Only 11 Medina County high school graduates were selected in the MLB draft from 1965-2011, but the area now is in the midst of a run.
Kent State University pitchers Austin Havekost and Eli Kraus saw their dreams come true Wednesday when the former Medina and Buckeye high stars were picked up by the Toronto Blue Jays and St. Louis Cardinals, respectively. Havekost went in the 17th round (506th overall), while Kraus got the call in the 24th (723rd).
They will join Highland graduates Luke Raley (Los Angeles Dodgers, Double-A) and Chad Sedio (Detroit Tigers, Double-A) and Medina’s Mike Ellenbest (Toronto Blue Jays, Single-A) in the minor leagues later this summer, giving the county an unprecedented five active professional players.
“I kind of expected it to happen at some point, but when I got the call and the offer, it was kind of a blackout experience,” Havekost said. “I don’t think I’ve been that excited in my life. It’s something I’ve worked hard for, and I’m fortune enough to have all the resources to succeed. Without God or my parents (Doug and Angela), I wouldn’t be in this situation.”
“I woke up this morning knowing one way or another my life was going to be different because I’m going to get the opportunity or I’m not going to be a baseball player anymore,” Kraus said. “It’s really surreal, and you feel full circle when you think about the people who have helped you get to this point — parents, coaches, everyone from the Buckeye days.”
While Kraus was long known as a household name, Havekost used a breakthrough redshirt sophomore season to catch the eye of pro scouts as a power-throwing 6-3, 215-pounder.
With Medina, Havekost had a 6-8 record, 2.05 ERA and 93 strikeouts in 95⅔ career innings while competing in the talented Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division. The right-hander was redshirted in his first season at Kent State and went 2-2 with a 5.34 ERA in 28⅔ innings in 2017.
Havekost took the next step in his development that summer with the Lakeshore Chinooks of the Northwoods League, which is considered the second-best collegiate summer league behind the Cape Cod, with a 2.73 ERA over 56 innings.
Havekost kept the momentum this spring, going 2-1 with a 3.04 ERA in 13 relief appearances for Kent State. The Montville Township native had 31 strikeouts against only five walks in 23⅔ innings and did not allow a run in eight of his last 10 appearances, highlighted by 3⅔ shutout innings against Super Regional qualifier Arkansas on March 9.
Frequently sitting in the high-80s in high school, Havekost now touches the low-90s with a hard slider and changeup.
“I came into Kent out of shape and expecting to get a top spot,” he said. “It took me about a year to realize what I needed to do to set myself from the rest of the guys. That was going to the Northwoods League and having the minor league atmosphere of 72 games in 75 days.
“Playing every day and having to pitch once a week, it made me realize you need a routine and find something that works for you.”
Havekost also could be a teammate with Ellenbest again like 2013. Ellenbest is on the disabled list for the Class-A Lansing Lugnuts, which Havekost could be assigned to by the end of the season if he excels at the rookie level.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “I texted Mike before the draft and got some background and what he thought of it, and he said it’s first-class organization.”
Kraus left Buckeye in 2014 as one of the most decorated high school players in county history. The left-hander with an electric curveball had 18 career wins, and his 292 strikeouts in 174⅔ innings rank behind only Medina County Sports Hall of Famers Jim Walter of Buckeye and Bill Gearhart of Wadsworth.
Beefing up to 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Kraus only got better at Kent State, the Mid-American Conference’s premier program. Under the tutelage of associate head coach/pitching coach Mike Birkbeck. Kraus increased his fastball to the high-80s, tightened his mechanics and earned a rotation spot as a sophomore.
Kraus was a second-team All-American that season, going 9-1 with a 2.64 ERA. He was 8-3, 2.69 as a junior and 9-4, 4.28 as a senior, highlighted by a two-hitter with 12 strikeouts against Miami in the MAC Tournament championship game.
Kraus ended his career second in school history with 26 wins and is the first Buckeye High graduate to be drafted since Larry McDivitt in 1967. Kraus spent Tuesday watching the Indians-Brewers game and checking draft results on Twitter before accepting an invitation from friend Dan Oswald to head to Marshalls retail store in Medina Township.
There, Kraus received a text from Kent State coach Jeff Duncan. His phone blew up with further congratulatory texts minutes later.
“The stuff I really took from working with Coach Birkbeck and Coach Duncan was finding out my true identity on the baseball field,” Kraus said. “The confidence they helped instill with me is something I will take with me the rest of my life.”