The Prospect League is paying off.
With the Butler BlueSox and Slippery Rock Sliders in their fourth seasons, respectively, it seems only a matter of time before an alumnus reaches the major leagues.
The numbers certainly support such a premise.
While the Prospect League in its current form has only been around for four years, the league itself has existed since 1963. It has sent 800 players on to professional baseball with 175 of them reaching the major leagues.
Fred Ford, first baseman for the Sliders last year, was thought highly enough to be chosen in the seventh round by Kansas City a few days ago. Ford played his college ball at Jefferson, a small school in Missouri.
Shayne Houck, the BlueSox’ third baseman in 2011, was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 29th round.
Ford thought enough of his stint with Slippery Rock to send a text message to Slider owners Mike and Laura Bencic the night he was drafted. These players know what this league can do for them.
The Prospect League provides a summer of experience using wooden bats in a competitive atmosphere, with pro scouts in attendance.
Houck hit over .340 with 10 homers for the BlueSox last year. Seneca Valley graduate Kevan Smith had a big year with the BlueSox two years ago and was eventually drafted by the Chicago White Sox. He’s hitting .287 with three homers for Class A Kannapolis in the White Sox organization this year.
Two other BlueSox players — infielder Kyle Petty of this year’s team and pitcher Ben Rawding from 2010 — were semifinalists for the Tino Martinez Award as the best player in Division II baseball this season.
Petty led Califiornia (Pa.) University hitters with a .359 batting average. Rawding was 9-0 with a 2.65 earned run average and 77 strikeouts for Mercyhurst this spring.
Both of those guys figure to get professional opportunities down the road.
So, too, does former Sliders pitcher Andrew Morris. He spurned the Milwaukee Brewers despite being chosen in the 16th round two years ago, opting for a full scholarship to Auburn instead.
There were 23 current and former Prospect League players drafted this year alone. Houck is the third former BlueSox player to be picked, joining Smith and Jacke Healey (Houston Astros, 2010).
Following players who have come through Butler and Slippery Rock to play in this league is intriguing. When they get drafted, it’s fun to watch them progress toward their goal of reaching the big leagues.
Imagine being a host family to some of these collegiate players in the summer and, years later, going to a Pirate game one day at PNC Park, pointing to the second baseman of one of the teams and saying: “That guy used to live in my house.”
Each night at Pullman and Critchfield Park, young players are taking the field with dreams of playing professional baseball.
When their names are called on draft day, it’s fun to call them our own.
John Enrietto is sports editor of the Butler Eagle