HOUSTON - Rice's Kevin McCanna, Austin Orewiler, Matt Ditman, John Clay Reeves and John Williamson were all selected on the final day of the 2015 Major League Baseball amateur draft Wednesday (June 10).
McCanna was a 13th round selection by the Houston Astros and Orewiler went in the 14th to the Cincinnati Reds. Ditman was picked by the Kansas City Royals in the 16th and Reeves was taken by the Washington Nationals in the 20th. Williamson was selected by the Chicago Cubs in round 23. Wednesday's five selections brought Rice's final 2015 total to seven major league draft picks. Owls Jordan Stephens and Leon Byrd were drafted on Tuesday by the Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers, respectively. Seven selections was the most of any program in Conference USA.
Former 2012 draft pick Kevin McCanna finished among the C-USA league leaders with seven wins (tied 4th), a 2.96 ERA (9th), 85.0 innings (10th) and 64 strikeouts (11th). The junior right-hander shared the team lead with 15 starting assignments and pitched at least 7.0 innings in a game five times. A native of The Woodlands, Texas, McCanna averaged 6.8 strikeouts per 9.0 innings and maintained a 2.5-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. He posted a career-best 11 strikeouts in a road start at C-USA foe Western Kentucky, and long-held the Friday night spot in the weekend rotation reserved for the staff's top pitcher.
Orewiler worked hard to develop over the course of his college career, culminating with all-conference honors in 2015. The right-hander from Galveston, Texas, ranked among the C-USA league leaders with a 2.44 ERA (4th), 80 strikeouts (4th), a .220 opponents' batting average (6th), six wins (tied tenth) and a total of 84.2 innings pitched (11th). He finished fourth on the staff in starts (7) and pitched in 23 games overall. Orewiler tallied 8.5 strikeouts per 9.0 innings, maintained a 2.8-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio, and was third on the Owl staff with a 1.23 WHIP. In his final outing of the year on May 31, Orewiler pitched an eye-opening 9.1 relief innings on the road against nationally ranked Houston (where the Owls finally won the marathon against their crosstown rival in a 20-inning game that ended after 2 am). In that outing he held the heavy-hitting Cougars to no runs on three singles while striking out seven.
Ditman, the program's No. 2 ranked player for career saves with 20, was drafted for the second time in as many years. He earned all-conference honors by leading the league, and ranking tied for 33rd in NCAA Division I, with 11 saves. The right-hander from Richmond, Texas, also placed among the C-USA leaders with 30 appearances (tied for third), opponents' batting average of .218 (sixth), 70 strikeouts (tied eighth) and a 3.07 ERA (tied tenth). He fanned 70 batters in 58.2 innings, an eye-opening average of 10.7 strikeouts per 9.0 innings of work, and maintained a 4.1-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio with a team-leading 1.12 WHIP. When the Owls needed a double-play, Ditman's pitching style proved to be able to get more than twice as many ground ball outs (72) than fly ball outs (30).
Reeves fought through some nagging injuries to have a productive, all-conference caliber year (C-USA head coaches picked him as the league's preseason player of the year in their annual January poll). He made the initial watch list for the Johnny Bench Award, presented annually to the nation's top Division I catcher, and went on to play in 56 of the team's 59 games (and was a starter in every game which he appeared). Originally from Monroe, La., Reeves finished third in the conference in RBI, driving in a total of 55 runs in his 56 games played. Part of the RBI success was from a focused .448 batting average with runners in scoring position, and he also hit .387 with men on base. He was the only Owl this season to record five hits in a single game (on the road at national power Arizona).
Williamson had his best season yet with contributions to the team that were greater than in his previous years combined. The versatile Houston native from nearby Lamar High School played in a total of 53 of the team's 59 games, either as a relief pitcher (15 times), outfielder (35 times) or designated hitter (three times). He logged 20.1 innings on the mound over 15 appearances, finishing with a 3.98 ERA and holding opposing hitters to a composite .218 batting average. Williamson averaged 8.9 strikeouts per 9.0 innings and maintained a 3.3-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. He was drafted by the Cubs as a left-handed pitcher, but he started in left field for Rice on opening day and went on to hit .284, including a .351 average with runners on base.
The Owl draftees can trace their respective success to the leadership and daily training of Rice head coach Wayne Graham, himself a former major leaguer. Under coach Graham Rice baseball has made 21-straight trips to the NCAA Tournament and won 20-straight conference championships - including titles that were won in the regular season and/or conference tournament. In 2015 the Blue & Gray posted an overall record of 37-22.
A host of college and high school players were selected over the three-day, 40-round event. Rice counted five from its incoming, soon-to-be freshmen class selected in the draft as well. The list of drafted Owl signees included Jake Simon (LHP, Mets, 11th round), Lucas Wakamatsu (ss, Indians, 20th round), Cody Staab (of, White Sox, 38th round), Brent Schwarz (rhp, Rockies, 39th round) and Ford Proctor (c, Royals, 40th round).