4 baseball players with CVCC ties drafted Wednesday

4 baseball players with CVCC ties drafted Wednesday

HICKORY, N.C. — Four area athletes with ties to the Catawba Valley Community College baseball program were selected during the third and final day of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft on Wednesday.

Prior to Wednesday, only once had a Red Hawk baseball player been drafted — All-American outfielder Bryson Bowman, who went on to play at Western Carolina University, was taken by the New York Yankees in the 33rd round of the 2016 MLB Draft.

"Wednesday was just a great day for our program," said CVCC head baseball coach Paul Rozzelle. "I'm proud of these young men, but also happy for the guys who laid the foundation for this day. Even though others may not have heard their name called, they allowed these guys to have that opportunity. I'm so happy for (former CVCC head baseball) coach (Frank) Pait and (CVCC President) Dr. (Garrett) Hinshaw as their vision is starting to become a reality."

Left-handed pitcher Julian Smith became the first Red Hawk baseball player to be drafted directly from CVCC. The N.C. State signee was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 15th round with the 464th overall selection.

Surrounded by friends and family, Smith found out about his selection at 1:06 p.m. at his home in Concord, N.C.

"It's just a great feeling," Smith said of being drafted. "This is something I've dreamt about since I was a little kid. All of the hard work that I've put into this is finally showing and the results are bearing their fruits."

The 6-foot-4, 192-pound left-handed pitcher rewrote the Catawba Valley record books during his final season in a Red Hawk uniform. He set the CVCC single-season and career records for strikeouts (130 and 181, respectively).

Smith also tied Cole Whitney's single-season record for wins on the mound (eight), and he led all CVCC pitchers this spring in innings pitched (79.0) and ERA (2.51).

During the season, Smith was also named National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Pitcher of the Week, and at season's end, he was tabbed the first-ever Region X Pitcher of the Year.

"I'm just so very proud of Julian and what he's accomplished with the guidance of (CVCC pitching) coach (Kris) Harvey," said Red Hawks head baseball coach Paul Rozzelle. "He's had to battle, but always had a goal and now the next chapter begins. It's a great day for him and our program."

CVCC signee Zach Hammer — an Alexander Central product — heard his name called next in the 21st round with the 620th pick by the New York Mets.

The 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher was 5-2 on the mound for the Cougars this past spring. He allowed 19 hits, 18 runs (16 earned), 27 walks and struck out 67 batters in 40.2 innings pitched.

Former Catawba Valley baseball standout Bryce Hensley, who recently finished his collegiate career at UNC Greensboro, was selected shortly after Hammer with the 662nd pick in the 22nd round by the Kansas City Royals.

"As cliche as it sounds, it's surreal," Hensley said of being drafted. "I sat through this process last year, but to see your name pop up on that board — it's just an unbelievable feeling just to know that I have a chance to chase my dreams. It's the best feeling i could ever ask for."

Hensley finished his four-year career with the Spartans with an 18-13 record in 50 appearances. He allowed 268 hits, 157 runs (131 earned), 80 walks and struck out 206 batters in 237.2 innings pitched.

The 6-foot-4 left-handed pitcher, who was a part of CVCC's last NJCAA DII World Series run in 2015, ranks sixth all-time in games started in a career at UNCG and is tied for the sixth most wins in a career.

Rozzelle said Hensley being drafted is special to him.

"I had just started my real journey as a collegiate coach when I became the recruiting coordinator here at CVCC in 2014, and (Hensley) was really one of the first guys I locked in on," Rozzelle said. "He was this big, goofy-looking lefty lobbing baseballs up there at 80 (miles per hour), but I just fell in love with him. I believed in him, and he believed in me. He turned down a few DI schools to come to Catawba Valley, and he was a huge part of the 2015 World Series team. For him, I will forever be grateful and will be his biggest fan wherever he goes."

Current Red Hawks shortstop Garrison Burress rounded out the 2018 MLB Draft picks for Catawba Valley. He was taken by the Arizona Diamondbacks with the 1,209th pick in the 40th and final round.

"Man, it's unreal," Burress said of being drafted. "I would've never expected this — not only after my two years at CVCC, but also after two more at a four-year university. I graduated high school just ready for CVCC and never once did getting drafted come across my mind. It's really a dream come true."

A Granite Falls, N.C. native, Burress exploded on to the scene as a freshman this past season for CVCC, finishing first in triples (3), second in RBIs (45), extra-base hits (25) and doubles (15), third in hits (64) and stolen bases (13) and fourth in runs scored (50) and home runs (7).

The 6-foot-1, 165-pound shorstop's .346 batting average and .573 slugging percentage were also among the team leaders.

"I'm so proud of Garrison," Rozzelle said. "Some would say he was overlooked in high school, but he has a definite set of skills that will play at the pro level. Watching him be the starting shortstop and hit in the three-hole all year for a team that won 42 games hopefully will give him the confidence he deserves going forward. He will get bigger and stronger, and I am excited to watch him progress through his career."