Gretel Daugherty/The Daily Sentinel
Monday, June 7, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
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- Baseball phenom Bryce Harper dodges media, focuses on his game (1-29-2010)
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- Las Vegas 'prodigy' makes Sports Illustrated cover (6-2-2009)
- Talent sky-high, feet on ground (5-7-2009)
- It's a swing of beauty (2-7-2009)
Bryce Harper’s journey from Las Vegas High underclassman to first overall draft pick of the Washington Nationals will likely become a reality on Monday.
But he won’t be the only College of Southern Nevada player to hear his name called during the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Harper, the 17-year-old power-hitting catcher who burst onto the national spotlight last June after appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated, has been evaluated the past year by numerous scouts from virtually every big league team.
Along the way, those scouts have noticed more than “Baseball's Chosen One” — what Harper was anointed as on the magazine cover.
“There were several times when a scout came out of (watching Bryce) and also liking someone else,” CSN coach Tim Chambers said.
Chambers expects as many as 10 of his players to be drafted, a number he believes could be the highest of any college program.
Right-handed pitcher Donn Roach will likely be the first Coyote to come off the draft board after Harper. He’s expected to be selected in the top three rounds. The draft is split over three days, with the first and compensation rounds Monday.
“Everyone was out there watching us, from area scouts to general managers,” said Roach, who went 11-3 with a school record 131 strikeouts in 103 innings. “Most of that was because of Bryce. That definitely helped all of us.”
Roach, a Bishop Gorman High graduate, thrived after transferring to CSN following a rough 2009 season at Arizona (he went 1-4 with a 7.84 earned run average). But he corrected a mechanical problem during fall workouts at CSN and quickly became the Coyotes’ ace.
“I worked my butt off, that was the main difference,” Roach said. “I changed my arm slot and that helped bring my velocity back. In our first intra-squad game, I pitched two innings with five strikeouts and a groundout. That’s when I knew I was back."
Pitcher Joe Robinson, who went 9-1 with a 2.62 ERA this spring, will also likely be a top-10 round pick. Also, outfielder Marvin Campbell, utility player Gabe Weidenaar and pitcher Bryan Harper, Bryce’s brother, should each be picked in a respectable position.
The draft success will put an exclamation point on one of the greatest seasons in the Coyotes’ 11-year history. They went 3-2 in the Junior College World Series last week and were ranked in the top 10 nationally most of the season in finishing 52-16 overall.
“These kids were a joy to be around,” Chambers said. “I was telling someone yesterday that even if we would’ve won, I wouldn’t be as happy as I am now with the way they handled themselves.”
What was even more impressive for the coach was how the team rallied around Harper. They thrived in the spotlight he created, easily adjusting to the circus-like atmosphere associated with having a true superstar on the roster.
It would have been easy for the ballplayers to buckle under the pressure of playing in front of thousands of fans, or being intimidated by the unheard of media attention for a junior college team.
But they took everything in stride — even when things didn’t go as planned.
Harper was ejected Wednesday in a World Series game for arguing a called third strike on a pitch television replays show was clearly outside. The ejection came with a two-game suspension, and the Coyotes were eliminated the following day without Harper.
“It still blows my mind,” Chambers said Sunday, four days later. “That pitch was eight to 10 inches off the plate.”
Most of the players painted their faces with eye-black for the game Harper was suspended for — Harper’s trademark look is eye-black painted 2 inches below each eye. The tribute was an indication of what kind of a teammate Harper is.
“He handled the pressure tremendously all year,” Chambers said. “He was a great teammate and a treat to coach.”
Harper left high school after his sophomore year, earned his GED and joined the Coyotes in a move partially orchestrated to be eligible for the draft one year earlier. He batted .442 with 29 home runs and 89 RBIs playing most of the season with wood bats.
One game, he hit four home runs and had 10 RBIs. And, there was that 500-foot home run in the playoffs with an aluminum bat.
CSN players aren’t the only ones expected to be drafted early.
Bonanza High slugger Kris Bryant, the Nevada Gatorade Player of the Year who batted .469 with 22 home runs and 51 RBIs this spring, could be picked anywhere in the top five rounds. Some believe he will be chosen Monday during the compensation round.
Bryant, a high school shortstop who is being drafted as a corner infielder, also has a full-ride scholarship to San Diego.
“I told him he’s in a win-win situation,” Bonanza coach Derek Stafford said. “He’s going to be playing baseball next year either in the greatest city in America, or being paid to play.”
Also, UNLV’s Drew Beuerlein will more than likely be chosen on the final day of the 50-round draft.