Will they go pro?
That’s the question facing a few players with WPIAL roots who were drafted this week during baseball’s first-year player draft:
— Blackhawk grad Adam Liberatore, a senior left-handed pitcher at Tennessee Tech, was selected by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 21st round. Out of college eligibility, Liberatore will certainly turn pro.
— Connellsville grad Joe Leonard, a third baseman at Pitt, was taken by the Atlanta Braves in the third round. As a high pick, the All-American will also turn pro.
But there’s some uncertainty with the others:
— Bishop Canevin senior Patrick Leyland, a right-handed hitting catcher, was drafted the Detroit Tigers in the eighth round. Leyland has accepted a scholarship from Maryland, but he has the opportunity to join the organization his father, Jim, manages. “I’ll have to do some soul searching about what I want,” Leyland said Tuesday. My guess would be he signs with Detroit.
— Norwin grad Tom Shirley, a junior left-handed pitcher at Xavier, was taken in the ninth round by the Houston Astros. Shirley was 4-3 with a 4.03 ERA. My guess would be he signs with Houston.
— Hampton grad Cory McGinnis, a sophomore right-hander at Shelton State Community College, was drafted by the Pirates in the 44th round. McGinnis has scholarship offers from Mississippi State and Alabama. Those SEC schools are very tempting.
— South Fayette senior Dillon Haviland, a left-handed pitcher, was taken in the 48th round by the Pirates. Haviland has accepted a scholarship from Duke. Unless something unexpected happens, Haviland is headed to Duke.
When the Tigers drafted Patrick Leyland, some likely assumed that pick was influence at least somewhat by his father.
But those around him insist that’s not true, including Jim Leyland, who told mlb.com: “I’m really proud of the way the whole thing went down. I never pushed anybody to take him. I never asked anybody to take him. In fact, I told them just the opposite. I said, ‘If you don’t like him, don’t take him.’ And Patrick was on board with that. He said, ‘If they don’t think I’m good enough to be taken, I don’t want to be taken.'”
Patrick Leyland’s coach, Dale Checketts, said the Tigers scouted Leyland more than any other team.
“They showed a lot of interest throughout,” Checketts said. “They showed the most interest, I’ll give them that. They really did their homework on him. It had nothing to do with the fact that the organization knew his dad.”
But, even if people do assume this was nepotism, Patrick Leyland said he won’t be bothered.
“That doesn’t really matter too much to me,” Leyland said. “People are going to believe whatever they want to believe. The Tigers obviously liked me enough to take me with their eighth pick.”
Dillon Haviland believes his Duke scholarship ultimately hurt him on draft day. The hard-throwing lefty had said as far back as April that he was interested in turning pro, but wanted a signing bonus from his future team that would cover a Duke education and more.
“I think that was the big deterrent for most teams,” he said.
Instead of being drafted in the first 10 or 15 rounds like he expected, Haviland was picked in the 48th by the Pirates. Still, he wouldn’t let that spoil his draft day excitement.
“Yesterday was a little disappointing but I got over that,” Haviland said. “It was real surprising today. Even though it was so late, it was still something to get drafted. To actually hear my name and have people tell me I got drafted was pretty cool.”
Haviland said he’ll attend Duke unless the Pirates come through with a significant offer, which he said seemed unlikely unless the team had trouble signing many of its early-round picks.
And in a couple years, Haviland could hear his name called again.
“That’s the plan,” Haviland said. “Go down there, work hard, get bigger and stronger and hear my name during those first couple of rounds.”