ETSU’s “Triple Threat” forgo draft rights to remain Buccaneers
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (July 15, 2016) – After a month of angst and anticipation, the ETSU baseball program received a huge boost to its 2016-17 roster on Friday.
With uncertainty surrounding the futures of Hagen Owenby (Knoxville, Tenn.), Chris Cook (Kingsport, Tenn.) and Aaron Maher (Brentwood, Tenn.) – who were all selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft on June 11 – the three Buccaneers announced they have waived their draft rights and will return to campus this fall.
The group, which has been nicknamed ETSU’s “Triple Threat,” has combined for 383 hits, 66 doubles, 13 triples, 41 home runs, 236 runs and 213 RBI in two seasons in the Blue and Gold.
“I'm not going to lie, it's been a stressful month since the MLB Draft. When your players get their names called you are so excited for them. Such a small percentage get that opportunity and there is no doubt that these three young men were very deserving of that honor,” said head coach Tony Skole. “But as a coach, immediately I'm having thoughts in my mind as to what am I going to do to replace these young men if they sign. Then I realized that there is simply no way that could be possible. With school starting in six weeks it really leaves us no time at all to replace them with players of similar ability – hence the stress.
“So today is a great day for ETSU and our program. It really feels like we just signed three All-American players. I'm thankful that these young men believe in our coaching staff and our program to help them boost their stock and further their careers both on and off the field. These three guys are three of the hardest workers in our program and what's even better is that they are quality young men. With them returning it solidifies our ball club for next year. They are exciting players and with our other returners, along with a very good recruiting class, this team will be exciting to watch. I can't wait to get everyone on campus.”
Owenby, a 14th round selection, carried his All-American season into the summer as he became the second Buccaneer to win the TD Ameritrade College Home Run Derby earlier this month in Omaha, Neb. The Buccaneer catcher also earned First Team All-Southern Conference honors after hitting .374 (88-for-235) with 16 doubles, 17 home runs, 46 runs and 60 RBI in 57 games this past season. Owenby finished the year ranked 15th nationally in total bases (155), 17th in home runs per game (0.30), 18th in home runs, 22nd in slugging percentage (.660), 25th in hits per game (1.54), 32nd in hits and 41st in RBI.
“This past month has been stressful, but it has also been a lot of fun,” Owenby said. “Not many people can experience playing in the Cape Cod League and participating in the Home Run Derby. I am fortunate to experience all that and truly blessed to be given the opportunity. I am excited to be moving forward and continuing my collegiate career as a Buccaneer as well as furthering my education.
“Having the three of us come back to school is huge for our program. It’s great publicity for the university and it shows our coaching staff produces great players. The three of us are excited to be coming back. Our goal is to get everyone on board and buy into the system. If we come together and play to the best of our ability, we should have a strong season. I have always wanted to play on a championship team. We have a shot to do that with this group of guys.”
Despite missing the majority of the season with a shoulder injury, Cook was drafted in the 30th round. Cook – who was a preseason all-conference selection – hit .351 (13-for-37) with one double, three triples, seven runs and five RBI in nine games this season. In 2015, Cook led the team in hits (77) and tied for the team lead with 55 runs scored, while starting 55 games. To go with the hits and runs, Cook hit .338 with 12 doubles, two triples, five home runs and 40 RBI a year ago, while also making four relief appearances for the Blue and Gold.
“As a kid, it has always been my dream to get drafted,” Cook said. “It meant a lot to get the text from the Pirates saying they were going to draft me, but after discussing the future with my parents, we decided coming back to ETSU was the best move. I didn’t really get to play much last year and didn’t want to end my collegiate career like that. I am looking forward to coming back, earning my degree, working with the coaching staff to take my game to another level, and hoping we can bring a SoCon title to Johnson City. I believe we have the pieces to make a big run, and I’m looking forward to getting back out here (at Thomas Stadium) with my teammates again. The numbers we put up offensively this past season says a lot about our coaching staff and what our guys are capable of doing. There’s a lot of excitement around our program, and I’m thankful the ETSU training staff was able to get me healthy and back on the field.”
Maher was selected in the 38th round after taking over as ETSU’s every day left fielder and hit primarily in the four-hole in 2016. The Brentwood, Tenn. native hit .315 (69-for-219) with 15 doubles, two triples, nine home runs, 48 runs and 38 RBI in 56 starts for the Bucs this year. Maher, who hit safely in 13 straight games in April, finished with 22 multi-hit games – including a perfect 4-for-4 effort in a win over UNC Asheville on March 2. The Buccaneer slugger also belted a three-run walk-off home run in the 9-8 win over Purdue on March 5.
“It was such an honor to get the phone call from the Pirates. It was a goal of mine to get drafted this year, and I am blessed to make it happen,” Maher said. “I made huge strides from my freshman to sophomore year, but I wanted to come back to ETSU and improve even more. The ETSU coaching staff has helped my game so much, and I am looking forward to learning more from them. I love the school, being around my teammates, and moving closer to earning my degree was the most important in making my decision. I talked to Chris and Hagen a lot this summer, and it was awesome that we were all drafted by the same team. We are all looking forward to coming back to school and getting the program back to where it belongs. We were close last year, so now we want to finish the job. Don’t sleep on us!”
Both Owenby and Maher will be juniors, while Cook is a red-shirt junior in 2016-17.
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