MLB Draft Day Approaches for Top UVa Prospects

The first two days and 10 rounds of this year's Major League draft will be done by the time the Virginia baseball team takes the field Saturday afternoon to face Maryland.

Which, in the eyes of UVa coach Brian O'Connor, means one less potential distraction come game time.

"Then they know what their fate is, from the draft standpoint, and they can just go out and play. So I think our guys will handle it well, like they've handled it all year long," O'Connor said this week.

"We have a lot of talent on this year's ballclub," O'Connor added. "A lot has been made of this third-year class, and the development that they've had through their time in this program. And I believe that's going to be reflected on Thursday and Friday, in the Major League draft."

"I think we have a chance for three of the players to go significantly in the draft, and they deserve that."

Those three players are juniors Nick Howard, Derek Fisher, and Mike Papi. All three rank in the top 50 on Baseball America's list of prospects entering Thursday's first round, and in the top 60 of's prospect rankings.

Baseball America has Howard ranked highest at No. 25, followed by Fisher (31) and Papi (43). Keith Law of has Fisher at No. 17 overall in his draft prospects, followed by Papi (38) and Howard (59).

The draft begins with the first two rounds on Thursday night, plus the supplemental rounds that follow. A total of 74 picks will be made the first night. Rounds 3-10 will be held on on Friday, with the draft's final 30 rounds to follow on Saturday.

But the Cavaliers' three top prospects all say their focus is on Saturday afternoon's Super Regional opener with the Terrapins at Davenport Field.

"This week is all about college baseball, said Fisher. "It's something that I've obviously wished to do my entire life. Something that I've looked forward to since I was a kid."

"It's easy, because we're playing this week," said Howard. "So there's a lot of stuff going into it. I'm very tied up with watching film, doing skill work, So I mean, I'm pretty busy this week."

"The draft takes care of itself. I can't do anything to do anything for the draft, and neither can anyone else," said Papi. "So you've just got to worry about the team, and worry about making it to Omaha, and just playing for everyone else."

The UVa program has had 50 players taken in the 10 MLB drafts since O'Connor took over as head coach. The program has had four players all-time go in Round 1 -- plus Sean Doolittle, who was a supplemental first rounder by the Oakland Athletics in 2007.

Lefty Danny Hultzen was the Wahoos' last first round pick, by the Seattle Mariners in 2011. Third baseball Ryan Zimmerman was the last UVa position player to go in Round 1, by the Washington Nationals in 2004.

Thursday morning's final mock draft from Baseball America projects Howard to the Los Angeles Angels with the No. 15 overall pick in Round 1. Law's most recent mock draft has the Los Angeles Dodgers taking Fisher at No. 22 overall, followed by Howard to the Detroit Tigers at No. 23.

By early Friday afternoon, all three players expect to get the actual call from a big league franchise.

"That's why we play the game," said Papi. "It's our dream to make it as far as we can. And that's the next level."

"I just think it's a credit to this program and this team," said Howard. "We've had so much success, and it's put us in a great place going forward, and our futures."

"We've all been here. We all know how hard each other works," said Fisher. "And to be able to share a time like that at the end of the season is cool. But I think something that's going to obviously blow that out of the water is to be able to play with them again this weekend, this Super Regional, obviously here at our home ballpark."

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