Auburn-Riverside diamond duo awaits MLB Draft

Matt Hague is trying to remain even keel. The sweat is already beading up in the palms of Stephen Foster with equal parts excitement and nerves. Kyle Buchanan, on the other hand, won’t sweat a drop anticipating what might unfold Thursday and Friday during Major League Baseball’s first-year player draft. And while all three — Kentwood’s Hague, Auburn Riverside’s Foster and Auburn’s Buchanan — will be brought together during the next couple days through a shared boyhood dream, all very well could be going different directions come Saturday.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Friday, June 6, 2008 7:48pm
  • Sports
Matt Hague

Matt Hague

Matt Hague is trying to remain even keel.

The sweat is already beading up in the palms of Stephen Foster with equal parts excitement and nerves.

Kyle Buchanan, on the other hand, won’t sweat a drop anticipating what might unfold Thursday and Friday during Major League Baseball’s first-year player draft.

And while all three — Kentwood’s Hague, Auburn Riverside’s Foster and Auburn’s Buchanan — will be brought together during the next couple days through a shared boyhood dream, all very well could be going different directions come Saturday.

For the 22-year-old Hague, a 2004 Kentwood product who currently plays at Oklahoma State University, Thursday and Friday’s draft marks a make-or-break point in his illustrious college career. Chosen in the 11th round by the Cleveland Indians last year when he was a junior at the University of Washington, Hague is considered a prospect who should go in the top five rounds.

“I’m just waiting for the day,” said Hague, a third baseman/outfielder, who turned down Cleveland’s $123,000 deal last June before bolting to Oklahoma State. “There’s been talk about (me going in) the top five rounds. But I’m not getting my hopes up.”

Foster’s hopes, however, are sky high. The wiry 6-foot, 180-pound left-handed pitcher was a 37th round selection by the Baltimore Orioles in 2005, but instead opted for Bellevue Community College, where his draft stock has risen considerably since graduating from high school three years ago.

“I am really nervous,” admitted the 21-year-old Foster, who has been contacted by the Colorado Rockies and New York Yankees in recent weeks. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. This is really important to me. It’s what I’ve wanted to do forever.”

The same rings true for the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Buchanan, one of the finest — if not the finest — catcher Auburn High has ever produced. But Buchanan, the only high schooler of the bunch and who struggled offensively this spring, hitting under .200 during a season in which he was pitched around like Barry Bonds, has other plans in mind.

“I’m going to school,” said Buchanan, who has a full-ride scholarship to Washington State University waiting for him regardless of what happens during the next couple of days.

Then, leaving the draft door just ajar, Buchanan added: “It all depends on the money.”

Waiting for the call

Hague has been through this before.

Expected to go in the top five rounds last year, the sweet-swinging third baseman had to wait until Cleveland plucked him in the 11th round.

For most baseball dreamers, the selection would’ve brought tears of joy. In Hague’s case, it was more like a deflating balloon.

And for good reason.

The day before the draft, Hague had been contacted by more than a dozen teams asking him if he was ready to be selected among the first five rounds.

“It was frustrating,” said Hague, whose .379 career mark at UW ranks second in the program’s history. “I got my hopes up and it didn’t happen.”

The slight snub simply fanned Hague’s competitive fire. Instead of moping, he went into last offseason with a plan — and a bit of a chip on his shoulder.

That plan, aimed at improving his draft stock, consisted of playing in the famed wood-bat Cape Cod League in Massachusetts before moving on to a college baseball powerhouse. Initially bound for Clemson University, Hague changed directions when coaches wanted him to attend summer school and, thus, miss out on playing for the Falmouth Commodores. Clemson’s loss became Oklahoma State’s gain.

Hague entered play last weekend hitting .356 with 10 home runs and 56 RBIs, which garnered second-team All-Big 12 accolades and have the Cowboys on the brink of their 20th College World Series appearance.

With the Cowboys in the midst of postseason play, Hague hasn’t given the draft too much thought.

“Right now, I am just trying to stay even keel. My main goal right now is to win regionals and go to the College World Series,” said Hague, who made the West All-Star team while playing for Falmouth last summer, hitting .299 with two home runs and 19 RBIs.

