Editors Note: Filling the void of Trinity baseball writers for the blog left by graduated Carson Kenney ’15 and Sean Meekins ’15 is Nick Di Benedetto ’17.
This year the NESCAC had three baseball players drafted in the Major League Baseball Amateur Players Draft. Amherst’s Mike Odenwaelder ’16 was the first NESCAC player drafted in the 16th round. The other two draftees are Wesleyan’s Donnie Cimino ’15, the Cubs 37th round pick, and Amherst graduate Robert Lucido, the Blue Jays 40th round pick.The road to the show is nothing easy, and the lower you are drafted the tougher it is to show your true potential. Typically Major League farm systems chew up and spit out the low draft picks because they invest their big time money in the top picks.
Odenwaelder was drafted high enough to where he is going to get good opportunities to showcase his talent. He was the 493rd overall pick, and the Baltimore Orioles 16th round pick. Already he has played in 34 games for the Aberdeen Ironbirds, which is the Orioles Single A Short Season affiliate team. Odenwaelder is batting .220, and for a guy just drafted over a month ago, he is settling into the minors fine. When talking with Odenwaelder, he was thrilled to be playing with the Orioles and is very content playing in Aberdeen, which has top notch facilities. He is living large at the moment especially considering he did not plan on even playing college baseball.
During High School at Wamogo in Litchfield, Connecticut, Odenwaelder was pursuing his dream of being a college basketball player. He was greatly influenced by his high school basketball coach, Gregg Hunt, who passed away during his college basketball recruiting process. Odenwaelder, the 2nd best player in Wamogo basketball history, turned to baseball to cope with losing a coach so close to him. He ended up doing a post-graduate year at Canterbury School in Milford, Connecticut to follow his love for baseball. He became a three sport All-State athlete during his post-grad year which gave him an opportunity to be recruited for baseball. Odenwaelder was committed to play at UConn Avery-Point, but a roster spot opened up for him at Amherst a few months before his freshman fall.
Prior to the 2015 draft, the past ten years have produced six NESCAC draftees, five of whom came from Trinity College. Only one of those draftees is still playing: Kevin Heller from Amherst who was picked in 2012. On record there are only four NESCAC players who have made it to the show, all of whom were pitchers. The numbers are sparse so it is unfair to think Odenwaelder is incapable of making it to the big leagues due to the fact that he is a position player. He would be the first NESCAC position player to ever play in the Major Leagues, but he would certainly not be the first 16th rounder. There have been plenty of players picked that late who made it to the big leagues, such as James Shields and Mike Napoli.
Odenwaelder was the second of eleven Division III baseball players drafted this year. He was also drafted as a junior, which is rare in Division III baseball. Had he not hurt his shoulder during his sophomore season, Odenwaelder likely would have been drafted as a pitcher. When asked about his decision to leave college to play professionally, Odenwaelder said, “I just wanted to pursue my dream, and if I had a chance of making it to the bigs, I was going to have to leave this year.” Being a 16th round pick means he is getting some decent money to play, but it is not life-changing money. Had he stuck around another season it is possible he could have raised his draft stock, but it is also possible he could have hurt it as he would have been 23 years old by the time of the 2016 draft. By signing with the Orioles he is now absorbed in a complete baseball atmosphere. Odenwaelder gets the opportunity to play everyday for the rest of the 2015 season, facing great competition and improving more than he would have at Amherst. Instead of it just being a sport, it is now his job and most athletes’ fantasy. “I’m getting a paycheck to do what I love […] it’s a dream come true really”.
Odenwaelder is the highest NESCAC draft pick since Trinity College Pitcher Jonah Bayliss, the Royals 7th round draft pick in 2002, who made his Major League debut in 2005. He went on to pitch in the Majors for three consecutive seasons. Odenwaelder seems to have the tools to make a run for it at the next level. He has what it takes on defense as he was named to the NCAA Division III Gold Glove Team. Beyond multiple NESCAC honors, he was named to the D3Baseball.com All-American team and First Team All-New England.
