By CONOR NICHOLL
Andrew Heck and Patrick Cooper have each delivered quality spring seasons for NCAA Division I college programs, earned first team all-conference honors with the Hays Larks and been named to Baseball America's Jayhawk League top prospect lists.
In the next two days, Heck and Cooper will discover if their sterling resumes could yield a selection in Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft. The draft began with the first round televised Monday night and continues today and Wednesday.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Cooper, 10-3 with a 2.41 earned-run average in his three-year Larks career, was drafted in the 36th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks last summer but didn't sign.
Cooper, who worked four shutout innings to earn the victory in the Larks' season opener Sunday night, said he would probably be drafted today.
"Hopefully I will be picked in a decent spot and I think that's something that I have talked to a few teams about and we are kind of anticipating," Cooper said. "I am just hoping for the best and hopefully I can get started playing pro ball as soon as possible, but at the same time, I really don't want to leave Hays either."
Heck, Cooper and Devyn Rivera, who posted a 1.64 ERA for Chandler-Gilbert (Ariz.) Community College, are potential draftees.
Rivera, a right-hander, will not report to the Larks until July 1 at the earliest because of summer school.
Two years ago, catcher Eric Roof was drafted by the Detroit Tigers, but stayed in Hays. Last summer, closer Chase Johnson was a Phillies' selection and left in early June.
"It's great for the kids," Leo said. "They want to be drafted, so it will be hard on us if we lose that many kids because I think our roster is going to be a very, very strong offensive roster. Pitching-wise, we can get hit pretty hard by the draft, and we've got a couple holes to fill yet on the pitching.
Yes, we have some potential guys that something could happen in the draft and then you've got to scamper. It's nothing you can control, so I try not to lose sleep at night over it.
What happens, happens, and we will have to regroup if it happens."
Two summers ago, the Larks helped launch Cooper's collegiate career. After a rough freshman season at Eastern Kentucky University, Cooper posted a 2.76 ERA and earned Jayhawk League Top Prospect honors by Baseball America. He transferred to Des Moines Area Community College and posted an 8-1 record last spring.
In the summer, Cooper delivered a 0.66 ERA in a team-high 17 games as a reliever in the Cape Cod League.
Late summer, he joined the Larks and pitched a complete-game victory in the National Baseball Congress World Series.
This spring, Cooper switched colleges again and went to Bradley University to play under Elvis Dominguez, the former EKU coach.
"Didn't really work it out and didn't really come to an agreement, and I figured that I would try to get another year of school," Cooper said. "College experience put me in a little bit better position this year."
Cooper, known for his low-90s fastball and slider, was sick just before the spring season started.
"Lost a bunch of weight," Cooper said. "Spent a lot of the year playing catchup. Finally got my stuff back and had a decent year.
"Wasn't my best, but there wasn't really anything I could do about it."
Cooper, used as a reliever and starter, finished with a 4-5 record, two saves and 3.99 ERA in 70 innings and earned all-Missouri Valley Conference honorable mention honors. Cooper, who has not allowed a homer in 89 2/3 innings with the Larks, permitted just two homers with Bradley, tying for 16th-best in NCAA Division I, according to boydsworld.com, a college baseball statistical site. This summer, Cooper decided to return to Hays before the draft.
"This is kind of like home for me, somewhere where I can always come back to, unlike everywhere else where I am just moving around," he said. "This is a constant thing for me and that's why I feel so comfortable when I am out here."
How long Cooper stays in Hays, though, remains an open question.
"I think he is another one that if the price is right he is going to go," Leo said. "It just depends on how quick he is going to go. ... We'll take Patrick as far as we can. He is excited about coming back to Hays. He loves this place. Very dear to him. He is looking forward to the opportunity. For how long it is, we don't know, he doesn't know. We will both enjoy him being back for as long as he can."
The 6-2, 210-pound Heck, the top two-way player in Leo's 30 years with the Larks, has played and pitched in each year of spring ball at Duquesne University and during the summer with Hays. This spring, Heck led the Dukes with a .408 batting average and set school records for hits (91) and doubles (25).
On the mound, he led the team in wins (three), innings pitched (67 1/3) and was second in ERA (6.28). A consistent strike thrower, Heck's 10 walks allowed tied for ninth-fewest in NCAA Division I, according to boydsworld.com.
"Number one with Andrew, he is an outstanding athlete and that's what they look for, and he has had great success this year. He hasn't been on the radar a whole lot, so that might keep his draft number a little high as far as where he goes," Leo said. "He is probably going to get drafted. I know Andrew is not a kid that is ready to jump out of school and sign a contract. ... He is planning on being out here and we will see what happens."
Heck earned first-team all-Atlantic 10 and was one of 25 players named to the John Olerud Award watch list, given to the nation's top two-way player; the winner is announced July 2. Even with the honors and success, Heck doesn't know where he'll land in the draft.
"I know the draft is a crapshoot," he said. "Anything can happen. If I get a great opportunity to go and play Major League Baseball somewhere, I am going to be glad to take it. But I love being out here and that's my main focus right now until someone calls my name, depending if they do. I'm enjoying being back out here for my third year."
Heck, who drove in two runs and earned the Game 2 win in Sunday's season-opening doubleheader, will have to attend a different college if he chooses to go back to school next fall. Because of financial reasons, Duquesne cut the baseball program last fall and this spring marked the final year for the Dukes -- and a longtime pipeline for the Larks.
"We are going to miss the Duquesne kids," Leo said. "Great kids off the field, great kids on the field."
Heck has narrowed his college choices to University of North Carolina-Wilmington, Ohio State University and Kent State University.
"It was kind of funny," Heck said. "I felt like I was in high school again with coaches calling me and going through the whole recruiting process again."
An easier task was finding a summer team. Last summer, Heck started multiple positions, posted a 6-0 record, 1.79 ERA and batted .360 for the Larks. Heck called Hays "a great situation," and one where he can hone his skills in hitting, pitching and fielding.
"(Somewhere else) I am going to have to deal with making me just pitch or just play the field and I wouldn't get to work on both aspects of the game for myself being a two-way guy," Heck said. "Frank understands that I am a two-way guy and I think he likes the way that I play. He lets me get better by having me in the lineup all the time."