It was a strong showing for the Amarillo area on the final day of the Major League Baseball Draft.
The West Texas A&M baseball program made history by having two players selected, as pitchers Marshall Kasowski and Joshua Payne were taken on Wednesday.
Kasowski became the highest Buff ever drafted after being selected as the 400th pick in the 13th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers. A junior transfer from the University of Houston, Kasowski led the nation in strikeouts while breaking the school and Lone Star Conference record for Ks in a season with 165.
Kasowski (9-5, 2.22 ERA this past season) also led the nation in strikeouts per nine innings at 15.91. The 22-year-old earned LSC Pitcher of the Year and was named an All-American by the ABCA (Second Team), D2CCA (Second Team) and NCBWA (Third Team) while being one of 12 finalists for the prestigious Brett Tomko Award, which goes to the most outstanding pitcher at the Division II level.
“It’s awesome,” said Kasowski, who is expected to get a signing bonus of $125,000 when he signs. “It’s a very surreal experience. It’s nice to see the hard work pay off over the years. It’s a new journey and a new challenge.
“WT is a program that is really building. The players that continue to come in are changing the program. We’re proving it year in and year out.”
Payne followed less than two hours later as the 667th pick in the 22nd round by the New York Mets. He ended his career with breaking the school record for wins in a season with 10.
“This is unreal,” said Payne, who was 10-3 with a 2.51 ERA with 101 Ks. “My phone is going off nonstop. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s going to be a grind. I’m happy to be with any organization out there.”
WT continues to put itself on the map at the big league level. Last June, it was starting pitcher Austin Moore becoming the first Buff ever drafted, going to the Colorado Rockies in the 26th round.
“It shows we’re heading in the right direction,” said WT head coach Matt Vanderburg, who led the Buffs to a 36-18 record this past season and a fourth straight NCAA Division II South Central Regional appearance. “It shows we’re recruiting really good arms. We’ve been recruiting those arms, and it started with Justin Kuks and Dylan James. But now we’re getting known on a national stage, and across the country we’re getting known across country.”
Also at the local level, three Amarillo-area standouts heard their name called Wednesday.
Former Randall and Houston Baptist pitcher Addison Russ landed in the 19th round as pick 563 for the Philadelphia Phillies. Russ was 2-6 this season for the Huskies with a 3.62 ERA, racking up 79 strikeouts in 92 innings pitched.
“This is exciting,” said Russ, who graduated from Randall in 2013. “This is every player’s goal. I’m just lucky enough to keep playing. I just hope I can help my team and advance to the highest level.”
Former Amarillo High and Southeastern Louisiana second baseman Carson Crites had a huge day. On Wednesday morning, Crites was named as an All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
That afternoon, Crites’ dream came true when he was drafted as the 736th pick in the 25th round by the Minnesota Twins.
As a senior this season, Crites helped lead the Lions to the NCAA Tournament, hitting .299 with 14 homers and 60 RBIs.
“It’s awesome,” said Crites, a 2013 AHS graduate. “It hasn’t hit me yet, but it’s a blessing to continue to go play. It’s cool to see the area continue to grow. There is a lot of talent around Amarillo. A lot of us are friends and it’s cool they get to do what I want to do.”
In the 36th round, the Seattle Mariners took Randall’s Heston Kjerstad as the 1,083rd pick. Kjerstad is signed to play at the University of Arkansas. This season as a senior, Kjerstad hit .531 with three homers and 33 RBIs.
He’s the younger brother of Dex Kjerstad who is in the Miami Marlins organization.