Left handed pitcher Josh Fleming became the first player in school history to be drafted by a major league baseball team June 14. The Tampa Bay Rays selected him in the fifth round as the 139th overall pick.
Fleming said he had talked to Tampa Bay and other organizations before the draft and had a feeling he would be taken as a higher round pick.
“It was pretty surreal,” Fleming said. “I’m not sure it has completely hit me yet, but it’s just an awesome feeling. I couldn’t be more excited.”
He is only the second player ever to be drafted out of the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC).
Fleming was named d3baseball.com Central Region Pitcher of the Year and was the first Division III player selected in the draft. He was also named to the Division III All-American First Team.
Baseball America ranked Fleming as the 210th best prospect in its pre-draft rankings, but Tampa Bay had him rated higher.
Tampa Bay Midwest Area Scouting Director Matt Alison said Fleming had all of the attributes the Rays organization looks for in a pitcher. Alison said he liked Fleming’s delivery and arm action.
“One thing that jumped out at me was just how easy of a strike thrower he was,” Alison said. “He has the ability to throw the fastball on both sides of the plate. He has a feel for what I think is going to be an above average changeup.”
Webster University head coach Bill Kurich said he knew Fleming was something special when he threw 90 miles per hour in his first collegiate pitch. He said Fleming worked hard to get better and develop all of his secondary pitches.
“He got bigger and stronger,” Kurich said. “Very early this spring it was evident he was going to have an opportunity to pitch professionally.”
After being limited to six starts in 2016, Fleming came back fully healthy his junior season. Fleming led the team in ERA (0.68), wins (8), strikeouts (115) and innings pitched (92.2).
Kurich said Fleming received a lot of attention from scouts during the season and several teams indicated they were interested in drafting him.
“I am thrilled for Josh and his family,” Kurich said. “He has worked his butt off every day for three years since he got to Webster. This is a great moment for Josh and our program.”
Alison said Kurich told him how hard of a worker and competitor Fleming is during his conversations with him.
“It makes you feel better to be able to go up to your draft meeting and stick your neck on the line for a guy who is just an all-school guy,” Alison said. “The coach says this guy is going to do everything you ask him. He’s going to get after it. He’s going to work.”
Pitcher Matt Goro, Fleming’s teammate for the past three years, said the team was confident they would win every time Fleming started.
“I really enjoyed watching him pitch against Wheaton (Mass.) this year,” Goro said. “That’s a team that competes to go to the World Series every year, and he just mowed them down.”
After signing with Tampa Bay, Fleming will be assigned to the Princeton Rays of the rookie level Appalachian League. Princeton is managed by former Cardinals catcher Danny Sheaffer.
“I’m looking forward to the first game that I get to pitch in,” Fleming said. “At that point, I can finally say I made it and that my dreams came true.”