MONMOUTH — On June 5, four Western Oregon University baseball players were selected in the 2019 Major Baseball League First-Player Draft.
The next day, right-handed pitcher Gabe Benavides signed a free-agent contract with the LA Dodgers.
It was the largest draft that the Great Northwest Athletic Conference has ever seen since, and first picks for WOU since 2017, when Brady Miller was taken by the Chicago Cubs in the 27th round.
“This is a very exciting day for Western Oregon baseball,” said head coach Kellen Walker. “All four of these student-athletes did it right on and off the field. Having the opportunity to continue to play at the next level is a testament to the way they went about their business every day.”
Jared McDonald, catcher, Alex Roth, right-handed pitcher, Koty Fallon, right-handed pitcher and Austin Crowson, left-handed pitcher, have since joined their respective teams for summer training.
Jared McDonald: Oakland Athletics
June 5 was just like any other day for Jared McDonald as he sat down to eat breakfast.
Then the phone call he was waiting for came through, announcing he had been selected in the 19th round for the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Player-Draft.
McDonald said it’s hard to describe how he felt when he received the news.
“The call came through, and it was the scout and, it was a shock,” McDonald said. “It was really incredible. I’ll remember that day forever.”
As soon as he graduated from WOU on June 15, he headed out to Mesa, Arizona, where he joined the Oakland Athletics Club for spring training.
“So what happens once you get drafted is, typically, you report to where they spring train. So, half the teams are in Arizona and the other half is in Florida. So I reported down to Arizona where the rookie league is, and I signed my contract and all that stuff, and now I’m actually playing for the Oakland Athletics Arizona League team. So it’s their rookie ball team in Arizona.”
Since then, he’s been playing baseball every day and adjusting to the swing of things.
“It was a whirlwind at first, because you don’t know what to expect,” McDonald said. “But now it’s everything you dreamed of: I get to wake up and I get to play baseball the entire day. Everything at the facility is set up for you for success, and that’s just amazing to me. From the food to trainers, everything is built for you to be successful on the field. You’re around guys who love baseball, you’re around coaches that know baseball, the trainers love baseball; it’s kind of everything you dreamed of for sure.”
The season started before McDonald arrived, so he hasn’t been able to play in any games yet, but has been soaking up as much practice time as possible.
“Because I graduated, I got here a little later than everyone, so the season started a week or so ago. I haven’t played any games yet. I’ve been catching and doing all the work, getting ready to play. Hopefully here in the next couple weeks I’ll be able to play. I’ve been hanging out in the pen learning the guys, learning how everything works. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Playing professional baseball has been a dream of McDonald’s since he started playing baseball when he was 5 or 6 years old.
“Baseball has always been my thing,” McDonald said. “When I was younger I played a bunch of sports, and then once I got to high school, that’s when baseball became my sole focus, sports-wise. That’s when I started to really focus, like hey I gotta work hard for this, let’s make this an opportunity. I don’t think it became a realization until college, when I was like, I can actually do something like this. But it’s always been my dream, and I’ve been working toward it my whole life.”
Now that he’s part of an MLB team, the hard work has only begun.
“I’ll stay down here in the AZL and get a bunch of playing time, getting my feet wet into pro baseball, and then it’s just kind of, you want to play and then you want to move up,” McDonald said. “There’s single A, double A and triple A teams, but there’s also different levels of single A, so basically you’re working to get that call to move up to single A, whatever team they want to send you to. It’s all about playing and getting better every single day.”
McDonald said that if he hadn’t transferred to WOU from Arizona, he wouldn’t be where he is today.
“I transferred after my sophomore year (from Arizona) and I was kind of scared; it was a big move ... but it was the best decision of my life. Being a guy that transferred to a smaller school, that’s the best thing you can possibly do. Find a place that lets you play, a program that’s best for you, and chase your dream no matter what. It hasn’t been smooth sailing for me, but I get to play professional baseball and that’s something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Don’t give up. It doesn’t matter how bumpy the road is, just keep going. You can do it.”
