Middleton inks with the Angels

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Milwaukies Keynan Middleton has a 95 MPH fastball, plus a breaking ball he can throw for strikes.Professional baseball scouts who have seen Keynan Middleton pitch believe the 2012 Milwaukie High School graduate has the tools to make it in professional baseball.

Middleton was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, in the third round of the recent Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

He signed a contract with the Angels last Thursday, and he left town Sunday headed for Orem, Utah, where he’ll play for the Orem Owlz, an Angels Minor League farm team.

Middleton was to begin practices with the Owlz on Monday (June 17), and the Owlz had their first summer league game, with Idaho Falls, scheduled for this Thursday.

Middleton was the Angels’ second pick in the draft, and the 95th pick overall. The assigned signing bonus for a 95th selection is $541,000.

“I was really shocked [when I was drafted 95th],” said Middleton. “My adviser was telling me I might get drafted as high as the fourth round, but I didn’t know what to expect. When I learned I was a third-round pick by the Anaheim Angels, I was speechless....

“It’s a dream come true. This is what I’ve been working for since I first started playing baseball at age 4. It’s really pretty amazing....

“You have people telling you your whole life it’s never going to happen. It’s a one in a million, or one in however many chance. But I definitely felt my whole life that I could make it happen....”

Middleton, who played basketball and baseball at Lane Community College during the past school year, was the first player drafted from the state of Oregon in this year’s draft. He was drafted ahead of three Oregon State University standouts — pitchers Ben Wetzler (fifth round, 151st overall to the Philadelphia) and Matt Boyd (sixth round, to Toronto), and shortstop Tyler Smith (eighth round, to Seattle).

“I can’t say I wasn’t surprised he was picked that high,” said Dan Lee, who coached Middleton at Milwaukie High School. “But I wasn’t at all surprised that he was picked ahead of kids like [Oregon State University freshman starter] Andrew Moore and Ben Wetzler. “I saw Andrew Moore and Ben Wetzler pitch in high school, and Keynan is every bit as good as they are.”

Wetzler, a junior at OSU, sported an 8-1 season record and a 1.98 ERA in games played through the day he was drafted by the Phillies. He has until July 12 to decide whether he’ll sign his professional contract.

It’s the second selection of his career for Wetzler, a 2010 graduate of Clackamas High School who was selected by Cleveland in the 15th round of the 2010 MLB Draft, but elected to attend Oregon State.

The Cavaliers rallied around Wetzler’s pitching arm to win a state high school title in 2010, and he also played on the Cavalier team that won a state championship in 2008.

Lee says he believes Middleton is the first Milwaukie High graduate to be drafted by Major League Baseball in at least the past two decades.

“As far as I know, he is,” said Lee. “I’ve been at Milwaukie 17 years and I don’t know of anybody else being drafted in baseball during that time.”

“It’s just unbelievable!” said Keynan’s mom, Stephanie Middleton. “There aren’t words to describe how proud I am of Keynan. What makes it truly special is he’s more than a good athlete. He’s a good kid too. I am so proud!”

Middleton is the first Lane Community College player drafted since Kenny Brock in 2004, and he is the highest drafted player in Lane school history.

Community college players are rarely drafted as high as the third round. Only two community college players were drafted ahead of Middleton this year — pitcher Cody Reed of Mississippi’s Ole Miss Community College (Kansas City Royals, 46th overall); and catcher Victor Cartidini of Florida’s Miami Dade Community College (Atlanta Braves, 65th overall).

Reflecting back, Lee says of Middleton, “He was our No. 1 pitcher for three years. He was just a phenomenal athlete. Besides pitching, he was the best all-around player and athlete on the team....

“As a pitcher, he threw very hard. But he also had a very good breaking ball that he could throw for strikes. Even if you could catch up to his fastball, he had another option to go to, and that’s what made him special.”

His senior year at Milwaukie, Middleton had a 5-2 win-loss record, with a 2.26 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 55 innings. He also starred on offense, hitting .532 as a senior, with 24 runs scored, 22 RBI and seven home runs. And he was a perfect 28-for-28 on stolen base attempts.

“And that includes stealing home plate twice....,” said Lee. “Maybe he’ll end up in the National League. Then he can hit for himself.”

“When I went to Lane, they were going to have me play third base and pitch, and I was supposed to hit,” Middleton says. “But as my velocity got up there, they said you better concentrate on your pitching, because it could be your future. I do miss hitting, but I got drafted by the Angels in the third round. I can’t complain about that.”

Middleton, at 6-3 and 200 pounds, has also excelled in basketball. His junior year at Milwaukie he led the Mustangs to fourth place at the state tournament. His senior year he led the Mustangs to second place at state, averaging 20 points a game and earning a spot on the Class 5A All-Tournament Team.

At Lane, Middleton went 2-3, with a 3.42 ERA and 45 strikeouts and 23 hits allowed in 42 innings. He also played basketball, leading the team in rebounds, three-pointers and steals, and averaging 11.1 points, second-highest scoring average on the team.

Playing basketball meant a late start to baseball. Although he pitched in 13 games, he saw limited action on the mound until April 27, when he had his first “legitimate start,” according to Lane coach Josh Blunt.

Lane baseball coaches say they clocked Middleton’s fastball at 95 MPH this spring.

Middleton offered this advice to young people with the dream of playing professional baseball someday: “Work hard and stay humble. With hard work and dedication, anybody can do it.”

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