But don’t think for a moment Hague won’t be in tune with what’s happening during the draft.

“Hopefully, I will be playing baseball in Florida waiting for the Super Regionals,” he said. “I am sure I will still be waiting by the phone for the call.”

A call he hopes brings a little more joy this time around.

Ready to go

While Hague hasn’t had to wait long for his second shot at the draft, Foster has been eyeing this week for three years.

Unlike Hague, however, Foster’s ascension from a solid high school prospect to a sought after commodity was anything but smooth. After turning down Baltimore in 2005, Foster enrolled at Bellevue Community College, where he promptly was inserted into the bullpen.

“It took a little time for me to adjust,” admitted Foster, who comes at hitters with a curveball, changeup and a mid-to-high 80s fastball that occasionally touches 90.

A year after moving to the bullpen, Foster’s path hit another roadblock, when a strained elbow ligament cost him the entire 2007 season. Foster avoided surgery and returned to the Bulldogs’ roster this spring, where he was inserted into the starting rotation.

“The doctor told me I just threw too much and that I had a lack of flexibility,” said Foster.

At full strength this spring, Foster’s career path took off. Though he posted a modest a 4-3 record, his other numbers (24 hits allowed and 62 strikeouts in 58 innings pitched) indicate the ceiling remains high. The numbers were good enough for Foster to earn NWAACC All-Northern Region second-team honors and put him back on the draft map, where he has been told he could be selected anywhere between the 15th and the 25th rounds.

That being the case, Foster is ready for his day to come.

“I have one plan,” said Foster, who noted that he has a 75-percent athletic scholarship to Lewis & Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho waiting just in case the draft doesn’t work out. “But I probably will sign now (regardless).

“(In 2005), now that I look back on it, I wasn’t ready. I am now.”

Auburn’s Great Wall

Buchanan, meanwhile, entered his senior season at Auburn considered a top-flight catching talent and ranked 17th among high school seniors by baseballnorthwest.com.

And while Buchanan delivered behind the dish, he struggled offensively most of the year, hitting under .200 with two home runs and 15 RBIs.

“I was pressing,” admitted Buchanan, who more than likely will bypass any draft selection for Washington State University, where he has a full-ride scholarship. “You get off to a slow start, you just keep pressing and pressing. Oh well, it’s over now.”

Actually, quite the contrary.

Before stepping onto the diamond at WSU, Buchanan will spend this summer playing in Oregon for the Bend Elks, who are part of the new West Coast Collegiate Baseball League. The second-year league is similar to that of the Cape Cod League in that players use wood bats, but it is designed for elite incoming college freshmen and sophomores.

And when it comes to elite, there were were few better prep field generals than Buchanan. He didn’t just slow down opponents’ running games, he stopped them dead in their tracks.

“He’s one of the best we’ve seen around here,” Auburn Riverside coach Chris Garrison said. “Probably the best. You’re not going to straight steal on him ever.”

It’s as much a credit to Buchanan’s rifle right arm as it is his ability to block virtually any ball in the dirt.

“He’s like throwing to a wall that throws back,” Auburn pitcher Colton Brown said. “He’s pretty much been a stud since the day he was born.”

And it seems that since that day, Buchanan, like Hague and Foster, always have had one goal in mind: to play in the major leagues.

But Buchanan, for one, can wait just a while longer. Because while his name may be called, he has other plans in mind for this week.

“I am going to be at Camp Auburn hanging out with a bunch of little kids,” said Buchanan, who is a counselor at the camp. “I am going to take a bunch of fifth graders and just hang out for the week.”

As for the draft …

“I’ll watch it just to see where my buddies go,” he said. “I’ll be pretty pumped just to see my name up there with everyone else.”

MLB PLAYER DRAFT

• WHAT: MLB First-Year Player Draft

• WHEN: Thursday and Friday. The draft runs from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. Thursday. On Friday, it begins at 8:30 a.m. and goes until finished.

• WHERE: Lake Buena Vista, Fla. at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex.

• DURATION: 50 rounds

• TIME LIMIT: Five minutes between first-round picks; one minute between compensation picks.

• TV/WEB: ESPN2 will broadcast Thursday from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. All other selections can be watched on the Internet at www.mlb.com


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