Following last week’s Major League Baseball draft, and breaking news Wednesday, the West Virginia University baseball team’s roster will certainly look different in 2017.
Two Mountaineers heard their name called in the draft – junior Chad Donato and senior Blake Smith.
Smith, WVU’s closer this past season, was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the 29th round, the same round he was drafted in a year ago.
He is expected to report to Orem, Utah, the site of the Angels short season affiliate where, pending a physical, will likely play for the duration of the summer.
Smith finished the year with a solid 2.20 ERA and a 5-2 record through 25 appearances, which included eight saves. His 42 strikeouts was best on the team amongst pitchers that didn’t make a start.
Donato, who was taken early on in Day 2 of the draft, was the Houston Astros 11th round selection, which is a dream come true for the pitcher. Donato, a Cypress, Texas native, grew up routing for the Astros.
Being a junior, Donato does have a choice to make as to whether he wants to forego his senior year at WVU and sign a deal with Houston, or whether to return for a final year in the Old Gold and Blue.
Donato paced the Mountaineer starters with a 3.27 earned run average through 15 starts. Though his 3-4 record certainly wasn’t what he’d hoped it would be season’s end, he was the most consistent starter for Randy Mazey’s squad.
Donato also struck out a Big 12-best 111 batters.
If Donato does decide to ink a deal with the Astros, he, along with Smith and the three other WVU seniors will leave five roster spots open.
Fellow pitcher, senior Ross Vance who did not hear his name called during the three days of the draft, has found his way to the next level.
Behind an outstanding performance in the Big 12 Tournament, Vance signed a free agent deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. He finished his senior year with a 7-3 record and struck out 91 batters.
Vance had been pitching in the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League when he signed with the Red Birds. He is slated to start his pro career in the Gulf Coast League in Jupiter, Florida.
However, Mazey and company learned on Wednesday that another spot on the team has been made available.
Junior catcher Ray Guerrini has singed with the Seattle Mariners, first reported on Twitter by one of Guerrini’s family members, and is going to forego his senior year.
Whereas with Smith and Donato there are ready replacements, Guerrini will be harder to replace.
Guerrini had an impressive junior year both at the plate and behind it.
Hitting wise, he finished the season with a .289 average with 48 hits, including 10 doubles, two triples and six home runs. Defensively, Guerrini threw out 17 would-be base stealers, catching 41 percent of runners that tried to run on him.
Ivan Vera was the only other player that started a game behind the plate for West Virginia, but didn’t start a game at catcher after April 23. Vera, who’s impressive numbers at the plate made it necessary to put him in the lineup, found his calling at third base.
Vera was the only other catcher listed on the 2016 roster.
There is good news, though, surrounding one of the possible departing Mountaineers.
The likely landing spot for Donato, if he choses to forego his senior year, is the Tri-City Valley Cats, a member of the New York-Penn League. The Cats are scheduled to play at Monongalia County Ballpark against the West Virginia Black Bears July 8-10.