Oakland Athletics.
Here is the complete list of draftees with NC ties through all 40 rounds:
Will Wilson, SS, NC State (15th overall) Angels
George Kirby, RHP, Elon (20) Mariners
Greg Jones, SS, UNCW (22) Rays
Blake Walston, LHP, New Hanover HS (26) Diamondbacks
Michael Busch, 1B, UNC (31) Dodgers
Seth Johnson, RHP, Campbell (40) Rays
Tyler Baum, RHP, UNC (66) Athletics
Evan Edwards, 1B, NC State (111) Brewers
Graeme Stinson, LHP, Duke (128) Rays
Jake Agnos, LHP, ECU (135) Yankees
Bryant Packard, OF, ECU (142) Tigers
Matthew Barefoot, OF, Campbell (196) Astros
Spencer Brickhouse, 1B, ECU (212) Diamondbacks
Kyle Brnovich, LHP, Elon (241) Angels
Ty Adcock, RHP, Elon (246) Mariners
Davidjohn Herz, RHP Terry Sanford HS (252) Cubs
Tyson Messer, RHP, Campbell (260) White Sox
Austin Bergner, RHP, UNC (262) Tigers
Colin Peluse, RHP, Wake Forest (284) Athletics
Ben Gross, RHP, Duke (299) Twins
Chad Sykes, RHP, UNCG (301) Angels
Nick Neal, OF, Randleman HS (327) Blue Jays
Corey Joyce, SS, NC Central (352) Tigers
Kennie Taylor, OF, Duke (418) Mets
Patrick Frick, SS, Wake Forest (426) Mariners
Ike Freeman, 3B, UNC (430) Indians
Trey Benton, RHP, ECU (460) Indians
Cam Devanney, SS, Elon (463) Brewers
Jason Parker, RHP, NC State (474) Reds
Brandon Martarano, C, UNC (476) Giants
Morgan McSweeny, RHP, Wake Forest (498) Orioles
Alec Barger, RHP, NC State (517) Braves
Tyler Driver, RHP, Crossroads FLEX HS (546) Mariners
Ashton McGee, 2B, UNC (553) Brewers
Evan Voliva, RHP, ECU (555) Yankees
Noah Soles, OF, Ledford HS (572) Diamondbacks
Zarion Sharpe, RHP, ECU (575) Cardinals
Turner Brown, SS, ECU (579) Rockies
Adam Laskey, RHP, Duke (582) Cubs
Peyton Williams, RHP, Catawba (607) Braves
Andrew Blake, RHP, NC State (631) Angels
Michael Bienlien, RHP, NC State (712) Tigers
Hansen Butler, RHP, UNC (740) White Sox
E.P. Reese, OF, Winston-Salem State (766) Astros
Jake Washer, C, ECU (882) Cubs
Daniel Milwee, C, High Point (890) White Sox
Justin Crump, RHP, UNCW (896) Giants
Michael Horrell, RHP, Campbell (916) Astros
Matthew Koehler, OF, Western Carolina (944) Athletics
Harris Yett, C, Charlotte (948) Orioles
Chase Walter, RHP, Western Carolina (961) Angels
Chandler Redmond, 2B, Gardner-Webb (965) Cardinals
Justin Kunz, C, Gardner-Webb (991) Angels
Thayer Thomas, OF, NC State (1007) Red Sox
Carter Bach, RHP, Wake Forest (1028) Rays
Joey Lancellottti, RHP, UNC (1035) Yankees
Leon Hunter, RHP, NC A&T (1045) Rangers
Isaiah Bennett, RHP, Pine Forest HS (1073) Padres
Kyle Smith, C, New Hanover HS (1082) Diamondbacks
C.J. Mayhue, LHP, Crest HS (1086) Mariners
Cole Weiss, 3B, UNCW (1106) Giants
Bryce Jarvis, LHP, Duke (1125) Yankees
Evan Justice, LHP, NC State (1161) Brewers
Chris Lanzilli, OF, Wake Forest (1166) Giants
Gianluca Dalatri, RHP, UNC (1191) Tigers