While the story of the first day of the Major League Baseball Draft was LSU teammates Paul Skenes and Dylan Crews going 1-2 to the Pirates and Nationals, respectively, North Carolina also made some noise in the opening two rounds.
Six players from North Carolina colleges and one from an in-state high school were selected in the first 70 picks of the draft on Sunday, including three in the first round.
They were led by South Brunswick High School outfielder Walter Jenkins, who was selected fifth overall by the Minnesota Twins. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Jenkins, who recently won the Gatorade state player of the year award for the second time, hit .417 and with power for the Cougars, and the lefty projects to play center or right field.
“We love his swing,” Twins vice president of amateur scouting Sean Johnson told The Athletic. “We think he’s going to have a chance for real power. Just a well-rounded player and phenomenal person off the field.”
Jenkins had committed to UNC but will be going pro.
Wake Forest, which reached the final four teams at the College World Series, then took center stage.
First off the board was star pitcher Rhett Lowder. The former North Stanly High School right-hander was picked seventh overall by the Cincinnati Reds after back-to-back dominant seasons with the Demon Deacons during which he was the ACC pitcher of the year in both.
“It’s a long performance track record, the stuff, the command and control and all of it lines up to be a major-league starting pitcher,” Reds amateur scouting director Joe Katuska said.
Teammate Brock Wilken went 11 picks later at No. 18 to the Milwaukee Brewers. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound third baseman ranked second in Division I with 31 home runs this season.
“We’re just really excited to get probably the best power in the draft,” Brewers vice president of domestic scouting Tod Johnson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I’m going to say it’s the best power in the draft.”
Wilken is the first Wake Forest position player to be selected in the first round since Will Craig in 2016.
In the second round, the Colorado Rockies used the 46th overall pick on Wake Forest left-handed pitcher Sean Sullivan. The lanky hurler, who played his first collegiate season at Northwestern, maxes out at 95 mph but is still able to beat batters with his fastball, ranking second in Division I in strikeout rate.
Two picks later, NC State third baseman Gino Groover was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks at No. 48. He batted .349 in three collegiate seasons — he started at Charlotte before transferring and playing the last two years with the Wolfpack — but there are concerns about where he fits in the field. The D-Backs see him staying at the hot corner.
“We think he’s a great athlete and we think that the hands, the feet, all those things that we look for, is going to be enough to play third base,” D-backs scouting director Ian Rebhan told the team site.
UNC’s Mac Horvath was picked 53rd overall by the Baltimore Orioles. The Tar Heels standout more than doubled his home run total from his first two seasons in Chapel Hill this season, hitting 24 after combining for 23 in his freshman and sophomore years. Horvath’s speed is also an asset, though there are questions about where he would play in the field.
“We’re ultimately going to look to capitalize on his athleticism, get him some reps out in center field, but also make sure he’s also getting reps at third base,” Orioles director of draft operations Brad Ciolek told Orioles.com.
With a compensatory pick at the end of the second round, the Atlanta Braves selected Campbell right-hander Cade Kuehler at 70th overall. Koehler, who went to Cuthbertson High School in Waxhaw, was 8-1 with a 2.71 ERA for the Camels this past season, striking out 91 batters in just 73 innings.
“His fastball is definitely electric, and that’s a big reason for why he’s had the success he’s had,” Ronit Shah, Braves assistant director of amateur scouting, said. “It’s definitely an out pitch. It’s a primary pitch and he can pitch off the fastball.”