Kennesaw State's Pentecost preps for MLB draft amid surprising tourney run
JUN 03, 2014 7:01p ET
KENNESAW, Ga. -- Mike Sansing had been planning a party for Kennesaw State to see where expected first-rounder Max Pentecost would land in Thursday's opening day of the MLB draft.
"(Pentecost) and I talked and I said, 'You know there's a chance that we're not going to do that,'" said Sansing, the Owls' coach.
That was before Kennesaw State, in the program's first NCAA tournament appearance, ousted Alabama in the Tallahassee regional. The Owls will be in Louisville during the draft's first round, preparing for the next day's opening game of the Super Regional, where they'll face the Cardinals with a spot in the College World Series on the line.
It will be a much more low-key celebration for Pentecost, the junior catcher who Baseball Prospectus projects to go 19th overall to the Reds. He won't get to spend it with his parents, and Sansing expects the team will likely just get together in a restaurant or hotel room.
Still, Pentecost couldn't have asked for a more perfect ending.
"I'm glad I get to spend the opportunity of the draft with them," Pentecost said. "I don't get to spend it with my real family, but I have guys here that I get to spend it with. But at the same time, our season is still going and we have to go out and play."
It's a meeting of individual and team opportunities that could see the Owls make history twice.
Should Pentecost be selected sooner than 20th, he would bypass Chad Jenkins, who was taken in that spot by the Blue Jays in 2009, as the highest-drafted player in Kennesaw State history. Meanwhile, the Owls can become the fifth team in the past 40 years to reach the CWS in their first tourney berth, following Kansas (1993), Georgia (1987), Cal-State Fullerton (1975) and Eastern Michigan (1975).
It's an underdog story, and one that the Owls understand given that they've been in Division I for eight years -- but it's not a narrative they're buying in to.
"A lot of that is history," Sansing siad. "We have a very, very short history in the Division I postseason and I think a lot of that is attributed to that, but it's not something we think about."
Kennesaw State (40-22) heads to Louisville (48-15) as the second-best hitting team remaining in the field of 16 with a .299 average, trailing only Louisiana-Lafayette (.319), and boasts two wins over Georgia, one over Georgia Tech and beat fellow tournament team Georgia Southern three times, including 13-5 in 11 innings -- behind an eight-run 11th -- to earn a spot in the regional championship vs. the Crimson Tide.
But to the layman, Kennesaw State was a mystery amid a tourney site that included Alabama and its $124 million-plus athletic budget and Florida State with closer/Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.
"We knew they weren't going to think a whole lot of us," said pitcher Travis Bergen, the Tallahassee Region's Most Outstanding Player, who is 9-4 on the year with a 2.39 ERA. "We were on Twitter before the game and guys saw stuff from Alabama fans not even knowing who we were or where we were from. But it didn't really bother us.
"By the end, they figured it out."
A lesson Pentecost had a big hand in as he went 2 for 5 with a double, an RBI, three walks and a stolen base in the regional final's two games.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Winder-Barrow (Winder, Ga.) product gives the Owls the highest-ranked collegiate position player still alive in the tourney, sitting 16th on Baseball Prospectus' list. He's behind Vanderbilt right-hander Tyler Beede, who is 12th, and TCU lefty Brandon Finnegan (15th).
Pentecost was originally drafted by the Rangers in the seventh round in 2011. Touted at the time as a third-rounder, his fall came on the heels of Tommy John surgery and instead of signing with Texas, he opted to accept the first college that gave him an offer in Kennesaw State.
"I could have come there and have come back too early or didn't heal right and I would have been done," Pentecost said. "So this experience has been unreal and it hasn't been at all disappointing."
He was strong in his first two seasons, hitting. 277 and .302, but he opened eyes in the Cape Cod League, hitting .346 with six home runs and 29 RBI in 130 plate appearances in 2013.
That transferred to his junior season, where he's hit .423/.483/.631, with nine HRs, 58 RBI. He was named Atlantic Sun Player of the Year, and had a 36-game hitting streak that was snapped in a conference tournament win over Stetson.
Pentecost leads KSU in average, hits (110), HRs, walks (29), steals (17) and RBI and has thrown out 51.2 percent of runners (21 of 41). He's a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award, given to the college's top catcher, and a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award.
His teammates are keeping him in check, though, even as his professional career begins to unfold amid the Owls surprising run.
"I stole a water from him yesterday," Bergen said. "I told him he can afford it."