Antone DeJesus knew the telephone would ring. The standout center fielder from the University of Kentucky had spoken with enough scouts and baseball draft experts that expressed interest in his abilities.
But no matter how confident DeJesus was that he would inevitably be picked somewhere in last week’s Major League Baseball amateur draft, the call always comes as a surprise.
“You’re never ready for it,” he said, after being selected in the 16th round by the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday. “It’s still always a surprise because you just can’t believe it. It’s like your dream is realized.”
DeJesus was nabbed with the No. 502 pick after starting for the University of Kentucky Wildcats for the last three years. In his junior season, he batted .318, drove in 36 RBIs and stole a team-high 16 bases. Over his three-year career, he hit .328.
Throughout the week, DeJesus huddled with his family in Amherst, where he grew up, waiting for the news. He received calls from the Cardinals, Cleveland Indians, Pittsburgh Pirates, Colorado Rockies, Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago White Sox.
The Cardinals had an array of questions. First they wanted to know if he intended to return to Kentucky for his senior season. DeJesus said he would consider putting off school if he were drafted. Next, St. Louis officials wanted to find out if there were any reasons why he might not sign a contract. Given the structured salary scale in the later rounds of the draft, money shouldn’t become an obstacle, he said.
DeJesus began to attract increased attention over the last 18 months among baseball scouts because of his defense in center. He also excels as a leadoff hitter – an increasingly rare skill at the major league level. DeJesus scored the most runs in school history (67) and tied for fourth in career triples (8).
DeJesus has only three semesters remaining until he graduates with a communications degree. He intends to complete his studies, either at Kentucky or elsewhere.
“I’m definitely going to graduate — somewhere,” he said. “It’s very important to me. It’s helped me mature as a person and as a ballplayer.”
DeJesus was an outstanding player at Amherst, being named Lorain County Mr. Baseball and the Southwestern Conference MVP. He was a three-time All-SWC selection and batted .460 for his career, including .471 as a senior and .537 as a sophomore — still a school record.
He also owns career school records in stolen bases (71 in 79 attempts) and runs scored (79).
If, as expected, DeJesus signs in the next several days, he will fly to Florida for a rookie camp. Over the next several months, he will participate in short-season Class A ball.
“It’s something I’ve worked hard for my whole life,” he said. “For it to come through — for the dream to really happen — it’s just great. And I’m so happy I was able to share it with my family. They’ve been through it all with me. It’s just very special for us all.”
Contact Pete Alpern at 329-7137 or email@example.com.