By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The No. 10 Tennessee Tech baseball team continued to rewrite the history books throughout the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft Monday through Wednesday, setting both program and Ohio Valley Conference records with a total of eight players selected by big league clubs.
The eight selections shattered the previous mark of five, held by a few different teams in the league, including the 2014 Golden Eagle squad.
Kicking off the action as the highest draft selection in school history by round was junior closer and right-handed pitcher Ethan Roberts. The nearby Sparta native heard his name called with the 24th pick in the fourth round of the draft by the 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs.
In three seasons, Roberts has chiseled his name among the all-time great in both Tech and OVC history, shattering the program record for career saves (currently 29) and setting the single-season saves mark not once, but twice (currently 14 this season). He earned All-OVC First Team accolades, exceeding the potential shown while earning a spot on the OVC All-Freshman Team in 2016.
Roberts enters this week ranked 11th nationally in saves (14), 19th in strikeouts per nine innings (12.17), 52nd in E.R.A. (2.41) and 56th in strikeout-tot-walk ratio (4.80). Overall he has appeared in 26 games, compiling a 6-1 record including picking up two wins in the Oxford Regional, the most important coming in an elimination game against Ole Miss on Monday, where he made his first start of the season. Overall he has pitched 71 innings in 2018 in helping the Golden Eagles on to the Super Regionals. An OVC Pitcher of the Week, he became the first Tech pitcher ever to earn saves against both Tennessee and Vanderbilt in the same season earlier this year.
Next off the board for the Golden Eagles was the OVC's Pitcher of the Year, right-hander Travis Moths, selected in the seventh round by the Arizona Diamondbacks. The four-year Tech hurler is second nationally in pitching wins (13) and will have a chance to tie the OVC single-season record when he faces Texas in the Super Regionals. The senior has lost just two games all season in 95.2 innings of work, while striking out 104 and walking just 36. His 3.86 ERA ranks sixth in the OVC.
Moths has started a program-record 16 games on the year while making a total of 19 appearances, becoming just the fourth Golden Eagle ever to compile over 100 strikeouts. He also stands as Tech's all-time leader in career wins, boasting 25, including a program-best 13 this year. He also earned a spot on the OVC All-Tournament Team for the second straight year.
Another four-year man for the Golden Eagles heard his name called in the 17th round of the draft by the Baltimore Orioles, senior third baseman Trevor Putzig. The veteran guard of the hot corner claimed his second All-Conference honors this season after earning a Second Team nod in 2017. He also claimed places on the OVC All-Tournament Team and Oxford Regional All-Tournament Team, displaying monster power throughout the postseason thus far.
In 55 games (he missed some time due to injury), the Louisville, Ky. native has hit .315 with 60 runs scored, 67 hits, 11 doubles, 17 home runs, 72 RBI, a .606 slugging percentage, 43 walks, a .426 on base percentage and a .941 fielding percentage. Putzig racked up OVC Player of the Week honors after tying the Tech program record with three home runs in a single game in February and currently ranks in the top-10 on the program's all-time career list for hits, doubles, RBI and runs scored. At the end of the April, he was named Tennessee Tech Athletics' Man of the Year, the highest honor awarded by the department.
A member of the winningest senior class in program history, senior first baseman Chase Chambers was selected in the 18th round by the New York Mets following an incredible final season in the purple and gold. Named the Oxford Regional Most Outstanding Player and to the All-OVC First Team this year, he also joined teammate Kevin Strohschein as the first players ever named semifinalists for the Dick Howser Trophy.
One of the most accomplished hitters in Tech history, Chambers has littered his name across the record books, ranking first in career runs, second in RBI (also ranks second in OVC history) and walks, third in home runs and fourth in hits. He leads the nation in RBI with a program-record 82 on the year, just four from tying the OVC single-season mark. Chambers also sits just one hit from becoming just the third Golden Eagle ever to record 100 in a single season.
The fifth Golden Eagle selected was junior center fielder Alex Junior, who went to the New York Yankees in the 19th round. He has started every game for the Golden Eagles this season while also batting leadoff in every single contest. He has made just a single error all year while shattering the program's single-season runs scored record with 80 so far this year. He leads the team in runs and walks while driving in 35 and smacking seven home runs.
Joining Junior as a New York Yankee selection in the 20th round was junior right-hander hurler Marcus Evey. The Murfreesboro native has boasted a perfect 7-0 record in 16 games (14 starts) this season, sporting a 4.26 ERA and striking out 86 batters in 76 innings with just 29 walks. He has held opponents to a measly .239 batting average on the year. An All-OVC Second Team selection, he represents just one of two pitchers nationally to record his team's most strikeouts in a start and relief appearance this season, fanning eight in his first relief showing of the year before punching out 13 batters in his second start of the season.
Tech's seventh overall selection as a team was junior second baseman John Ham, who earned a place with the Baltimore Orioles in the 31st round. In his first season in the purple and gold, he earned All-OVC First Team honors while slugging 18 doubles, three triples and 13 home runs for 62 RBI and a .321 batting average. He became just the second Tech player in the last 30 years to hit for the cycle and was twice named the OVC's Player of the Week. Ham's 13 long balls rank as the most by a Tech second baseman in program history, as does his 62 RBI. He has also put together the best fielding percentage by a Golden Eagle second baseman in the past 10 years (.975).
Wrapping up Tech's historic day was senior shortstop David Garza, a 38th-round selection of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The highly-decorated, three-year Golden Eagle earned All-OVC Second Team honors after claiming First Team accolades in 2017 and was named to the Brooks Wallace Award Watch List for the second straight year, finishing as a semifinalist this season. A Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Week, he put together a 50-game reached base streak, including 48-straight contests this season. Garza's 16 round-trippers rank as the most by a Golden Eagle shortstop in program history, as does his 69 RBI.
Tech's eight selections matched Vanderbilt for a tie for the most players drafted by a school in the state of Tennessee and tied for the fifth-most in the nation. The total also ranked as the second most nationally by a non-Power Five conference program, trailing only Wichita State's 11 selections.
Free agency is now in session, and chances are still good that a few more Golden Eagles get the opportunity to fulfill their dreams by signing with a major league club.
Photos by Thomas Corhern and Tony Marable