Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech athletics
The Major League Baseball All-Star festivities may have been the main event in Denver, Colo. this weekend, but the 2021 Major League Baseball Draft was a close second.
For the first time in the league’s history, the draft was held on site at the location of this year’s All-Star Game and Home Run Derby.
It also happened to be where four Virginia Tech Hokies heard their name called during the 20-round selection period. This is a permanent change from the league’s old 40-round draft model. It’s a direct result of the downsizing of minor league baseball.
It’s the largest draft class since the John Szefc era began back in June 2017. It’s also the largest class the Hokies have had since 2015. Brendon Hayden, Saige Jenco, Alex Perez, and Sean Keselica were highlight names from that draft class. All were members of the 2013 team that hosted a regional.
This year’s group is coming off of a pretty good season as well. Szefc’s team narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament after starting 14-7 in ACC play. They proceeded to lose 13 of their last 15 in conference play, ending their season in shocking fashion.
The four selected were: Shane Connolly, TJ Rumfield, Chris Gerard and Anthony Simonelli.
It’s interesting, because all of these guys have eligibility remaining. None are considered a “high-level” draft pick.
But if they were to sign with their respective organizations, each of these guys have a ton to offer. We explore what each brings to the table:
LHP Shane Connolly, 10th Round (289th Overall) – Kansas City Royals
Now, we’re not trying to give anyone false hope by bringing up extra eligibility. There is virtually no chance Shane Connolly returns to Blacksburg.
Mostly serving as the Hokies’ closer throughout the 2021 season, and occasionally as their Sunday starter, The Citadel transfer had a really solid lone year at Virginia Tech.
A couple of bad outings inflated his ERA to 4.14, but the Huntersville, N.C. native still led the team in saves by securing six of Virginia Tech’s 13. Opponents hit a mere .238 against the southpaw.
Connolly was also tied for second on the team in appearances with 21. In 63 innings, he struck out 81 and only walked 14.
The 10th round is a great spot to come off the board if you’re Connolly. He’ll now sign for somewhere around $147,700, according to Jim Callis of MLB.com.
It was a bit surprising to see the lefty hurler be the first Hokie to come off the board. He was the only selection in the first two days. But with the combination of financials, and the fact that he recently earned his degree from Virginia Tech back in May, it sounds like Connolly is Kansas City-bound.
Virginia Tech fans can hope to see him suit up in the Royal blue inside Kauffman Stadium over the next three or four years.
For now, the Low-A Columbia Fireflies looks like a likely destination for tall lefty.
1B TJ Rumfield, 12th Round (355th Overall) – Philadelphia Phillies
Here’s another guy who may potentially only spend one year at Virginia Tech.
This is what’s weird about it. TJ Rumfield just completed his third year of college baseball, which makes him draft-eligible, but he just completed his redshirt freshman year. That’s due to taking a redshirt back in 2019 when he was at Texas Tech and the 2020 season being canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
If the Phillies do land Rumfield, they’re quickly adding a big lefty bat into their system.
The Temple, Tex. native was the Hokies’ second-best hitter in 2021. He finished behind only potential 2022 first-rounder Gavin Cross.
Rumfield put up some eye-popping numbers, which is what likely got him drafted following only one full year of college baseball. This wasn’t just solely potential.
Rumfield hit an attention-seeking .315 while adding seven home runs and 37 RBIs – tied for a team best. He also had an OPS of .880, and kept a good eye by steering the team in walks with 26 over the course of the season.
Rumfield presumably hasn’t graduated yet, so there would be some wiggle room to bring him back.
With Szefc tweeting “Gonna miss this guy,” it seems like Rumfield could be the newest member of the Philadelphia organization. The Low-A Clearwater Threshers could be the first stop.
LHP Chris Gerard, 12th Round (361st Overall) – St. Louis Cardinals
Here is the most interesting one Hokie for fans to keep an eye on.
Gerard, who is largely viewed as the Hokies’ ace, has potentially third-round level stuff. But with his 2021 season derailed by injuries, the Cardinals were the ones to take a flier at pick No. 361 — all the way in the 12th round.
The New Jersey native has two years remaining of eligibility, and has yet to graduate. If St. Louis doesn’t meet his price tag, Gerard should seriously consider returning to Blacksburg for an additional year.
When the southpaw did pitch this past season, he put up a 3.02 ERA in just eight starts. He also held opponents to a .239 batting average while striking out 48 in the process.
If the Cardinals are able to lock up Gerard’s services, they may have found themselves a big leaguer in the 12th round. Gerard’s potential is through the roof if he can continue to develop that cutter.
It’s a waiting game now for Virginia Tech. The Redbirds can make it interesting, but Gerard may seriously consider returning to Blacksburg.
RHP Anthony Simonelli, 16th Round (469th Overall) – Kansas City Royals
“Simo Saturday” will be no more as arguably one of Virginia Tech’s most fiery pitchers in recent memory heads to the Kansas City Royals.
Simonelli is finished with school and just completed his fourth year of college baseball – with three stops included. It’s safe to say he’ll join Connolly in Kansas City’s organization.
The Winchester, Va. native had a very solid season for Virginia Tech, and was the energizer bunny every time English Field at Atlantic Union Bank Park filled up for an ACC showdown.
After battling through the season with an oblique issue, Simonelli finished the year with a 5-2 record and a 3.91 ERA. He also achieved 77 punch-outs and kept opposing teams at bay. Foes hit just .176 off of Simonelli this year — a team-best. That number right there is what had to jump out to scouts across the country.
Perhaps his best appearance of the year came in a 6-3 win over rival Virginia on May 1. Simonelli tossed seven innings of one-run ball. He struck out seven without walking a soul, and left the mound as fired up as ever in the top of the eighth inning.
It’ll be interesting to see what’s next in the right-hander’s professional journey. He’s another guy who can become a steal in the draft. That chip on his shoulder may be all he needs.
Simonelli could presumably join Connolly in Low-A Columbia.
Another draft pick worth noting comes in the form of left-handed pitcher Mason Albright.
Albright, who was selected just picks ahead of Rumfield and Gerard, went 351st overall in the 12th round to the Los Angeles Angels.
The Virginia Tech commit out of Thurmont, Mary. and IMG Academy in Florida, was seen as someone who could have forgone his pledge to the Hokies had he been a second- or third-round draft choice.
In falling to the 12th round, it’s fair to say that Albright will be making his way to Blacksburg, and will almost immediately slot in as one of Virginia Tech’s weekend starters.
The future for Albright is incredibly bright, as the hard-throwing lefty has a chance to be the next great player to don the orange and maroon.