On Friday, Colin McKee and Mick Fennell were fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
On Saturday, that changed.
McKee, a starting pitcher at Mercyhurst University, was chosen in the 18th round by the Houston Astros and Fennell, a center fielder at California (Pa.) University, went in the 22nd round to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
“My priorities are definitely now with my employer,” McKee said.
The change in allegiance is a little more stark for Fennell, who now has to don the hat of a Pirates’ bitter rival.
“It’s a little bit of a switch,” Fennell joked. “I’ve been a Pirates fan all my life. I guess I’m a Cardinals fan now.”
The two Butler graduates, former teammates on the Golden Tornado baseball team and still close friends, were both thrilled to be selected so close together.
McKee went with the 546th pick; Fennell with the 676th pick.
“Once I got picked, I knew Mick’s name was coming in the next two to four rounds ... and I was right,” McKee said. “He deserves it. Nobody loves the game more.”
McKee and Fennell were two of four Butler County baseball players to be selected by MLB teams this weekend.
Seneca Valley graduate Matt Smith, a 6-foot-3 senior right-handed pitcher at Georgetown University, was selected in the 34th round by the Milwaukee Brewers. Mars graduate David Bednar, a 6-1 junior right-handed pitcher at Lafayette College, was drafted in the 35th round by the San Diego Padres.
McKee, a 6-3 right-hander pitcher, had no inkling it would be the Astros who would select him coming off a season at Mercyhurst in which he posted an 11-2 record with a 1.82 ERA and a school-record 141 strikeouts in just 94 innings.
“They weren’t even on the radar,” McKee said. “I never talked to them until they called.”
The Colorado Rockies, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners were the teams that showed McKee the most interest.
McKee worked out for some of the Cubs’ top brass at Wrigley Field June 6.
“It was my first time in Chicago and my first time at Wrigley Field,”
McKee said. “I got goose bumps as I walked onto the field through the tunnel.”
McKee hopes that becomes a familiar feeling.
He was assigned Sunday to the Greeneville Astros of the Appalachian League, Houston’s Rookie League club.
McKee thought he might go in the first 10 rounds, but was happy with his slot.
“It was a big sigh of relief,” McKee said. “It was a stressful process.”
Fennell was drafted as an outfielder, but could potentially fill a more valuable role as a super-utility player in the mold of Boston’s Brock Holt.
MLB teams are increasingly looking for players who can field multiple positions.
Fennell was a four-year starter at California and hit .385 his senior season. He set career highs with eight homers, 33 RBI, 22 stolen bases and 57 runs scored. He led the PSAC in triples (seven) for the third straight year.
“They see me as an outfielder, but I played infield in high school,”
Fennell said. “I can play anywhere they want me to play. Whatever the team needs me to do. I can fill that utility option.
“Now we’ll see if I’m good enough,” Fennell added. “I’ve prepared myself for this, playing in competitive wood bat leagues the past two summers.
Wherever the Cardinals send me, I’ll roll with it. I can’t wait to get started.
Smith said he thought he might go in the top 10 rounds, but slipped to the 34th round.
“It’s a weird system,” Smith said. “When the draft begins, you really don’t know where you’ll end up or in what round. All bets are off.”
Smith was 3-6 with a 4.56 ERA for Georgetown this year.
“I fell a little,” Smith said. “But I can’t wait to get going at rookie ball.”
Smith was assigned to the rookie league affiliate Arizona Brewers in Phoenix.
Bednar was 3-5 with a 3.92 ERA at Lafayette. He struck out 70 and opponents batted just .241 against him.
He was playing for the Falmouth Commodores in the Cape Cod League, but was on a plane for Arizona and then Spokane, Wash., Sunday night to join the Padres’ Class A short-season team in Pasco, Wash.