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Lake Stevens' Kelliher Drafted by the Oakland Athletics

Viking star set to choose between pro contract or University of Oregon Scholarship

 

In the history of the program, only one Lake Stevens Vikings baseball player has been selected higher than Branden Kelliher in the MLB Draft. (Mike Walkden, 1992).

With the 252nd pick (8th Round) in the Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft, the Oakland Athletics selected Lake Stevens High School pitcher Branden Kelliher Saturday.

A University of Oregon recruit, Kelliher finished the 2014 WESCO season with a 6-2 record and a 1.32 ERA, leading the Vikings to a league title. In addition, Kelliher earned Third Team All American and First Team All Region honors and was a unanimous selection to All Area and All League teams.

A right handed pitcher with a blazing fastball, a mature change-up and a drop-off-the-table overhand curveball, Kelliher -- listed at 5'11 and 175 pounds -- has drawn comparisons to former University of Washington star Tim Lincecum and current Oakland Athletics starter Sonny Gray, both of whom are less than six feet tall.

Kelliher becomes just the tenth Lake Stevens Viking baseball player to be drafted straight out of High School. Only Mike Walkden, a fifth round pick in 1992, was drafted higher. Mitch Canham, a Lake Stevens graduate, was drafted in the First Round of the 2007 draft after four years at Oregon State. Similarly, Viking lefthander Ryan Verdugo was drafted in the ninth round of the 2009 draft after pitching for Louisiana State University.

A Growing Reputation

As his junior year rolled into his senior summer, the Kelliher's starts began to attract more and more attention. Last summer, Kelliher hit 92 on the radar gun and climbed to number three on the list of Baseball America's top Washington State prospects. It was clear that the talent was there. But questions remained, at least in the pro baseball scouting community.

Lake Stevens Viking baseball coach Rodger Anderson summed up the buzz on Kelliher last summer, telling the Everett Herald that the one supposed knock on Kelliher's draft status was that pro scouts thought he was too small.

Around the same time, one popular scouting service posted notes on Kelliher stating that if he grew to 6'2 by the end of his senior year, he could probably approach 95 miles per hour on the gun.

The Oakland A's -  Challenging Baseball Conventions

Traditional baseball wisdom calls for starting pitchers in the thoroughbred horse mold. Tall, big, wide in the chest and durable. Baseball scouts are known for the propensity to measure prospects as if they were horses.  Fifteen years ago, the A's began to challenge this collective wisdom. Oakland General Manager Billy Beane became known for identifying and acquiring talented players who exist outside the cliched norms of baseball's groupthink. And the A's won two World Series titles doing it -  (see "Moneyball" Lewis, Michael).

Kelliher's Draft Stature

With the pitching success of Lincecum - who holds two World Series Championships and two Cy Young awards - and Gray, who is 11-4 in his young major league career, baseball's scouts have been slightly more willing to consider starting pitchers from outside the mold.

Still, of the 200 pitchers taken in the first 12 rounds of the draft of last week's draft, 157 were over 6'2. The Oakland A's, however, still do things a bit differently

For instance:  the Oakland A's selected nine starting pitchers in the first 12 rounds of the 2014 draft. Eight of the pitchers, including Kelliher, are listed at under six foot. That means the A's drafted more sub-six foot pitchers selected than the rest of the other 29 teams combined.

The Journal reached out to the Oakland Athletics to ask what they saw in Kelliher. Because Kelliher remains unsigned as of

Monday morning, the A's were unable to speak specifically.

However, Athletics Assistant Director of Scouting Michael Holmes spoke in general about drafting supposed "undersized" pitchers.

"What we've found is, [if] we've got a pitcher that we like their stuff, we like their delivery, we like their ability to throw strikes, then we don't put a height requirement on these guys."

Breaking the Mold

Cut to April 16 of 2014. The Vikings are in first place. Branden Kelliher has just wrapped up a performance in which he hit a towering grand slam --- and, perhaps more importantly --- touched 96 miles per hour on the radar gun. For comparison's sake, Mariner great Felix Hernandez, considered one of the best right hand power pitchers in the game, averages 94 mph on his fastball. Kelliher is still a shade under six feet, but at some point, with these kind of performances, it just doesn't seem to matter.

By the end of the season, Kelliher is unanimously ranked as the top High School draft prospect in the state. Baseball America and Perfect Game both listed Kelliher as a potential second round draftee - but both services noted that he would likely be drafted far lower, due to the fact that most teams thought that Kelliher would honor his college commitment to the University of Oregon.

On Friday, Kelliher gathered with friends and family at his Lake Stevens home and watched the draft unfold. With the 252nd pick, the Athletics called Kelliher's name, and the house exploded in joy.

Branden Kelliher (middle, standing) reacts as he is drafted by the Oakland Athletics with the 252nd selection in Friday's Major League Baseball Draft.

As of press time, no announcement had been made with regard to Kelliher's signing status. Major League Baseball employes a slot system for allocating signing bonuses to newly drafted players. The slot-bonus for the 252nd pick is just over $153,000 this year. However, each team is given a pool of money to allocate in signing certain players at "over-slot" values. This is done, primarily, to convince college-bound players to go pro immediately.

Last year, the Athletics selected Wenatchee high schooler Dustin Driver in the seventh round, just a few picks before where Kelliher was taken this year. Driver had a commitment to UCLA, and the general consensus was that he fell in the draft due to signability concerns. It was clear, the scouts said, that Driver was headed to college.

Driver signed with the A's a few weeks after the draft. The Oakland Athletics gave Driver a $500,000 signing bonus - more than three times the slot value - and convinced him to sign.

Kelliher has until July 18 to decide between the A's and the University of Oregon.

 

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