Blair projected as Marshall's highest-drafted player ever
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Aaron Blair is a pretty safe bet to make history perhaps as early as today.
The Marshall junior pitcher has been projected as high as a first-round selection in the Major League Baseball Draft, which starts today and runs through Saturday. Assuming he is taken before the third pick of the eighth round, Blair will be the highest-drafted player from Marshall ever.
Blair has been ranked as the No. 38 prospect by MLB.com and the No. 41 prospect (and No. 1 in the Mid-Atlantic region) by Baseball America, and with good reason. The Las Vegas native entered the 2013 season after dominating in the highly competitive Cape Cod League last summer.
Blair went 6-0 with a league-leading 1.17 earned run average during the Cape Cod regular season and added a 2-0 record in the playoffs. For the season he struck out 60 batters in 511/3 innings.
His legend grew among Herd fans when he escaped a bases-loaded, no-outs situation in the first inning of a March 18 game against West Virginia at Appalachian Power Park. Blair struck out three consecutive Mountaineers and went on to pitch six shutout innings in the Thundering Herd's win against its in-state rival.
Blair finished the season with a 5-5 record as Marshall failed to qualify for the Conference USA tournament. He posted a 2.85 ERA in 82 innings pitched while striking out 84 compared to walking just 36.
A report by Baseball America earlier this week listed Blair as one of the prominent players (along with Oklahoma's Jonathan Gray) who had tested positive for Adderall - a drug often prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy - but because he is not yet under contract with a professional club, Major League Baseball cannot hand down any punishment. Blair had no comment on the situation when reached by phone Wednesday and the positive test is not expected to alter his place among the top talent available.
Blair did, however, have comments about the process he has been going through to not only prepare physically but also mentally for the draft.
"I'm just real anxious to see what happens," he said. "It's not in my control anymore. I'm just sitting back being a spectator for now."
Blair, who grew up a Chicago Cubs fan, has been working out in Las Vegas and said he has talked to several former Marshall teammates and friends from home, such as former West Virginia Power player Nick Kingham, about what to expect in the coming days and weeks.
"I'm trying to get in game shape as much as I can with lifting and running and throwing. I took about a week off once the season ended but now I'm back to doing things I did during the season," he said. "I talked to Ian Kadish and Arik Sikula. I played with them my freshman year and they told me what to expect."
Which, according to Blair, are long bus rides and long days at the ballpark. With so many different publications and mock drafts it is hard to say for certain where the Herd hurler will end up, but he said the highest he has seen his name is at the No. 22 overall pick to the Baltimore Orioles.
Marshall coach Jeff Waggoner said watching Blair develop into a sought-after prospect has been a fun ride. The Herd does not get many, if any, recruits that enter the program at the height of their powers and the development process is something Waggoner and his staff have focused on with success.
"We have to develop them to have a chance," Waggoner said. "The fact that my support staff did a great job of developing that kid over the years makes you feel good."
Marshall has had some notable recent success with former players doing well in professional baseball. Pitcher Dan Strailey worked his way through the Oakland farm system rather fast and has seen time at the major league level. Other players such as Kadish, Sikula, Kevin Shakleford and Mike Mason have been drafted in the late rounds and are on minor league rosters. When Blair is selected he will be the 26th Marshall player to move on the professional baseball and the 16th to be drafted since Waggoner took over the program seven years ago. In the decade prior to his arrival that number was zero.
"It's a credit to those guys that have worked hard in the program," he said. "Out of the 26 guys that went on to play pro ball, only two were drafted out of high school."
The first two rounds of the MLB Draft start at 7 tonight and will be broadcast on MLB Network and streamed lived at MLB.com.
Reach Tom Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org.