Jake Harrell had gone to Fairmont Elementary’s eighth grade promotion to support family friend Chase Hammes on June 6.
Earlier that day, he had spoken to another reporter. He said giving interviews is getting easier.
Harrell may need the skill of talking with the press. His talents on the field have made him a rather hot commodity in the world of baseball. He committed to Fresno State and is scheduled to play for the Bulldogs in the upcoming season.
But the news that the Cleveland Indians picked him in the 39th round at No. 1,180 was definitely worth paying attention to. The Major League Baseball draft had 40 rounds.
“Anytime you get drafted, it’s a big deal,” Harrell said as the Fairmont ceremony wrapped up and students mingled with parents and friends on a pleasant evening on school grounds. “They called me yesterday morning. Offered $125,000.”
Harrell said he wasn’t surprised. “I just felt it was worth more to go to school first,” he said.
Kyle Cardoza, a sports journalist and former pitcher for Washington Union, said it’s a misconception that seeing any pitchers drafted out of the central San Joaquin Valley is uncommon. Sanger pitcher Luis Ortiz was selected with the 30th overall pick in round 1 in 2014 by the Texas Rangers. Ortiz, a right-hander, made his major league debut with the Baltimore Orioles on Sept. 7, 2018 against the Tampa Bay Rays. He was optioned back to the Norfolk, Va. Tides in April, according to mlb.com.
“And from what I’ve heard, Harrell has earned the recognition,” Cardoza said via Messenger. “MLB scouts are limited on time. They can only visit so many towns, go to so many games. And if a pitcher has poise, control, off-speed stuff and potential, they deserve the honor of being drafted.
“As a southpaw, Harrell also has an advantage, since there are fewer left-handers than right-handers. He likely reminded scouts of former Valley pitcher Dylan Lee (Dinuba), who pitched for College of the Sequoias and Fresno State and was also drafted in the past. He has size, length and a wipeout off-speed pitch. Most importantly, he has potential. And whether he takes the money and heads to the Minors or not, it’s a great accomplishment for a Valley pitcher.”
Harrell played in the championship game for the Apaches against arch rival San Joaquin Memorial on May 17. Sanger lost that game 3-2 at Pete Biden Field in the bottom of the ninth inning. Memorial squeezed through a run in the seventh to put the game into extra innings. Harrell was replaced in the eighth inning after reaching his pitch limit.
Apache head coach David Cuellar has said his 2019 team was so good because of Harrell and fellow pitcher Alec Flores, also a senior. “This baseball team is not a fluke,” he said after that game against the Panthers.
“We are very proud of Jake,” Cuellar said via text. “He has an opportunity to do something special. His dream since he was a kid was to be a Bulldog and be drafted by an MLB team. He never lost sight of that goal. His hard work and commitment to doing things right on and off the field is paying off.”
Harrell said if he were to accept the Indians’ offer, he would likely be playing “rookie ball.”
“I don’t know what the very start is,” he said. And he said the offer is worth considering. “I mean it’s a lot of money obviously. But compared to what potentially could come up.”
Vern Summers, a member of the 1950 championship Apache team who was elected this year to the Sanger Athletic Hall of Fame, watched Harrell play in one of the final home games of the season. Summers, a pitcher, critiqued some aspects of his playing but said he’d like to see how Harrell turns out.
That potential could be big.
Harrell said he had a couple of weeks to decide. “I still have to talk with my family about what I should do,” he said. “But as of right now I’m leaning (to playing for the Bulldogs). It was just cool for my name to get called.”
Harrell graduated from Hallmark Charter School in Sanger on June 8. He’s 6 feet 4 inches and weighs 185 pounds. He turns 19 on July 5.