June 7, 2014
HOUSTON - Rice's Caleb Smith, Matt Ditman, Shane Hoelscher and Chase McDowell were all selected on the final day of the of the 2014 Major League Baseball amateur draft Saturday (June 7).
Smith and Ditman were both selected in 15th round by the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals, respectively. Hoelscher was the 17th round pick of Colorado Rockies. McDowell went in the 26th round to the Washington Nationals.
Saturday's four selections brought Rice's final total to six major league draft picks. Owls Zech Lemond and Skyler Ewing were drafted on Friday by the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants, respectively. Six selections was the most of any program in Conference USA.
Smith finished his first year as a pitcher at Rice after joining the Owls from Cisco College. The redshirt-sophomore from Austin, Texas, made his Rice debut out of the bullpen in the opening weekend of the season at Stanford and he went on to pitch a total of 14.1 innings over seven appearances, including five as a starter. Four of the opponents he faced (Stanford, Texas, Houston and Texas A&M) all went on to play in the NCAA Tournament. Smith was brilliant in a 14-1 road victory at Texas State. In a game where the Owl offense garnered all the attention in a comfortable win, Smith started and allowed just three hits and a walk while striking out an eye-opening 12 batters in 6.0 innings of work. For the year he held all opposing hitters to a composite .222 batting average.
Ditman emerged one of the team's break-through pitchers in 2014, taking over the as the Owls' new `stopper' (when Lemond was moved out of the bullpen into a starter's role). Not only did Ditman finish among the Conference USA leaders in saves (9) and ERA (1.83), he was electric in averaging 10.1 strikeouts per 9.0 innings and maintaining a 6.4-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. In addition to holding hitters to a combined .198 batting average, the Richmond, Texas, native often stepped-up with a with extended work. On the way to saving nine games and earning five wins, Ditman averaged 2.1 innings over his 24 relief outings.
A host of playing honors poured in for Hoelscher this season, including third-team All-America third baseman by Collegiate Baseball News. The senior third baseman from Belmont, Texas, ended his collegiate career with the seventh-most games played (218), sixth-most at bats (804), and tied for eleventh in doubles (50) in Rice baseball history. In 2014 Hoelscher started 57 of the team's 62 games and he went on to finished second in the conference in doubles (21) while ranking among the C-USA leaders in runs (tied-5th, 43), hits (6th, 75), hitting (6th, .330) and total bases (tied-12th, 96). After earning first team All-Conference USA, he earned selection to the NCAA All-Regional team for the second time in as many years.
Earlier in his Rice career McDowell was drafted in the 30th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Owls' valuable, versatile, veteran improved that draft position with a solid season that saw him named to the Conference USA All-Tournament Team. McDowell played in 45 of the team's 62 games either as a pitcher (16 times), designated hitter (36 times), or outfielder (once). In fact he showcased his "National League-style" by pitching and hitting in the same game a total ten times. The College Station, Texas, native was third on the staff innings (71.1), posting a 4-5 record with a .391 ERA, but his pitching was only part of the story. McDowell hit .288 as a fifth-year senior in 2014, including a .316 clip when runners were in scoring position. He was a perfect 4-for-4 when batting with the bases-loaded and reached base at a .480 pace when leading-off an inning.
Each of these Owl players made an improvement (and in some cases dramatic improvement) in their draft status under the leadership and daily coaching of Rice head coach and former major leaguer Wayne Graham. Under coach Graham Rice baseball has made 20-straight trips to the NCAA Tournament and won 19-straight conference championships - including titles that were won in the regular season and/or conference tournament. The Blue & Gray won both the C-USA regular season and tournament championships in 2014. After 23 seasons at the helm of the program, Graham's Owls have won at least 40 games in each of the last 20 seasons.