In his three years at Amherst, he put up consistently great numbers. In a total of 118 games he had a career batting avg. of .372 with 16 homers, 86 RBI, and 39 stolen bases in what many are calling the “dead bat era” of college baseball. His most promising season was his sophomore year where he hit .400 with 6 HRs and 31 RBI, posting a whopping Slugging Percentage of .607. On the mound he had a career ERA of 2.55 in 24.2 innings pitched.
While Odenwaelder is busy working, he understands the importance an Amherst degree can have once baseball is over. He is dead-set on getting his degree from Amherst. He is either planning on going back for the next two Fall semesters, or just taking care of his senior year when his baseball career is over.
Wesleyan superstar Donnie Cimino was the Cubs 37th round pick. This spring he led the Cardinals to another NESCAC title, batting .399 with 3 homeruns. In his four years at Wesleyan in 645 at bats, he batted .373 with a .465 slugging percentage. He holds the record for Wesleyan’s most hits in a season with 69 and most career hits with 240. So far the minors have been a struggle for him as he is getting an opportunity to play only every few days or so. Cimino is batting just .163 in the Arizona Rookie League. The Cubs have moved him from center to left field for most of his starts. His regimen in rookie ball consists of a lot of training, much like that of a spring training player, so he is learning a lot. Hopefully he is able to make some adjustments and excel in the Cubs farm system.
Before his days of flying around the diamond as a Wesleyan Cardinal, Cimino was a star on the gridiron at Westwood High School in New Jersey. His eyes were set on playing college football, which is how Wesleyan landed the stud baseball player. Cimino, who claims he was a “late bloomer”, didn’t gain much prowess on the baseball field until his senior year of high school when he really filled out, but by that time it was the spring and most of the recruiting was done. He considered doing a post-graduate year to push for a Division I opportunity, but decided to stick it out and get a good education and play two sports at Wesleyan. The Wesleyan baseball program was very fortunate to have him knocking on their door to be a walk-on his freshman year. The Don, as he is informally known, started every game in his four year tenure with the Cardinals.
The third NESCAC player drafted was Amherst’s Robert Lucido, who was cut by the Lord Jeffs during his sophomore season. Despite not playing for the Jeffs anymore, Lucido landed a spot in the Call Ripken League, a collegiate summer baseball league. He was able to earn a workout with the Blue Jays, where he did well enough to be drafted in the 40th and final round of this year’s draft. He is playing in the Gulf Coast Rookie League in Florida hitting .153 with a .313 on base percentage. He gets an opportunity to play just once every 7 or so games. In all likelihood his minor league career will last maybe a year or two, but it is possible he continues to overcome his long odds. Furthermore his ability to get into professional baseball opens up many avenues for him within the sport, and he could see a career in baseball off of the field. Teams sometimes use low draft picks on players who could potentially work in the front office, where multiple NESCAC alumni are scattered throughout. Three current MLB General Managers are graduates of Amherst. In the front office for the Boston Red Sox, former Trinity Bantam Psi U brother, baseball and football player Sam Kennedy will take over the job as President at the end of the season.
The NESCAC’s three MLB Draftees blew every other Division III conference out of the water. In addition, Wesleyan Pitcher Gavin Pittore (’16) signed on as a free agent last week with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Also, there have been two players that signed independent league contracts; Joe Jensen ’15,Hamilton’s star outfielder, signed with the Southern Illinois Miners in the Frontier League, and Nick Cooney ’15, one of Wesleyan’s aces, signed a contract with the Fargo-Moorehead Redhawks in North Dakota.
The odds are very much against minor leaguers making it to the majors. Even if they can’t make things work on the playing field, all NESCAC baseball players have a great education which allows them to venture off into different avenues of baseball. NESCAC graduates, and other Division 3 graduates are all over front offices, and coming from a small school is not a disadvantage at all. Though most players don’t make it, there are the few fortunate ones that make it to the Show. For Odenwaelder, Cimino, and Lucido, even if they never make it to the major leagues, they won’t consider their professional baseball careers a failure, but rather a great experience and opportunity.