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MSU's Renfroe expected to go early in MLB First-Year Player draft

 

Matthew Stevens

 

STARKVILLE -- Three years ago, Hunter Renfroe found out in an undramatic way he had been drafted. 

 

Renfroe was taking extra batting practice at Copiah Academy and didn't notice he had missed several missed calls from the Boston area. 

 

Tonight, Renfroe's draft experience likely will be a little different. This time, the Mississippi State University junior likely will hear his name called on MLB Network during the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft. Coverage of the three-day draft begins at 6 p.m. The first two rounds will be tonight. Rounds three through 10 will be Friday. The final 29 rounds will be Saturday. 

 

"I always knew I had it in me to do this and be at this level since playing summer ball in Mississippi, but my production wasn't there in college," Renfroe said. "This season, it all came together and I've become a much more well-rounded player by going to college and learning in this environment." 

 

After struggling in his first two seasons at MSU, Renfroe finished the 2013 regular season as the Southeastern Conference's leader in home runs with 15. He also has the league's second-best slugging percentage (.634) and is among the SEC leaders in batting average (.352), on-base percentage (.440), RBIs (58), hits (80), runs scored (51), and total bases (144). 

 

The junior outfielder also is a semifinalist for the USA Baseball's Golden Spikes Award and the NCBWA's Dick Howser Trophy, which are given to the nation's top player. 

 

Even though this year's draft likely will include more drama for Renfroe, he could be in a similar situation when it comes to find out the news. Renfroe and the Bulldogs are scheduled to leave late this afternoon for Charlottesville, Va., for their weekend series against No. 6 national seed University of Virginia in the NCAA Charlottesville Super Regional, so he Renfroe might not be able to take a phone call from the team that selects him. 

 

MSU coach John Cohen, who played at MSU from 1988-90, remembers how he found out the Minnesota Twins had drafted him. 

 

"I remember sitting in the dugout in Omaha, Neb., before a College World Series game and being told congratulations you were just selected by the Minnesota Twins," Cohen said. "That's just a very weird feeling. It is a major benefit for our guys to not play till Saturday and have most of them find out that stuff before they play this weekend." 

 

Three years ago, Renfroe earned first-team All-State honors and was the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Player of the Year. He hit .583 with 49 hits, 70 RBIs, five doubles, five triples, and an MAIS-record 20 home runs, and helped lead the Colonels to a 27-9 finish and the AAA state championship. The Boston Red Sox saw Renfroe's potential to play multiple positions (he was 4-0 with a save and a 3.91 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings) and selected him in the 31st round. 

 

"I was at my high school field and a guy pulled up in his car and told me I was drafted," Renfroe said. "I noticed Danny Watkins (Boston Red Sox area scout) had called me three or four times. I called him back and he said, 'You just got drafted', and I responded, 'Well, obviously.' It was a surreal experience." 

 

At the time, Renfroe was a 6-foot-1, 185-pound bundle of raw ability that hadn't been challenged and had thrown 97 mph on the mound. As a result, the Red Sox took a chance on the nationally unknown prospect. 

 

Since then, Renfroe has added 31 pounds and has emerged as one of college baseball's best power hitters in college baseball. If he is selected in the first round, it will mark the first time in 20 years MSU players have gone in the first round in back-to-back years. The San Francisco Giants selected 2012 SEC Pitcher of the Year Chris Stratton in the first round. 

 

"Here's how smart coach Cohen is because we get back in the office Tuesday morning after winning a regional and we have I think it was 44 phone calls and messages from everybody (in professional baseball), and I couldn't figure out what the big deal was," Cohen said. "It just never dawned on me the draft was this week." 

 

Renfroe gained confidence and playing time in consecutive summers in the Cal Ripken League, where he hit a league-record 19 home runs last summer, prompting the Bethesda (Md.) Big Train to retire his jersey. Renfroe hit .364 and had 57 RBIs last summer and was named the league's top prospect by Perfect Game USA, a national scouting service. 

 

"Hunter is a rare bird," Cohen said. "He's somebody who can do so many athletic things. There are a lot of moments in his three years when our club has been speechless after watching him do something." 

 

Scouts consider Renfroe a five-tool player who can run, hit, hit for power, defend his position, and throw with power from the outfield. No longer regarded as a project, Renfroe, who will be represented in contract negotiations by Bo McKinnis, is someone scouts project could have a chance to move quickly through an organization's minor league system.  

 

"I told our people a while ago after I gave him an easy first-round grade, if they still wanted reports on him," a National League scout said last month. "When they asked me why I would ask that, I responded, 'Because we don't have a first-round pick high enough to get him.' " 

 

The only thing that could prevent Renfroe from being drafted in the first round is a month of May that saw him go 15-for-64 (.234) with one home run and seven RBIs. There were at least two dozen scouts and professional player personnel at the SEC tournament last month in Hoover, Ala.  

 

Renfroe and the MSU coaches believe being picked tonight could be the best thing for him and his draft-eligible teammates. 

 

"It'll be a huge relief," Renfroe said. "I'm not going to be nervous about it. Whatever happens will be a great opportunity." 

 

 

 

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