If it were up to him, Luke Appert might have spent one more summer discussing the details of his upcoming fall schedule at the University. Instead, he is ironing out the details of his first professional baseball contract.
Just days after watching his career at Minnesota come to an end with consecutive losses to Washington in the NCAA regional, the former Gophers second baseman was selected 182nd overall by the Oakland Athletics in round six of last week’s Major League Baseball first-year player draft.
“I wasn’t ready for my college career to be over,” Appert said. “But it was nice to get picked so I can keep playing.”
Appert, who became just the second player in conference history to earn consecutive Big Ten player of the year honors – joining Michigan’s Barry Larkin who did so in 1984-85 – is the highest Minnesota player drafted since Jack Hannahan was picked in the third round of the 2001 draft.
Altogether, 1,480 players were picked in the 50-round draft.
“We were very excited to have the opportunity to draft Luke,” said Oakland’s Midwest scout Jim Pransky, who phoned Appert with the news Tuesday. “He’s a guy that we wanted for a long time.”
A year ago, Appert had the opportunity to leave school early to pursue a pro career after a .361 batting average and 14 home runs as a junior made him a virtual lock to be picked in the 2002 draft. But the Cottage Grove native decided to return for his senior year at Minnesota and led the Gophers to their second straight Big Ten regular season championship.
“I really wanted to come back to Minnesota last season,” Appert said. “I made that known to everybody.”
Including the pro scouts, who subsequently passed on Appert in last year’s draft.
This year, with his four years of eligibility used up, scouts had no such reservations about drafting the two-time Big Ten player of the year.
“Especially offensively with his strong approach to hitting, we think he’s got major league potential,” Pransky said.
But even with a promising professional career close at hand, Appert made clear to coaches and teammates how much he enjoyed his time with the Gophers when speaking at the team banquet last Monday.
“I wished I would have redshirted so I’d have another year to play,” Appert said after being voted the team’s most valuable player.
Said Minnesota baseball coach John Anderson: “Luke could have left last year. He just loved the whole college experience.”
Appert will now head to Vancouver where he will play for Oakland’s single-A team in the Northwest league.
He finished the 2003 season first on the team in batting average (.373), runs (53) and doubles (27). His 84 hits were the second-most of any player in the Big Ten. A four-year starter, Appert leaves the Gophers with 287 career hits – second on the school’s all-time list.
Welch, Woodrow drafted
Minnesota pitcher C.J. Woodrow and shortstop Scott Welch joined Appert as the three Minnesota players drafted by major league teams last week.
Woodrow, last year’s Big Ten pitcher of the year, was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 25th round. Welch was picked by the Texas Rangers in round 33.
Woodrow was on his way out to Lake Minnetonka with Appert and other Minnesota teammates when he got the call he had been picked.
“I was so excited I almost had to pull over,” Woodrow said.
Welch was equally surprised when he found out he would get the chance to play baseball professionally.
“I wasn’t expecting to get picked at all,” Welch said. “It’s a dream come true.”
Woodrow, who has the most career
strikeouts of any pitcher in school history (267), signed a six-year contract with the Phillies and will head to Clearwater, Fla., for training before joining the A-league Batavia (N.Y.) Muckdogs of the New York-Penn League.
Welch will most likely head to Washington and join the A-league Spokane Indians.
Pattee signs with Twins
Minnesota outfielder Ben Pattee did not hear his name called in any of the 50 rounds of the draft last week, but reached a deal with the Minnesota Twins soon afterward.
Pattee signed a free agent contract to play for the Fort Myers Twins of the Gulf Coast League. He was named to the Big Ten’s third team for the second straight year and finished the 2003 season with a .312 batting average, four home runs and 33 RBIs.
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