The final day of the Major League Baseball draft saw a former Lake Land College pitcher, a recently graduated Eastern Illinois University pitcher, and a potential future Panther third baseman drafted on Wednesday.
The Chicago White Sox picked EIU's Michael McCormick, who just completed his senior season. The Philadelphia Phillies drafted former Laker Addison Russ, who just completed his senior season at Houston Baptist, and D.J. Stewart, who signed with EIU and is expected to be a freshman next season.
McCormick was selected in the 34th round, and Stewart was chosen in the 39th round. Russ went in the 19th round with the 563rd pick.
"I was pretty excited. It's still settling in, and it's getting real now as I figure out everything I need to know," Russ said. "I talked to the Phillies guy yesterday, and they mentioned they were going to come after me. I wasn't sure who was going to come after me. I was just ready to keep playing."
Lake Land coach Bill Jackson said it was exciting to see Russ' name on the MLB draft board.
"We are truly excited for Addison. It's a huge accomplishment for him," Jackson said. "He's a great kid. Is it good for the program here? Yes, but I am truly excited for Addison, and it will be fun to watch him pitch at the next level."
Russ spent his first college season at Frank Phillips College, an NJCAA Division I junior college, before transferring to Lake Land the next season.
"We were lucky that they had a coaching change," Jackson said. "We got him committed in early August, and it was one of the best early signees that we had. His mechanics were pretty clean, and we knew his velocity would increase. He was always blessed with a good arm. ... He really took a big step and had a lot of offers."
Russ gives significant credit to Jackson and Lake Land pitching coach Zack Stuart.
"(Lake Land) helped a lot. Pitching for Bill and Zack, both of those guys are great coaches and are great at developing arms and positional guys," Russ said. "I was thankful they offered me the chance to play and got me a chance to play in Houston, and that was great."
In his only Lake Land season, Russ pitched 88 2/3 innings, which was the 16th most in NJCAA D-I, and threw five complete games. He started 13 games, went 6-6 record with 76 strikeouts and a 3.15 ERA.
With those numbers, Jackson thought Russ had a chance to get drafted after that 2015 season.
"He filled out a lot of draft cards his sophomore year," Jackson said. "We thought he might have a shot late. We thought that again after his junior year that he would have a shot. They put him on tape every Friday night, and different organizations were there to watch him, so we knew he had a shot at going again this year."
Russ chose to return close to home and pitched for Houston Baptist, an NCAA Division I school in the Southland Conference. He became Houston Baptist's Friday pitcher, which is the No. 1 slot in college.
"I am thankful that my pitching coach Xavier Hernandez had the faith in me to pitch Friday's," Russ said. "It's a battle and it will help me in the long run."
Russ threw a team-high 99 1/3 innings as a junior at Houston Baptist. He struck out 66 batters and had a 3.44 ERA. Russ added a team-high 92 innings this past season as a senior and struck out 79 batters and had a 3.62 ERA.
Wednesday night, Russ has yet to sign his contract since the Phillies were still finishing the draft. He knows part of the plan the Phillies have for him and will figure out the rest Sunday.
"I will leave Sunday to play rookie ball in Florida," Russ said. "Now, I am just waiting for specific details and (which team) I am going to be going to."
White Sox add Panther
McCormick, who is 23, was drafted in the 34th round by the White Sox with the 1,007th pick.
"I am fired up for him. Everybody on the team is excited to see him get the opportunity," EIU coach Jason Anderson said. "I know he didn't have the year he wanted, but he has the ability to play in pro ball to show what he's got there. It wasn't a surprise. We kind of expected him to get the opportunity. We just didn't know what team and where he was going to get drafted."
McCormick started his college career at Navy. He started four games and made 14 appearances before transferring to Parkland Community College. After pitching 48 1/3 innings at Parkland, McCormick went to EIU for his final two seasons.
As a junior, McCormick made 10 starts and appeared in 15 games for EIU. He finished 2-6 with a 6.46 ERA in 54 1/3 innings. He struck out 39 batters. This past season, McCormick made 12 starts, appeared in 15 games, and went 1-6 record with a 7.43 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings.
"We've talked for two years about the things to improve on to play at the pro level, which is a different animal," said Anderson, who pitched in the majors for the Yankees, Mets, and Indians. "He has the velocity and worked his tail off to get the physical traits. We are just working on the command you need for success at pro ball. I think they will put him in a relief role."
McCormick is the fourth EIU player in the last five years to be drafted. Matt Wivinis is the last EIU pitcher to sign with an MLB program. He signed with the New York Yankees after last summer and is currently waiting to be assigned to a minor league team.
Stewart, who is a third baseman from Westminster Christian Academy, was drafted with the 1,163rd pick.
"He's going to be a game-changer for the program. He's going to be pretty talented," Anderson said. "He's a power hitting third baseman. He can run and throw, and he has all of the tools. We haven't gotten into (his decision to sign or go to EIU). We just want him to enjoy the day and spend that time with the family, and we will talk about it down the road."
Having a freshman drafted is a good sign for the future of the program, Anderson said.
"We've done a tremendous job building the program the last couple of years," Anderson said. "Our record is getting better, and we feel we are getting good kids on and off the field, and that's something we want to continue to do."