(MSUB Athletics release)
SECAUCUS, N.J. – History was made Wednesday as Montana State University Billings baseball players Adam Cox and Kaleo Johnson were selected in the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
Cox’s name was called by the Philadelphia Phillies in Round 25 of the draft, and he was the 737th overall pick. Johnson followed in Round 32, as the Tampa Bay Rays selected him with the 960th overall pick.
“It is great for our program to have both of these guys taken in the draft,” said MSUB head coach Aaron Sutton. “Development is key and both these young men put in the time. We are very fortunate as a program that they put their trust in us to help them along this path.”
An Encino, Calif., native, Cox recently completed a five-year career at MSUB that included a redshirt season in 2013-14. He was named a National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association second-team all-region pick this spring, after leading the Great Northwest Athletic Conference with six saves and posting a 2.54 earned run average in 28 1/3 innings pitched. Cox struck out 42.3 percent of the batters he faced in his senior season, with 47 punch outs and a strikeout-per-nine rate of 14.9.
“I am extremely happy for Adam and his family,” said Sutton. “This is a testament to the resiliency that young man had throughout his career. The future is very bright for Adam and we know the Phillies are getting a good one.”
In his final appearance, Cox logged career highs with 4 2/3 innings pitched, six strikeouts, and 75 pitches in the GNAC Championships against Western Oregon.
The longest-tenured member of MSUB’s baseball team, Cox was a freshman on the 2015 squad that made history with the first GNAC regular-season title in school history. Four years later, Cox finished his career with three conference titles, four GNAC Championships appearances, and helped the ‘Jackets to a cumulative record of 113-90.
One of the most dominant closers the GNAC has seen, Cox finished his career No. 1 in the MSUB record books with 15 career saves and 40 games finished. He was a two-time all-region selection and earned first-team all-conference honors this season.
Overall in his four seasons on the diamond Cox struck out 110 batters in 82 2/3 innings pitched, holding a career ERA of 3.92 and an opponents’ batting average of .226.
Cox was also an all-region selection as a utility player in 2016, after he batted .371 with 12 doubles and nine home runs, and led the GNAC with 47 runs batted in.
Johnson put together one of the best seasons in MSUB and GNAC history, becoming the first-ever player to win the GNAC triple crown as he led the league in batting average (.412), home runs (17), and RBIs (54). He recently also became the first player in MSUB history to be a consensus All-American, earning honors from the NCBWA, Division II Conference Commissioners Association, and the American Baseball Coaches Association. The Alameda, Calif., native’s 17 home runs helped MSUB shatter the school and conference records as the team amassed 78 long balls and scored a GNAC-record 8.41 runs per game on the season.
“Kaleo put in his time and really earned this opportunity to play professional baseball,” said Sutton. “The Rays are getting an outstanding player.”
The GNAC Newcomer of the Year and unanimous first-team selection, Johnson received first-team all-region recognition from all three organizations earlier this spring. Johnson broke Brody Miller’s MSUB single-season home runs record, as he led the GNAC with 17 and finished one shy of the league record despite starting only 41 games.
His slugging percentage of .845 was a GNAC single-season record, and is the second-highest mark in the entire NCAA Division II.
One of the most effective hitters in the nation, Johnson carried an OPS of 1.343 this spring which also ranks as the second-highest mark in the entire NCAA.
Johnson is one of just five players in the NCAA D2 west region – and the only player from the GNAC – to receive All-American recognition from the ABCA. There were seven west-region selections among the D2CCA All-Americans, and Johnson was the lone representative from the GNAC on that list as well.
The Yellowjacket teammates were the only players drafted from the GNAC this season, and the first players drafted since Western Oregon University’s Brady Miller was picked by the Chicago Cubs in the 23rd round last year.
In the summer of 2017, former Yellowjacket Brady Muller (’15) became the first player in school history to sign an affiliated professional contract. Muller pitched in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ organization, for the Missoula Osprey in the Pioneer League during the 2017 campaign.
MSUB finished the 2018 season 33-18 overall, and won its third GNAC regular-season title in the last four years by going 29-11 in conference play.
NOTEWORTHY: The list of Montana players to be selected in the MLB draft is a fairly exclusive one, with only 66 players selected in the draft from either a Montana high school or college since 1965. Among those 66, only nine have been picked out of colleges in Montana.
The most recent college player drafted from Montana was Riley King from Carroll College in 2013. Dawson Community College had its second-ever draft pick this season, when Reynaldo Pichardo was called by the Texas Rangers in the 33rd round/989 overall. DCC also had Joseph Franklin selected in the 2004 draft.
The University of Montana Western and Montana State University have each also had two players selected in the draft. UMW had Jason Goligoski picked in 1993 and Donald Campbell selected in 1970. MSU’s last draft pick was Paul McGhay in 1988, and its first-ever was Larry Jerrel in 1966.
The highest-ever Montana draft pick was Les Rohr of Billings West High School, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the first round of the 1965 draft. The left-handed pitcher logged three seasons at the Major League level, with a 3.70 ERA in 24 1/3 career innings with the New York Mets from 1967-69.
A full list of players with Montana ties who were selected in the MLB draft can be found online via Baseball Reference here.