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"I just kept watching": Central Arizona Vaqueros pitcher reacts to being selected in MLB Draft

Jeremy Beren

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Drew Sommers delivering a pitch.Courtesy of Vaquero Sports

By Jeremy Beren / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

(Coolidge, AZ) — For many prospects, Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft is the culmination of a lifelong dream. It is the start of a new chapter in their lives as they prepare to embark on a professional career.

For Drew Sommers, a left-handed relief pitcher who got the final out to end Central Arizona College's run to the NJCAA World Series title, the road to achieving this dream began when he was a toddler.

"I've been playing baseball since I was 3 years old ... My dad saw the pitcher in me," Sommers told NewsBreak via phone.

The Tampa Bay Rays selected Sommers in the 11th round, 344th overall, in the 2022 draft — a three-day event held between July 17 and July 19. Sommers and Vaqueros coach Anthony Gilich said members of the Tampa Bay front office had been tracking the lefty's progress all season before they selected him on day three, and Sommers said it was an "amazing" feeling to be drafted.

The Rays, a small-market MLB franchise, are known for their emphasis on building through the entry draft and developing young players through their farm system. The big-league team made the World Series in 2020, and followed that up with a 100-win regular season in 2021.

"I was looking forward to it because I had a great year," Sommers said. "I knew there was a chance I would get drafted this year. When I found out that the Rays were very interested in me, I was excited. I watched every day of the draft. I just kept watching and waiting for my name to be called."

Alongside Sommers, right-hander Tyler Woessner — whom Gilich described as a "workhorse" with the potential to be an MLB-quality starting pitcher — was selected in the sixth round by the Milwaukee Brewers, with the 192nd overall pick.

Oregon State righty DJ Carpenter, who transferred from Coolidge to Corvallis last year, also heard his name called when the St. Louis Cardinals took him in the 14th round, 427th overall. And a source with direct knowledge of the negotiations told NewsBreak on Monday that infielder Chase Valentine will sign a contract to join the San Diego Padres as an undrafted free agent.

This group extends a rich tradition for Central Arizona baseball, which has now had 173 players who spent at least some time at the school drafted into MLB organizations.

Notable Vaqueros to make their way into the league through the draft include former All-Star infielder Ian Kinsler, who played at Central Arizona before finishing his collegiate career at Arizona State. Utility player Scott Hairston went on to play in over 900 MLB games after the Arizona Diamondbacks drafted him out of Central.

The late Doug Jones — who made five All-Star teams as a reliever — also pitched at the school, as did former Oakland A's right-hander Rich Harden.

"I'm extremely proud," Gilich told NewsBreak via phone. "It's most college players' dream to be drafted, and they got a chance to live it."

After two years in Coolidge, Sommers was ready to continue his pitching career at the University of Arizona under former Arizona Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale. But on Sunday, Sommers signed a contract with the Rays and is now heading for Florida, where he will begin his pro career with the Florida Complex League Rays in Port Charlotte — a little more than an hour's drive south of Tropicana Field, where he hopes someday to take the mound as a member of the big-league squad.

"It was hard (turning down U of A)," Sommers said. "They're a great school, they have a great program ... (but) I just decided it was time to start my career."

Sommers says the Rays organization is getting a confident pitcher who aggressively goes after hitters with a signature fastball that can reach 96 miles per hour. Gilich explained it's a pitch with good movement, and it generates a lot of bad swings from opposing batters. Relying on this pitch, Sommers recorded 140 strikeouts and a 2.47 earned run average in 83.2 innings at Central Arizona.

Sommers also throws a changeup and a curveball, but he explained his mentality as "if you can't touch my fastball, there's no point throwing you my breaking pitches."

"I go out there and always pitch the same way," Sommers said. "I always have the same mindset — 'just go after the hitter and throw strikes, he can't touch you.'"

Hitters in the Florida Complex League might soon discover this for themselves.

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Jeremy is a freelance journalist covering health, energy, labor, and local politics. Reach him at jeremy.beren@newsbreak.com.

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