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Nighthawks Notebook: Upper Valley Alumni Selected in MLB Draft

  • Nighthawks player Ryan Jeffers (27) at Maxfield Sports Complex in White River Junction, Vt., on June 7, 2017. Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, June 09, 2018

University of North Carolina-Wilmington catcher Ryan Jeffers, by nearly everyone’s standards, wasn’t supposed to be selected as early as he was in the Major League Baseball entry draft that concluded last week. He wasn’t listed in MLB.com’s top-200 draft-eligible prospects before the draft. Baseball America, the periodical that focuses on prospects, listed Jeffers as the 295th prospect available.

The Minnesota Twins, however, saw something they liked. Jeffers, who played all of last summer with the Upper Valley Nighthawks, was selected in the second round (No. 59 overall) by the Twins, becoming the second former Upper Valley athlete ever to be drafted. He was the first of six former Nighthawks to be drafted last week, a list that included five from last year’s squad and another from 2016.

The Jeffers pick seemed to take MLB Network, broadcasting the first day of the draft on Monday, by surprise.

“Here is what’s interesting about this kid from UNC-Wilmington,” MLB Network host Greg Armsinger said during Tuesday’s broadcast. “We don’t have a script for him. We don’t have any B-roll.”

“He’s an offensive-minded catcher,” MLB.com’s Jim Callis added. “The question is on his catching ability. I think the consensus among some teams is he might not stick behind the plate. But obviously, taking him here, Minnesota clearly thinks he can catch.”

Jeffers, 21, batted .242 in 45 games a .701 OPS, 38 hits, seven doubles and 24 runs scored for Upper Valley last summer, splitting time behind the plate with Saint Joseph’s catcher James McConnon. The Wilmington, N.C. native also led the team with 26 walks and was one of 12 Upper Valley players to earn a trip to the 2017 NECBL All-Star Game.

Jeffers exploded offensively this season for UNCW, batting .320 with 16 home runs and 54 RBIs in 58 games. This season, he led the Colonial Athletic Association in home runs and on-base percentage.

Troy’s Matt Sanders and Southern Mississippi’s Luke Reynolds were drafted next, each being selected in the 10th round.

Sanders, selected 298th overall by the Seattle Mariners, played 46 games of Upper Valley’s 47 games at shortstop last summer. This spring, Sanders batted .378 with 28 extra-base hits as a senior, scoring 90 runs in 63 games, enough to earn second-team All-Sun Belt Conference honors.

Reynolds, selected 308th overall by the Chicago Cubs, found his game again with the Nighthawks. The Forest, Miss. native had not played in a NCAA Division I game since 2015 before joining Upper Valley — he was benched at Mississippi State during the 2016 season and sat out the spring 2017 season to adhere to NCAA transfer rules after joining Southern Mississippi. Reynolds was one of the Nighthawks’ top hitters, finishing the season batting .314 in 35 games. He also led the team with 10 doubles and was selected as an NECBL All-Star.

This spring, his career took off. Reynolds batted .389 in 62 games with 15 home runs and 61 RBIs for the Golden Eagles.

Seton Hall right-handed pitcher Billy Layne Jr. was selected in the 11th round (329 overall), becoming the second athlete from the Nighthawks’ inaugural season to be drafted. UNCW teammate Brian Mims — who played in the Upper Valley for a week in 2016 — was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2017 Draft. Cincinnati pitcher Cam Alldred was also drafted last week, in the 24th round (714 overall) by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Alldred was 4-2 with the Nighthawks last summer, leading the team with 38 strikeouts.

One notable exception from the draft was Troy outfielder Joey Denison, who was named the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year and a 2018 second-team All-American selection. His 91 hits this spring ranked 10th in the country and are the fourth-most by any player in Troy history. Denison’s .387 batting average was also top 20 among D-I athletes. The senior and two-time Nighthawk was an NECBL All-Star in 2016.

Thetford’s Chaput Joins Nighthawks Staff: Thetford Academy baseball coach Phil Chaput will assist the Nighthawks’ coaching staff for a majority of home games this season in return for academic credits toward an athletic leadership masters degree from Castleton University.

“It’s a great opportunity to improve my coaching, from both a personal and technical side,” Chaput said on Friday. “(Jason) Szafarski was so nice and welcome. He was like, ‘Yeah, whatever you need.’ ”

Chaput, who is concentrating on administration and coaching, began the program in 2016 and plans on graduating next spring.

Pause Joins Szafarski at Saint Michael’s: Hartford High graduate, Colby-Sawyer College assistant and Upper Valley Nighthawks assistant Mat Pause has signed on to join Nighthawks head coach Jason Szafarski and Saint Michael’s University baseball team next spring as a hitting coach next spring.

“Jason and I have been talking about it for most of the year,” Pause said. “I didn’t know if I’d have that opportunity again.”

Pause, a 2009 Hartford High graduate, joined Jim Broughton’s Colby-Sawyer staff in 2016 before landing with Upper Valley last summer. He said moving to the Burlington area always was the plan. Getting to coach at Saint Michael’s, under someone he already knows, worked out perfectly.

“It was kind of a decision like, if I’m going to do it, now is the time to do it,” said Pause, a math teacher at Hartford who is still looking for teaching jobs in northern Vermont. “For me, it was mainly trying to figure out a way to get up there to work, make money and do all that.”

Allard Shines in Debut: Hartford High graduate and Southern New Hampshire University right-handed pitcher Jordy Allard made his NECBL debut during Thursday’s season-opening, 10-4 win over the North Adams SteepleCats, striking out two batters and walking one in one inning of work.

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.