By Tyler Lowey:
Major League Baseball clubs drafted four players associated with the Okotoks Dawgs organization earlier this week. Three of the players selected were veterans of the Dawgs summer collegiate club and one was a young prospect still playing in the Dawgs Youth Academy.
The most notable selection for Western Major Baseball League fans was Kody Funderburk. Last summer with the Dawgs, Funderburk tore up the WMBL with a record15 home runs and 55 RBI, both leading the league. Funderburk went on to capture both the WMBL and the Dawgs Most Valuable Player Awards. In addition to his offensive prowess, Funderburk was lights out as a left handed pitcher, featuring a 92+ mile per hour fastball off the mound.
Those stats and the impressive numbers that the first basemen and pitcher Funderburk racked up with the Dallas Baptist University Patriots in NCAA Division 1 play this season convinced the Minnesota Twins to draft the Queen Creek, Ariz. native in the 15th round, 454thoverall.
“The Minnesota Twins selected an outstanding individual in Kody and we are proud to have had him in a Dawgs uniform,” said Dawgs Founding and Managing Director John Ircandia.
This year at DBU, Funderburk swatted 12 home runs, drove in 47 RBI to the tune of a .348 average.
The MLB is becoming more open to the thought of having two-way players on their roster. Funderburk is one of the latest of many two-way players to hear his name get called.
Last summer, the southpaw chucked nine scoreless innings for the Dawgs.
“Kody was the Dawgs and WMBL 2017 Most Valuable Player. He was a stud with a bat in his hands and with a baseball. Dawgs fans fondly remember those towering home runs he hit over the scoreboard as well as the 90-plus miles-per-hour fastball he delivered when he closed out wins for the Dawgs last season,” said Ircandia.
The 15thround on Day 3 of the Draft was a great one for the Dawgs, as they also saw former collegiate player Greg Cullen get selected 12 picks earlier by the Atlanta Braves. Cullen was one of the best hitters in the nation this year, as he led all National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1 batters with a .458 average and .556 on-base percentage while playing for the Niagara University Purple Eagles.
Last summer, starting at shortstop for the collegiate Dawgs, Cullen impressed Dawgs fans by hitting five home runs, and batting .325, with 31 RBIs and 33 runs scored in just 37 games.
“The Dawgs congratulate former Dawgs shortstop, Greg Cullen on his MLB Draft selection by the Atlanta Braves. Greg was an outstanding Dawgs player in 2017 and this past college season where he led the entire NCAA in hitting,” said Ircandia.
The other former collegiate player to go in the draft was Michael Gretler, who is no stranger to hearing his name called by in the draft.
When the Pittsburgh Pirates selected the Oregon State University standout in the 10thround, it was the third time Gretler had been chosen by a MLB club.
“When he got taken the two previous times in the 39thround, the situation wasn’t right for him. It worked out for the best because he went to the College World Series and had a great time,” said former OSU Beavers Coach and player, Andy Peterson, who himself while at OSU earned a College World Series Championship before being drafted by the Seattle Mariners. “There was no surprise that he went in the draft, that is a steal of a pick in the 10thround. I fully expect him to be in the big leagues in a few years, added Peterson.
The Bonney Lake, Wash. native previously got drafted in the 39thround by the Boston Red Sox in 2014 and the 39thround last year by the Pirates. During his senior year with the Beavers, Gretler hit .314 with a .885 OPS. In 52 games, he registered 20 doubles, seven home runs and 43 RBI.
“The guy is as fundamentally sound of a baseball player as you’ll ever find,” said Peterson.“He was a team captain at Oregon, plays full will energy, very loud and is an A-plus kid.”
Gretler spent the summer of 2016 with the Dawgs, where in 34 games, he hit .331, swatted 11 doubles and four home runs, and cashed in 36 RBI.
The final Dawgs player selected in the MLB Draft, was Dawgs Academy standout, LaRon Smith. A Grade 12 student in Okotoks, Smith has shown continual improvement working with the Dawgs Coaching Staff, so much so that the Minnesota Twins nabbed him in the 25thround Wednesday afternoon.
“I was on the bus to Langley with my teammates when I found out that I got drafted. The guys started going crazy, hugging me, cheering for me and being really happy for me,” said Smith, 17. “I really don’t know what to say, it was a really cool experience and I’m very excited about everything.”
The Grade 12 student at Foothills Composite High School is enjoying his third season with the Dawgs Academy after moving from Spruce Grove. As an infielder playing in 57 games with the midget Dawgs Black program, Smith is hitting .421 with a 1.086 OPS. He has 16 RBI, six doubles and has also struck out six batters in a pair of scoreless innings on the mound. As one indication of Smith’s development in the Dawgs Academy, he along with teammate, Cesar Valero, were selected to and have played with Canada’s Junior National Team. Playing primarily third base with the Dawgs 18U team, one of the premier youth clubs in the country, Smith was drafted as a catcher by the Twins.
“We are all super proud of him. He has put a lot of work in to get where he is and we are all super excited for him,” said Dawgs Academy Coach Tyler Hollick, who himself was drafted after starring with the Dawgs Academy and Chandler Gilbert University in Arizona, by the San Francisco Giants in the 14thround during the 2012 draft. “He’s a good athlete with good hands that can throw the ball really well. After getting drafted as a catcher, he has a big decision to make now,” added Coach Hollick.
The decision waiting for Smith is choosing between a scholarship offer to play baseball for the prestigious University of Alabama or sign a professional contract with the Twins. Now that the draft is over, Smith plans to take some time to evaluate both options to see what the best fit for his future is.