BASEBALL: Ball State junior Vitek expected be first round pick in tonight's MLB Draft
They flocked to Ball Diamond all year, armed with radar guns and stopwatches, watching two of the best baseball players Ball State University has ever produced.
The scouts watched as Kolbrin Vitek sprayed line drives around the field and as Perci Garner's slider darted away from opponents' bats.
The notes they gathered from their numerous trips to Muncie this spring have been checked and crosschecked. Now there is nothing left for the scouts or the players to do. Their fate in the Major League Baseball Draft will be decided in the next three days.
Vitek is expected to become the seventh Cardinal ever picked in the first round, which begins at 7 p.m. on Monday. Garner, meanwhile, will likely have to wait until Tuesday afternoon when the draft resumes at noon with rounds two through 25. He is projected to be selected between the second and fifth round.
Ball State catcher Zach Dygert and shortstop T.J. Baumet also have a chance to be selected either Tuesday or Wednesday, when the final 25 rounds will be held. Two Ball State recruits, outfielder Cody Campbell and third baseman Kenny Mahala, could hear their names this week as well.
With so much talent potentially headed to the professional ranks, coach Greg Beals has a bittersweet feeling, especially about losing a player like Vitek.
"It was an honor and a pleasure to coach a guy that talented," Beals said. "It's a job well done by him and the program. It's a goal achieved."
The Ball State draft class is lead by Vitek. The junior was named
Mid-American Conference Player of the Year and became just the fourth Cardinal to become a first-team All-American last week. Vitek played second base and was Ball State's Sunday starter this year, but he will likely shift to the outfield after being drafted.
As a junior, Vitek could return for another year with the Cardinals. Baseball's draft does not require players to declare themselves draft-eligible like the NBA and NFL do, but no one is expecting to see Vitek in a Ball Sate uniform again.
"It's hard to take in," Vitek said. "It's been a great three years. It's been great playing with the team."
The San Diego Padres are interested in Vitek with the ninth overall pick in the draft. If the Padres select him, Vitek would become the second Cardinal taken in the top 10 of the draft, joining Bryan Bullington. The Pittsburgh Pirates made the starting pitcher the No. 1 overall pick in 2002.
But the baseball draft is notoriously unpredictable. The sheer number of players selected every year and the need for a minor league apprenticeship are just two of the factors confusing a forecast.
Joe Bick, who is advising Vitek in the draft, said he tells all the players he advises the same thing.
"Rule No. 1 is that the draft is a crapshoot," Bick said. "Sometimes it works out exactly how you'd like and sometimes it doesn't."
Bick is the agent for many major leaguers, including Kevin Youklis and Matt Guerrier. He also advised former Ball State star Jeremy Hazelbaker, who was drafted by Boston in the fourth round last year. Bick is now Hazelbaker's agent.
While surprises before the draft can cloud predictions for first rounders like Vitek, it is even harder to tie down where Garner might fall.
As a sophomore, Garner can still be drafted two more times if he chose not to sign. Sophomores are not usually draft-eligible, but because Garner redshirted a year while he was playing football, he can be picked this year.
Baseball American executive editor Jim Callis said sophomores present a unique problem for teams because going back to school is more of an option for them.
"Teams always worry about sophomores because of the extra leverage they have," Callis said.
While Vitek will most likely sign a contract after the draft, Garner may choose to return. Beals said Garner has set high goals for this draft and could benefit from another year in college.
"Perci has very high goals and there's an outside possibility his wants aren't met," Beals said. "Perci feels like he's getting better and better. With another year, in next year's draft, he believes he could be a first rounder."
Still, Beals said he anticipates being without his ace right-hander next year.
Garner is being advised by Jonathan Maurer, who is the agent for 2006 NL Cy Young award winner Brandon Webb. All 30 teams have shown serious interest in Garner, but Maurer believes some teams like Boston, Tampa Bay, Detroit and Cincinnati have distanced themselves from the pack.
If any team drafted Garner in the first five rounds, he would be faced with a difficult choice.
"It's not an easy decision, even if they do call [in the first five rounds]," Maurer said. "He can come back and help Ball State and his own pitching."
It is, however, an enviable position. Beals said he is happy he has been able to help the players who get drafted this week to achieve their goals.
"We prepare our players for this," Beals said. "These guys all want an opportunity to play professionally, and we work hard day in and day out to get guys that opportunity. I wish all these guys the best."