San Diego Padres
Koty Fallon, a pitcher for the Western Oregon University Wolves, said it was a dream come true when he was picked in the 40th round for the 2019 MLB First-Player Draft.
“I was mostly excited, but also overwhelmed,” Fallon said.
He didn’t begin talking to scouts until after the baseball season at WOU ended, in May, so when his name was one of the last to be called in the draft, it wasn’t a call he was expecting to receive the afternoon of June 5 while he was at home with his roommates.
“I knew it was a possibility (being drafted), but I was not expecting it, especially as it got later into the draft,” he said.
Like McDonald, things moved quickly for Fallon after he got the call. As soon as graduation was over, he traveled to Peoria, Arizona, where he reported to the San Diego Padres and was assigned to a team.
“I am currently playing with the Arizona League Padres 2, which is a rookie ball level affiliate team with the Padres,” Fallon said. “It has been an amazing experience so far. It’s a lot faster than collegiate baseball, and more individually based.”
Since arriving in Arizona, his days are busy as he settles in with the team.
“I usually show up to the complex two hours before practice starts and eat breakfast, go to Spanish class, and then watch videos,” Fallon said “Then I go to our training room and activate. From there I go do my arm-care routines and mound-management/visualization. Then I go to practice where we throw and have a team practice. Then we usually do mound management as a team. Following that, we usually have a team/pitchers meeting. Then we can eat lunch and get ready for our game. After we eat, we go play our game. If we pitched in that game we have to lift after. Finally I shower, eat dinner and go get some sleep.”
Baseball has been a part of Fallon’s life since he was 6 years old, which was when dreams of being a professional sprouted.
“I plan for it to always be a part of my life,” he said. “I love this game and never want to leave it.”
Alex Roth: Bristol Pirates
When Alex Roth got the call announcing that he had been selected in the 21st round for the 2019 MLB Draft, he was in class at Western Oregon University, taking notes.
“I made a bee-line for the door to take the phone call,” he said.
When he answered, he said, “I felt a rush of emotion that was nothing like I’ve felt before. Feeling all of your hard work pay off in that way isn’t comparable to many things I’ve felt before.”
The junior right-handed pitcher for WOU was selected to play for the Bristol Pirates, a minor league baseball team owned by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Roth had an explosive season this year: he was a two-time Great Northwest Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year, and led the league with a 2.35 earned-run average, finishing with a 7-0 record in 2019. Additionally, he led the league with 12.77 strikeouts per game.
School has been put on hold while Roth begins his training with the Pirates.
“Life is good,” he said. “It’s different having baseball be your one soul focus. Each day you get to the field and get your position-specific work in, certain days you have a workout, then you get a break before preparing for the game. It is all very structured and organized.”
He said the biggest difference between playing professional baseball and collegiate baseball is the pressure of competition.
“In college, you could get away with mistakes much easier,” Roth said. “In professional baseball your room for error is much slimmer.”
Roth, like his other teammates who were selected in the draft, has been playing baseball for most of his life. He didn’t begin considering the idea of playing professionally until the fall of this last baseball season.
“When the first professional scouts started contacting me, it started to set in,” he said, “and I began to believe what my coaches were telling me would happen.”
Without the support from his family, friends and coaches, Roth said he wouldn’t be where he is.
“They each (supported me) in a different way, but they all helped push me toward the same goal of being successful,” he said. “I’m thankful for the experience I’ve had at WOU. It was definitely some of the best times in my life. There are some special people around that baseball program and throughout the university that aren’t as appreciated for the impacts they have on peoples’ lives as they should be. Go Wolves!”
Crowson was unavailable for comment, but was selected to the Philadelphia Phillies in the 39th round.
Benavides was also unavailable for comment, and was selected to play for the LA Dodgers.