PHILADELPHIA - The University of Pennsylvania team capped off its best season in the past decade with four selections on day three of Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft Wednesday, setting a new program record for the most selections in a single draft. The Quakers had four pitchers get the call - Billy Lescher, Jake Cousins, Adam Bleday and Jake Nelson - which is the most players taken by a single Ivy League institution since 2004.
"This is a tremendous day for not only the four men selected, but also for the Penn baseball program as a whole," remarked Joseph W. Blood head coach John Yurkow. "Having their names called today is a testament to the all the hard work and dedication they have poured into our program over the last few seasons, and I could not be more proud of each and every one of them. I am excited to see what they can accomplish at the professional level and looking forward to seeing them progress down the road."
Lescher was the first of the four to get the call with the Detroit Tigers' 17th round pick (515 overall), and became the first Penn junior to be selected since Vince Voiro was taken by the San Diego Padres in the 2011 draft. The right-hander was the most prominent reliever in the Quaker bullpen this past season, leading the team with 16 appearances and four saves while posting a 2-2 record with a 3.18 ERA. The Alexandria, Va. native put together 13 scoreless outings including an 11.2 inning scoreless streak that spanned three weeks in the middle of the season.
The Washington Nationals tapped Cousins in the 20th round (613 overall), marking the third time in the last seven seasons that the Quakers have had multiple players taken in the draft. The first-team All-Ivy selection compiled a 7-2 record and a 3.15
ERA as the ace of the pitching staff in 2017, while also reaching 20 career wins to rank third on Penn's all-time wins list. Cousins was
at the forefront of the Quakers' success this season - as the team was
8-3 in his starts - due in large part to a season-long stretch of
allowing three earned runs or less in nine of his eleven starts.
Bleday was taken by the Houston Astros in the 27th round (811 overall) following two successful years as a member of the staff after transferring to Penn prior to the 2016 season. The lefty's 74 strikeouts led the Ivy League this season, as well as ranking him sixth on Penn's all-time single-season strikeout list. Bleday used a dominant four-pitch mix over the duration of his senior season, and struck out at least nine batters in five of his starts on the year.
Nelson became the program's record-setting fourth draft selection on the day when he was tabbed by the Detroit Tigers in the 33rd round (995 overall). The draft-eligible sophomore posted a 2.25 ERA across ten relief appearances on the year, including three saves. Nelson punched out 13 batters in his 16 innings of work, while also posting a team-leading .193 batting average against mark.
"The pitchers drafted today are very deserving, talented kids," said Penn pitching coach Josh Schwartz. "Nelson and Lescher have a lot of power and are big, physical right-handers. Cousins is a great athlete and has a real chance to be special after a very successful career at Penn. Bleday worked tirelessly this year, has four good pitches and led the league in strikeouts by a considerable margin."
"It was a proud day for our coaching staff to watch the draft and see these young men realizing goals that had been discussed in the recruiting process years ago," Schwartz added. "While Nelson and Lescher have the option to sign or return, Cousins and Bleday , as seniors, will sign professional contracts and soon begin their journeys toward the major leagues."
Billy Lescher - Detroit Tigers | 17th Round, 515 Overall
Jake Cousins - Washington Nationals | 20th Round, 613 Overall
Adam Bleday - Houston Astros | 27th Round, 811 Overall
Jake Nelson - Detroit Tigers | 33rd Round, 995 Overall