‘Dream come true’
Mesa's Popick selected by Rockies in MLB draft
Jeff Popick knew it was a realistic possibility, but it still was surreal.
The Colorado Mesa University outfielder and Denver-area native was drafted Wednesday by the Colorado Rockies in the 16th round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft.
“It’s a dream come true,” Popick said. “I think I just stopped shaking (several hours later).”
Popick is the first Mesa player selected in the draft since All-American Sean VanElderen was taken in the 27th round in 2006 by the San Francisco Giants. VanElderen played two years, one in Rookie ball and one in Class A.
Former Mesa All-American pitcher Sergio Romo was selected by the Giants in the 28th round of the 2005 draft and is the Giants’ setup man out of the bullpen.
“It was always a dream to play pro baseball, but it wasn’t the deciding factor when I chose to go to Mesa,” Popick said. “Over time, when I played summer ball and was traveling, I got a couple phone calls and started thinking it could possibly happen.”
The phone calls from professional scouts came after his sophomore year of college when he played in an Alaska summer collegiate league.
“There were three or four clubs interested, and that drove his stock up,” Mesa coach Chris Hanks said. “(Rockies scout) Marc Gustafson told me a few weeks ago they might have to go about the 15th round to make sure they got him. That was nice (to hear).
“We had him for four years, and we got to see Jeff grow up in a lot of ways, athletically, mentally, emotionally, scholastically. He matured in a lot of different areas, and we saw that over four years. He figured out how to work and get himself a little better.”
Popick will sign, but he won’t know where he’ll start his professional career until later this week. It is possible he could start with the Grand Junction Rockies.
“I’d love to start back in Junction,” Popick said. “It’s not for me to decide, but I’d be comfortable with the city and the field. We’ll wait and see what happens.”
He has a lease on a house in Grand Junction through the end of July.
“I’d be really surprised if they don’t send him to Grand Junction,” Hanks said. “I believe that’s their plan, but we’ll see.”
Popick made three NCAA Division II All-America teams this spring and was a semifinalist for the Tino Martinez Award given to the Division II national player of the year. The Mesa outfielder hit .424 with 17 doubles, three triples and seven home runs. He led the Mavericks with 65 RBI and 31 walks.
Popick’s teammate and roommate, Kris Carlson, was taken in the 35th round by the Tampa Bay Rays.
“It’s surreal at this point,” Carlson said. “It’s surprising to me. Hopefully I can represent the college well.”
He said he received some interest from the Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay.
“I didn’t hear anything the last couple days,” Carlson said. “Tampa called (Wednesday) morning and said we’re getting to the college seniors, so be ready.
“After that I was thinking this could actually happen. It could become a reality.”
The right-hander pitched in relief for the Mavericks this season, allowing 16 earned runs in 15 innings. He had 12 strikeouts.
“The thing about Kris, we pitched him twice in Denver, an inning apiece, and the scouts were there,” Hanks said. “He sat 93, 94 on his fastball that one inning and threw strikes. The times they see that (velocity), that’s a tool. The big thing with Kris is he needed to throw a few more strikes to pitch for us more. It was a command issue.
“They’re banking on (his velocity). He’s going to have to develop consistent command, and if he does, he has a chance to do something.”
Carlson was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 35th round in 2010 out of junior college.
“When you’re playing baseball in Little League, all you think about is playing pro baseball on TV someday,” he said. “This isn’t that, but it’s on that path.”
Several players from this year’s Alpine Bank Junior College World Series were drafted on the final day, including three from national champion Iowa Western Community College.
The Reivers’ third baseman, Damek Tomscha, was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 19th round and could end up being a teammate with Neosho County (Kan.) Community College’s David Bote, who was taken in the 18th round by the Cubs. Boston drafted Iowa Western freshman Iseha Conklin in the 19th round, and Keaton Steele, who received the Preston Walker Most Valuable Player award, was picked up by Tampa Bay in the 29th round.
Steele played first base and was the Reivers’ closer; he was drafted as a pitcher by the Rays. Wednesday, Steele committed to the University of Missouri, according to the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press. Steele has not decided if he will sign with the Rays or play for the Tigers.