Thursday, February 29, 2024

Four Spartans selected in MLB draft

June 14, 2016
Junior infielder Jordan Zimmerman (5) swings at the ball during the game against Michigan on April 29, 2016 at Ray Fisher Stadium at Wilpon Baseball Complex in Ann Arbor, Mich. The Spartans were defeated by the Wolverines, 4-3.
Junior infielder Jordan Zimmerman (5) swings at the ball during the game against Michigan on April 29, 2016 at Ray Fisher Stadium at Wilpon Baseball Complex in Ann Arbor, Mich. The Spartans were defeated by the Wolverines, 4-3. —
Photo by Nic Antaya | and Nic Antaya The State News

Although the Spartans fell short of the college baseball playoffs after consecutive losses to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament, four players from the team realized their lifelong aspiration when they received calls corresponding to a pick in the MLB draft. Pitcher Cam Vieaux, second baseman Jordan Zimmerman, pitcher Dakota Mekkes and catcher Matt Byars will all have the chance to turn professional given this weekend's outcome.

Vieaux was the first Spartan off the board, being selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the sixth round. Zimmerman went one round later to the Los Angeles Angels. Dakota Mekkes will have the chance to join the organization of the best team in baseball, with his name being called by the Chicago Cubs in the tenth round, concluding the second day selections for MSU. Byars went on day three to the Minnesota Twins in the 24th round.

Excitement hovered around the MSU baseball community throughout the draft, as the Spartans had their most underclassmen selected in Jake Boss Jr.'s tenure as head coach.

The Lansing State Journal's Chris Solari reported that Vieaux will most likely polish off the intricacies of his contract with Pittsburgh shortly. Dakota Mekkes, however, remains very much ambivalent on whether or not to return and is receiving advice from Vieaux. Zimmerman and Byars have yet to announce their thoughts. 

Vieaux will likely depart the Spartans, if so leaving behind the legacy of 205 strikeouts, the fourth most in program history. He had the chance to make the jump last year after being selected in the 19th round by the Detroit Tigers, but instead opted to reinstate his career at Michigan State as a redshirt junior. It was a decision that resulted in a much higher draft slot, pay grade and name recognition the second time through. Vieaux lowered his 3.49 ERA to 2.28 from 2015 to 2016, and reversed an ugly result column, improving his win-loss standing from 4-7 to 7-4 in the same respective years. By many, he is considered the most major-ready prospect of this year's litter. 

Zimmerman was elected the Spartans' MVP and Offensive Player of the Year at the annual awards ceremony. He recorded a hit in 50 of 56 showings, including a 21-game hit streak that qualifies as the third-best in school history. A transfer from Mesa Community College, Zimmerman left his footprint on the team as a batting champ, ending the season with a .374 batting average that was even bettered by his .376 numeric in league play. His stats are placed among the Big Ten's best in nearly every significant hitting category, as he finished second in batting average, third in on-base percentage (.461), fifth in runs scored (50) and seventh in home runs (nine).

Mekkes was the Spartans' best bullpen option throughout the year, as he unleashed a righty arm that led the nation in strikeouts per nine innings (15.16) and hits allowed per nine innings (4.11). Mekkes led the Big Ten in ERA, with a 1.74 average that was .54 higher than the next nearest competitor, teammate Cam Vieaux. Furthermore, Mekkes was important for the Spartans in qualifying for the Big Ten Tournament, logging six innings in the postseason-clincher against Maryland. He was voted the teams Robin Roberts' Most Valuable Pitcher.

Byars gained recognition as a transfer from Heartland Community College in Illinois before deciding on MSU. In one year, he easily settled in, starting as catcher in 54 games, with only one game all season of rest. Byars was a defensive lynchpin for the team, throwing out 12 would-be base stealers and earning the title of Danny Litwhiler Defensive Player of the Year on the team. On the other side of the inning, Byars was also an instant catch, hitting .284 and including four home runs and 26 RBI's, the third and fourth-best marks on the Spartans this season. 

Although drafted, the players' post-collegiate plans are not underway just yet. All, as underclassmen on a senior-shallow team, have the option to return for future seasons as Vieaux did when selected by the Tigers one year ago. The cutoff date for their announcements is July 15. 

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