VMI baseball’s Winder, Pita, Eaton taken in 2018 MLB Draft: Analysis

vmi baseballIt’s been a big week for VMI baseball, which had three players taken in the MLB Draft, only the third time in program history that the Keydets had that many players taken, and the first time that three VMI players went in the first 25 rounds.

None were surprises, beginning with ace righthanded pitcher Josh Winder, who went in the seventh round to the Minnesota Twins.

His counting numbers won’t blow you away – Winder, a junior, was 5-6 with a 5.40 ERA in 2018, the victim of having to pitch half his games in hitter-friendly Gray-Minor Stadium. He did strike out 91 hitters in 85 innings, walking just 19, great control numbers for a power pitcher, which is what intrigues scouts.

Winder, at 6’5”, 210 pounds, regularly hits 95 mph on the gun, with a two-seamer at 90-93 with nasty arm-side run, nice movement on his slider at 84-86, and a changeup at 80-84 that he often used as his two-strike, ahead-in-the-count out pitch.

Another thing appealing about Winder is his durability. He threw 100+ pitches in 10 of his 14 starts in 2018, and was still hitting 93-95 on his fastball in the eighth inning of wins over Western Carolina and Furman in back-to-back starts in April.

I was glad to see junior rightfielder Matt Pita go in the 12th round to the New York Yankees. Pita has all the tools – power (14 homers, 41 extra-base hits, .721 slugging percentage in 2018), plate discipline (.389 batting average, 30 strikeouts, 23 walks in 256 plate appearances), speed (23 steals in 30 attempts), and he’s a plus outfielder with a big-time arm.

The one knock on Pita: size (5’10”, 175 pounds). I thought that would hold him back in the eyes of the talent evaluators, but a 12th-round pick isn’t something you waste on somebody you don’t think has a chance.

The third Keydet to hear his name called is Nathan Eaton, a draft-eligible sophomore who was VMI’s leadoff hitter, starting third baseman and also one of the team’s two closers.

Eaton, who went in the 21st round to Kansas City, is intriguing for a few reasons. First, he’s a double-threat, as a spark plug at the top of a lineup (.287/.402/.507 slash line, 8 HR, 24 RBI, 36 steals, 34 BB in 251 PA), and then that thing about what he does as a pitcher.

As with Winder, the counting numbers won’t wow you – he had a 4.41 ERA in 24.1 innings, striking out 28 and walking 22.

What will wow you is what he can hit on the gun – as high as 97, routinely in the 93-95 range.

Control is an issue, as you’d assume with the 22 walks in 24.1 innings, but you can’t teach a kid to throw 97.

The second intriguing thing about Eaton is that he’s a redshirt sophomore, meaning he can return for his junior year and basically restart the draft process.

Doing so, of course, is a roll of the dice, as teammate Peyton Maddux, a catcher who was drafted in the 33rd round in the 2017 MLB Draft by San Francisco can attest.

Maddux had a solid senior season at VMI, with a .304/.429/.475 slash line, seven homers, 38 runs batted in, with a good reputation for his ability to handle a pitching staff.

Maddux didn’t hear his name called this week, which surprises me, and then doesn’t surprise me. For a late-round pick, the hope is that you can improve your draft stock with a good senior season, but in the process, you’re also getting a year older by the next draft cycle.

The clock is ticking on baseball prospects the second they enroll in college, and MLB teams are known to be antsy about spending time and money on development of players into their mid- to late-20s.

I’d expect to see Maddux sign somewhere as an undrafted free agent, but that puts him behind the eight-ball in terms of whatever chances he’ll have to work his way up an organizational chart.

Seeing what happened to Maddux in terms of the draft might be something that factors into the decisions of Winder, Pita and Eaton now that they have something concrete in front of them in terms of their baseball futures.

Column by Chris Graham. Chris has served as color commentator on VMI baseball broadcasts on ESPN3 and the SoCon Digital Network since 2016.

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