June 8, 2010

Golden Eagles go pro; four ball players selected in MLB’s 2010 First-Year Player draft

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Dreams came true Tuesday for four members of the Golden Eagle baseball team as juniors Stephen Pryor, AJ Kirby-Jones and Chad Oberacker and senior Adam Liberatore were selected in the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft Tuesday afternoon.

Right-handed pitcher Stephen Pryor, designated hitter/utility player AJ Kirby-Jones, center fielder Chad Oberacker and lefty pitcher Adam Liberatore now each have their chance to strut in front of his respective ball club for the opportunity to sign a major league contract.

Selected in the fifth round, junior right-handed pitcher Stephen Pryor of Mt. Juliet, Tenn. was drafted by the Seattle Mariners as the 162nd pick of the three-day draft. He was drafted once prior by the Texas Rangers after his freshman year at Cleveland State Community College in Cleveland, Tenn., but opted to return for another year before transferring to Tennessee Tech for the 2010 season.

The primary closer for Tech standing 6’4” and weighing in at 235lbs, Pryor led the Golden Eagle pitching staff in 2010 with 24 appearances and four saves, and maintained a 4-4 record with a 5.71 ERA throughout the course of the season. He struck out 75 batters in 41 total innings, ranking fourth in the Ohio Valley Conference in strikeouts, and held opponents to a .224 batting average.

With the ability to pitch at a speeds lingering around 94mph and reaching velocities as high as 96mph, Pryor holds the single season record at Tech for strikeouts per nine innings with 16.46, while his four saves in a single season ranks third in the record books. Of the 35 hits allowed in 2010, only 13 of them were for extra bases.

With the 275th pick of the draft, the Oakland A’s selected utility player and second team All-American AJ Kirby-Jones out of Knoxville, Tennessee in the ninth round.

The 6’0”, 210 junior started all 56 games for Tech this year, primarily as the team’s designated hitter. He also occasionally started and filled in at first base for the Golden Eagles, and saw time on the mound as a right-handed reliever.

As the three-slot batter, Kirby-Jones slugged a monumental .859 this season - a statistic that ranked second in the NCAA at the season’s end, led the Ohio Valley Conference and shattered the single season record at Tech. His career slugging percentage of .686 ties for first place in the Tech record books. He finished second in the nation, first in the OVC crushing 26 home runs on the season. With 51 career home runs, he takes the number one spot in Tech history.

Kirby-Jones has a career batting average of 347 through three years at Tech, earning 207 hits in 596 at bats, 100 of which were for extra bases. He ranks first at Tech in career total bases with 409, runs scored with 143, hits, doubles with 49, runs batted in with 190 and walks with 128.

Starting the past 114 games consecutively, he batted in 70 runs this year, breaking his own school record for RBIs in the 2009 season to earn the two spot in the Tech single season record books. He is also amongst top OVC players in categories such as on-base percentage, RBIs, total plate appearances and total bases for the 2010 season.

He has earned honors as National Player of the Week and OVC Player of the Week in March, as well as first team all-OVC for the 2010 regular season and was named a member of the post-season OVC all-tournament team. Kirby-Jones is also a finalist for TTU’s Male Athlete of the Year Award and is on the 2010 Dick Howser Trophy watch list.

Center fielder and first team All-American Chad Oberacker was selected as the 589th overall pick by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 19th round.

The Erie, PA. native was the only Golden Eagle to play and start all 56 games in a field position this year, but also stepped in as a southpaw reliever for Tech. He finished his season ranked number three in the nation, leading the Golden Eagles and the Ohio Valley Conference with a batting average of .452. Batting in the clean-up position, Oberacker consistently hit over .400 for the entire season, and finished fourth in the nation in total hits with 108 – a statistic that ranks first in the OVC - 40 of which were for extra bases.

His career batting average of .395 takes top honors in Tech history as he logged 188 hits in 476 at bats, including 39 doubles, nine triples and 12 home runs over the course of three years at Tech. He batted in 110 runs and rounded the bases – including 28 stolen bases - 130 times, accumulating 281 total bases with a career on-base percentage of .470.

Throughout the season he maintained an on-base percentage of .527 and slugged .690, batting in 70 runs and becoming just the fourth athlete in Tech history to bring in over 60 runs in one season, earning him the three spot in Tech record books. He set single season records in 2010 for hits and doubles with 29, which ranks first in the OVC, and he ranks second in Tech’s single season history in total bases with 165. Oberacker is also tied for the top spot in Tech record books with nine career triples.

He recorded a conference high 281 total plate appearances, rounding the bases 67 times and logging five triples, six homers and 34 walks for 2010. He also recorded an outstanding 36 multi-hit games and fielded .992 on the season, .972 for his career.

Oberacker received Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Week accolades for week 13 of the season, was named first team All-OVC and second team Academic All-District. He is the first baseball player in Tech history to be named to an All-America team as well as to an Academic All-District team. He was named to the 2010 OVC all-tournament team, is also one of 10 finalists for Tennessee Tech University’s Male Athlete of the Year award, and is on the 2010 John Olerud Two-Way Player watch list.

The 641st pick of the 2010 draft belonged to the Tampa Bay Rays, who selected fifth year senior southpaw Adam Liberatore of Rochester, PA.

Having appeared in at least one contest in each of his five years at Tech, Liberatore finished his career with a 6.34 earned run average, having allowed 116 earned runs of 133 runs on 222 hits. He finished his career with a 12-10 record, starting in 29 of his 50 career appearances and pitching a total of 164.2 innings.

Liberatore held his opponents to a .318 batting average over the course of his career and struck out 155 total batters, 74 alone in the 2010 season. He battled back from a season-ending elbow injury in 2009 to lead the Golden Eagles in games started with 13 this season, throughout which he held up a 5.30 ERA and recorded a 6-4 record. Prior to his injury in 2009, he went 2-0 in his first two starts of the season with a 0.00 ERA, pitching a total of 17 innings and striking out 21 batters, allowing only six walks.

He was given OVC accolades as Pitcher of the Week in 2009 and twice honored with the same award in the 2010 season, once individually and once with teammate Lee Henry.

The three juniors are now faced with decisions regarding their chances to sign with professional organizations or return to Tech to finish out their eligibility as collegiate athletes. Their individual verdicts however, cannot be overshadowed by the sheer significance of the opportunity that these players have worked his entire baseball career for. Regardless of the decisions made, one cannot deny the professional potential of the prospects coming out of Tennessee Tech University and the baseball program that guided them towards their current opportunities.