The biggest day of some athletes’ lives arrives early next month. Among the thousands of players at the high school and college levels on Long Island, a select few will be taken in June’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. By being taken, high schoolers will have to consider whether to sign or continue their playing career in college. The college juniors must determine whether to forgo their final season, and for the seniors, it’s about extending their careers or entering the real world. The decision is rarely easy, but it’s one that the following dozen Long Islanders could very well face if their name is called during the three-day draft period.
Dan Burawa, Rocky Point
Height: 6-3; Weight: 215; Position: P
College: St. John’s
On sheer talent, Burawa’s a draft pick. His fastball clocks in the mid-90s and has been dynamite as the Red Storm’s closer this year. He’s a rare draft-eligible sophomore after having spent a year at Suffolk County CC, posting an ERA of 3.13 for the Clippers. Burawa is still more of a thrower than a pitcher, but major league clubs might not be able to ignore his plus velocity.
Keith Couch, Elmont
Height: 6-2; Weight: 210; Position: P
Some wait until their junior years to break out; Couch has been fantastic since arriving at Adelphi three years ago. His ERA dropped from 2.89 as a freshman to 1.31 as a sophomore, and this year, it’s as microscopic. Couch mixes his pitches well and doesn’t get himself in trouble with walks. He might not be a third-rounder like the Panthers’ Bobby Lanigan two years ago, but he’ll be a good get for anybody.
Justin Echevarria, Uniondale
Height: 6-0; Weight: 195; Position: C
College: Stony Brook
Echevarria’s defensive prowess behind the plate is undeniable and he’s been a rock for the Stony Brook baseball team since his arrival. The senior threw out 44 percent of runners as a junior and is on that pace again this spring. His bat won’t wow, but his ability to make potential base stealers think twice makes him an intriguing option.
Bruce Kern, Yaphank
Height: 6-1; Weight: 175; Position: P
College: St. John’s
Kern first registered on scouts’ radars as a teammate of Burawa’s at Suffolk County CC, where he boasted a sub-2.00 ERA and earned 2008 first team All-America accolades. With a low-90s fastball and three other pitches to turn to, Kern tied for the team lead in wins (5) as a junior at St. John’s and his ERA plummeted as the Johnnies’ ace this spring.
Gardner Leaver, Montauk
Height: 6-1; Weight: 190; Position: P
College: Rhode Island
After two years pitching in the middle innings for Rhode Island, Leaver has been thrust into the closer role and flourished. His fastball sits in the high-80s and touches 90-91, but it’s his slider and mound presence that set the East Hampton grad apart from being just any old right-hander.
Matt Loosen, New Hyde Park
Height: 6-2; Weight: 205; Position: P
The way that Loosen is going as a junior at Jacksonville, he could be the first Long Islander off the board. He went from Long Island Player of the Year in 2007 to Jacksonville University and proceeded to lead the Dolphins in ERA each of the past two seasons. The Chaminade grad mixes a low-90s fastball in with dazzling breaking material.
Jon McGibbon, Lindenhurst
Height: 6-1; Weight: 190; Position: 1B
High School: Lindenhurst
McGibbon’s bat has been amid the Bulldog lineup since he was a freshman and his clout from the left side drew the attention of Clemson, with which he signed on for the 2010-11 season. He’s averaged 27 hits over his first three seasons and is on pace for 100 for his career. McGibbon’s also no slouch with the glove.
Steve McQuail, Wantagh
Height: 6-0; Weight: 210; Position: IF
McQuail’s monster summer season in the Valley Baseball League—he led the country in home runs—caused his draft stock to skyrocket leading into his junior year at Canisius. The Golden Griffins infielder, who has demonstrated excellent power upon his return to school, could very well be the first position player selected among Long Island natives.
Sean Nolin, Seaford
Height: 6-4; Weight: 240; Position: P
College: San Jacinto CC
A dominant sophomore year at San Jacinto CC (Texas) makes the 6-4, 240-pound left-hander an intriguing option for major league clubs. Nolin can dial it up into the 90s and has a solid change-up and curve on which to count. He’s slated to attend NC State beginning in the fall but given that he’s a southpaw with size, he could make the leap after this season.
T.J. Pecoraro, Dix Hills
Height: 6-0; Weight: 155; Position: P
High School: Half Hollow Hills West
He’s spurted up in height and tacked on some muscle, and that’s only made Pecoraro all the more attractive to talent evaluators, never mind that he’ll graduate next month well before his 18th birthday. The righty’s fastball clocks in the low 90s and he has excellent off-speed material. According to Perfect Game USA, he’ll be off the board in the first 10 rounds and then must determine whether to sign with a major league club for a potentially hefty signing bonus, or to play for Vanderbilt.
Mark Podlas, Remsenburg
Height: 6-2; Weight: 190; Position: OF
High School: Westhampton Beach
Scouts have flocked to the East End to see this sweet-swinging center fielder who is committed to play for national power Virginia next year. One college coach called Podlas the best left-handed hitter in the country from this year’s high school class. On top of that, he has plus speed, takes good routes defensively and has an above-average arm. Like Pecoraro, the question will be whether Podlas, who hit .484 as a junior, will pass up college altogether.
Chris Walker, Bethpage
Height: 5-9; Weight: 220; Position: C
The junior took the full-time catching gig and has delivered the goods, particularly with the bat. Through March, he led the Rams with batting average, hits and runs batted in. Walker’s ability to throw out would-be base stealers will also be a draw for major league clubs. If he doesn’t get taken this year, he could get drafted after a stellar senior season.
Looking ahead to 2011?
Nick Tropeano, the right-hander from West Islip who’s been the anchor for the Stony Brook University rotation. Tropeano came off a sensational summer with the Riverhead Tomcats (HCB/ACBL) in which he won league Pitcher of the Year honors. With added confidence following the breakout summer, Tropeano has attacked hitters in his sophomore campaign at SBU and the results have shown.