Cal State Fullerton outfielder Mark Kotsay moved a step closer to his goal of playing major league baseball after the Florida Marlins picked him ninth in the first round of the amateur draft Tuesday.
Kotsay, college baseball’s player of the year in 1995 when the Titans won the College World Series, became Fullerton’s seventh first-round selection. The last previously was outfielder Dante Powell, the 22nd pick by San Francisco in 1994. The first was Tim Wallach, drafted 10th by Montreal in 1979. Kotsay is the highest Fullerton player drafted since Phil Nevin was the No. 1 pick by Houston in 1992.
“I feel it’s a great chance to be with a great organization,” Kotsay said by telephone from Millington, Tenn., where he is in tryouts for the U.S. Olympic team. “They’ve already proven that they can compete.”
Most of the top 10 players selected were as expected. Pittsburgh took Clemson pitcher Kris Benson with the No. 1 pick and San Diego State first baseman Travis Lee was the second choice by Minnesota. St. Louis took Wichita State reliever Braden Looper with the third pick. Toronto used its fourth pick for Clemson pitcher Bill Koch and Montreal went for John Patterson, a high school pitcher from West Orange, Texas.
Another high school pitcher, Matt White of Waynesboro, Pa., went to San Francisco with the seventh pick, after Detroit took Virginia pitcher Seth Greisinger. Outfielder Chad Green was the eighth selection by Milwaukee. Eric Chavez, a high school shortstop-pitcher from San Diego, was the 10th choice by Oakland.
The Dodgers, with the 23rd pick in the first round, took Damian Rolls, a high school infielder from Kansas City, Kan., and the Angels picked Austin Peay shortstop Chuck Abbott with their first selection, the 55th choice overall, in the second round.
Abbott gained national attention this season with a 42-game hitting streak, the fourth longest in NCAA history. He has a .329 career average after hitting .376 this year. The Angels’ third-round pick was catcher Josh Glassey from San Diego Mission Bay High, who batted .333 this season.
Kotsay is Fullerton’s all-time leading hitter with a .404 batting average over three seasons, ahead of Wallach and Nevin. Wallach ranks second at .392 and Nevin is seventh at .364.
Only the first round of the draft was announced Tuesday, but three other Fullerton players confirmed they had been chosen. Catcher Brian Loyd was taken by San Diego and left-handed pitcher Brent Billinsley by Florida, both in the fifth round. Outfielder Jeremy Giambi was picked in the sixth round by Kansas City.
“I’m just pleased to be drafted, no matter where,” Loyd said from the Olympic tryout camp in Tennessee.
Giambi, drafted in the late rounds by Detroit a year ago, said he thinks coming back for his junior season in 1996 helped him improve his draft position. Giambi hit .396 and led the Titans in stolen bases with 25.
“I think I improved a lot this past season, both offensively and defensively, and that had to help.” He said he expects to be assigned to the team’s rookie league team at Spokane, Wash.
Billingsley, like Giambi a year ago, was draft-eligible as a sophomore this year after he was redshirted at East Carolina. He transferred to Fullerton this year and was 11-2 and led the pitching staff with a 3.02 earned-run average.
“I’m on the fence right now about what to do, whether to sign or stay another year at Fullerton,” Billingsley said. “I can see advantages both ways. I’m just happy to be in this situation with two good choices.”
Billingsley, who was to meet with a representative of the Marlins Tuesday night, said he planned to talk to Fullerton coaches today before making a decision.
A Fullerton recruit, shortstop Ryan Owens, also was picked by the Marlins, but not until the 13th round. Owens likely would have been taken in the early rounds, but indicated more interest in playing at Fullerton than signing out of high school. Owens hit .500 this year for Sonora High School.
“We discussed it as a family, and we felt the best thing for him right now is to be at Fullerton,” said Owens’ father, Glen. “We had contact with some teams who had shown interest in drafting him in the second or third rounds. But when they found out his primary interest is playing in college now, he dropped.”
USC had three players selected, with Jacque Jones going in the second round and catcher Chad Moeller in the seventh, both to the Twins. Trojan second baseman Ryan Stromsborg was picked in the fourth round by Toronto. Former USC player Derek Baker, who played last season at Rancho Santiago, was selected in the third round by the Texas Rangers.
Other Rancho Santiago players were drafted in the middle rounds. Infielder Tony Zuniga was picked in the 11th round by San Francisco and catcher Mike Brambilla in the 11th by Kansas City.
Other area high school players who were reported drafted Tuesday included pitcher Brandon Steele of Huntington Beach, in the fourth round by the Angels; Alex Vasquez of Westminster, in the 13th round by Texas; and Mike Hessman of Mater Dei, in the 15th round by Atlanta.
Staff writers Mike Terry and George Dohrmann contributed to this story.