TROY – The Major League Baseball Draft creates anxiety at every level – high school, junior college and college – for players and coaches alike.
Troy coach Mark Smartt was pulling hard for his draft-eligible players to get their opportunity to play at the highest level. No Trojans were taken in this week’s draft.
“I told Drew Frederic this week, ‘I hope you get drafted,’” Smartt said on Thursday. “That’s what all these kids live for and dream about. When you lose players that can come back, it certainly hurts your team moving forward. If Drew had been picked and signed a pro contract, we wouldn’t be as good at shortstop next year, I promise you. …
“But I would be the biggest hypocrite in the world if I didn’t say, ‘You need to go do that. It’s what you came here to do.’”
With the draft over, Smartt is already looking at the fall and next spring, when Frederic and draft-eligible Troy teammates outfielder Rigsby Mosley and pitcher Levi Thomas will return to the Trojans.
“As bad as I feel about them not getting their chance, I’m equally excited about them returning and bolstering our team next year,” Smartt said. “As a coach, that’s a comfort to me to know we’ve got returning people that have had success already back on the field.”
Those players will join several other returning starters to give the Trojans – 31-29 this season – a solid nucleus when things resume in the fall.
“As you evaluate our team on paper, we return our top two starters – Cory Gill and Levi Thomas,” Smartt began. “Lance Johnson, who was one of our best bullpen options, is back for his senior year.
“All three outfield starters – (Logan) Cerny, Mosley and (Dalton) Sinquefield – are back, and each of those guys was very productive and valuable.”
Cerny this week was named to the Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-America Team. The center fielder hit .267 with 12 doubles, four triples, nine home runs and 42 RBIs. His nine homers were the most by a Troy freshman since Jorge Soto hit 16 in 1997.
Troy has had great contributions from freshmen and first-year players in recent years. Mosley, a third-year sophomore, led the team with a .356 batting average this season. A year ago, he was the Sun Belt’s Freshman of the Year and also a Freshman All-America.
Smartt said everything starts with the returning players. They set the example, they set the tone.
“You never expect first-year freshmen or transfer to lead the charge,” the coach said. “That’s never the way it is. They’re going to play a solid support role and there will be several that blend in and help us right away, no doubt. We’re excited about the group coming in.
“But we’ve got six, seven, really key guys that played valuable roles not only this year but the last two years that are going to be on the field and helping us get started. We’re trying to make a move back toward the top of the league, which is where we’re shooting for.”
A key piece will be Frederic, who hit .318 with a team-high 59 runs and 11 homers as a fourth-year junior this season.
“Someone like Drew, who’s got three years of experience to draw on, he’s going to be arguably one of the best players in our league next year,” Smartt said. “If Drew can stay healthy, he’s going to go down as one of the best players to ever play here in terms of the record book. He’s got a chance to hold several records.
“He’s got to stay healthy and all those things that you can’t predict. A returning shortstop of his value really helps our team going forward.”
Frederic, a 5-11, 195-pounder from Niceville, Fla., has a tough act to follow as a fifth-year senior in Troy’s baseball program.
“In our history here, we’ve had some guys in their fifth year have massive years,” Smartt said. “Joey Denison was the most recent. Andrew Crane. Logan Pierce. A lot of guys in that fifth year of college when everything comes together.
“They’re older, they’re more mature, they’re most experienced, more physically developed. They’ve blossomed in that fifth year and had a lot of success. Drew certainly fits in that category.”
Asked about the pressure of being in that role, Smartt said it’s different after three years on the field.
“He played every game as a freshman,” Smartt said of Frederic. “That’s pressure, because he didn’t know what the heck was going on. In Year 2, you get more comfortable. Year 3, your confidence grows. Now, he’s seen and done a little bit of everything, so your comfort level is at its highest.
“That doesn’t mean you’re going to succeed – especially in baseball – but when you struggle, you can deal with it much better. You’re prepared to handle yourself in those tough times. They tend to bounce back better. Those freshmen, they tend to stay in that struggle longer.”
The nucleus should help the Trojans have an interesting dynamic next season.
“Returning guys that got some level of experience, mixed with a group of new players that are going to be excited to try to make their mark,” Smartt summarized his group. “It’s a great place to start in the fall trying to navigate and build a team that has a better chance to succeed.”