Four Gophers taken in MLB Draft

Senior Dalton Sawyer was the highest draft pick for Minnesota.

Left to right: Jordan Jess, Austin Athmann and Matt Fiedler. Not pictured: Dalton Sawyer.

Daily File Photos

Left to right: Jordan Jess, Austin Athmann and Matt Fiedler. Not pictured: Dalton Sawyer.

by Jack White

Four Gophers and one incoming freshman realized lifelong dreams when their names were called in the MLB Draft over the weekend. 

Seniors Matt Fiedler and Austin Athmann, graduated players Jordan Jess and Dalton Sawyer and incoming freshman Eli Wilson were all selected over the course of three days. 

Sawyer was selected 262nd overall by the Oakland Athletics, the highest draft pick for the Gophers this year.

“It was super cool,” Sawyer said. “This was always the dream that you have as a kid — being able to play professional baseball — and I am just really humble and grateful for this opportunity.”

Sawyer was one of the two main starting pitchers for Minnesota last season. The senior finished his final year with a record of 7-7 and a 3.33 earned run average. Sawyer said Oakland Athletics scouted him in high school. 

“In terms of this draft, they weren’t completely out of left field, but I was a little surprised because I hadn’t heard a ton from them throughout,” he said.

Fiedler heard his name called shortly after Sawyer. He was chosen by the St. Louis Cardinals with the last pick of the ninth round. 

Fiedler — a successful two-way player who batted .366 and posted 39 RBI this season — was named the Big Ten Player of the Year this year. He was 7-4 as a starting pitcher and had an ERA of 4.32. 

Fiedler said he will forgo his senior season at Minnesota to play with a Cardinals minor league affiliate next year. 

“It’s a huge honor,” he said. “It’s something I worked for my whole life and it’s something you dream about, but you’re never really sure it’s going to happen.”

The Detroit Tigers selected Athmann with the ninth pick of the 14th round of the draft. Athmann led the team in batting average as the starting catcher. 

The Cold Spring, Minnesota native said he grew up a Twins fan, but will now play for a division rival of his former favorite team. 

“When the Tigers came to town, yep, I’d go for the Twins,” Athmann said. “I used to be a die-hard Twins fan, but it looks like I have to change that now.”

Jess was the third Minnesota pitcher taken in the MLB Draft. He was the closer for Minnesota this season and earned 10 saves for the team. 

Jess bounced back from an injury in 2013, and a disappointing 2014 where he had a 0-6 record, to win the Gophers George Thomas Most Improved Player award before his final year with the team.

The final Minnesota player selected was one that has yet to play in college. The Seattle Mariners picked incoming freshman Eli Wilson in the 37th round of the draft. Both of Wilson’s parents attended the University of Minnesota, and he will play with the Gophers first instead of heading straight for the major leagues.

Although the chosen now know that there is a career for them beyond college, they credit what they’ve learned in Minnesota for getting them to this point.

“I learned a lot of things in the last three years that you really don’t understand until you go through it,” Athmann said. “It’s maturing both physically and mentally, and everyone in the University athletics program has really helped me out with that, and that’s something that’s invaluable that I will take with me for this next however many years of baseball I have left, and the rest of my life.”