By Garth Shanklin
One Clermont County high school baseball player heard his name at Major League Baseball’s draft last week, which started with the first two rounds on June 4 and ended with rounds 11-40 on June 6.
West Clermont High School grad Cole Ayers, who has committed to the University of Kentucky, was drafted in the 36th round by the Houston Astros.
Ayers pitched in seven games for the Wolves, winning two and posting a 3.18 ERA. He struck out 50 batters in 33 innings, while walking just 16. Opponents hit just .197 off of the senior last season. The year before, Ayers posted a 6-2 record with a 2.10 ERA and a .98 WHIP for Loveland. He struck out 38 batters in 2017.
Ayers said he found out he was being selected by the Astros by a member of the team’s scouting department he had been in previous contact with.
“I was talking to Kris Gross, who is the national cross checker for the Houston Astros,” Ayers said. “I emailed him a lot, and I went down to the pre-draft workout. Before they drafted me, he sent me a text and said ‘We’re about to draft you, if you want to listen in.’ I hopped on my phone real fast and turned on the draft. I didn’t think I was going to get drafted.”
Looking back on the moment he found out he was selected, Ayers said he was thankful for the chance that not many people get.
“I was happy,” Ayers said. “There are so many people in the world trying to be in that position, and I’ve been working for years and years to get my name out there and be known for the draft. A couple years ago, it was a hard grind to get to the position to get your name called out of high school, which is a huge accomplishment. I couldn’t be more appreciative of the opportunity.”
The game of baseball has been a huge part of Ayers’ life for quite some time, as his father, Mike, played in the minor leagues for six seasons, posting a 16-13 career record.
“I’ve been playing baseball since I was little,” Ayers said. “My dad played in the minor leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates until AAA, when he suffered an arm injury. He was a pitcher, a lefty. I just took after him. I played football and baseball growing up, but I stopped playing football my junior year. I wanted to pursue baseball, because that’s when I started having the possibility of being drafted out of high school.”
The draft isn’t the only thing Ayers has focused on after graduation from West Clermont. The hurler has signed with Kentucky to continue his athletic career, citing the toughness of the SEC as one of the main reasons he wants to play in Lexington.
“When I committed, they had just gotten new coaches right before,” Ayers said. “I want to play in the best league against the best competition, and I think the SEC is a powerhouse for athletes in baseball. Playing against the best competition is something I wanted to do. When I visited, I had a great relationship with the coaches. We talked for hours. Coach Mingione the head coach, gave me a good scholarship. I like the coaches, the facilities, everything about it. Playing for a top-ranked school is unbelievable.”
Kentucky is also building a $51 million baseball complex, but Ayers added that didn’t play a role in his decision, as the facility wasn’t announced until after his commitment to UK. As for the level of competition in the SEC, the league is sending at least three schools to the College World Series for the 10th time ever. Every other conference has combined to do that six times total.
“I don’t think I’m going to sign with Houston, but it depends on how their money plays out with their earlier picks,” Ayers said. “I talked to them, and they said ‘We drafted you because we really like you, we just don’t have the money to give you right now. We wanted you to know that we’re interested, and we’ll stay in touch.’ It would have to be significant to get me to step away from Kentucky, as of now I’m a Kentucky Wildcat.”
Ayers finished with thank yous, one to the Astros for selecting him and the other to his family for support. He also had a message for Kentucky baseball fans.
“I just want to thank the Astros for believing in me, giving me the opportunity to pursue a professional career,” Ayers said. “Thank you to my family, and to all the Kentucky Wildcat fans out there, we’re going to Omaha next year.”
Ayers was not the only player with local ties selected in the draft. Arizona selected Zack Shannon out of Delta State with their draft pick in the 15th round. Shannon is an Amelia native who played one season at the University of Cincinnati – Clermont in 2015. He posted a .310 average and a 1.093 OPS for the Cougars that season, connecting on four home runs, four doubles and a pair of triples in 58 at-bats. He also pitched for UC Clermont, starting two games out of seven appearances and going 5-1 with 46 strikeouts in 32.2 innings pitched. He allowed just nine earned runs, giving him a 2.48 ERA.
Another player selected with local ties was Cam Alldred, from the University of Cincinnati. Alldred, a junior, attended Cincinnati Country Day but is a Batavia native. This past season, Alldred posted a 5-3 record with a 3.95 ERA for the Bearcats. He struck out 85 batters in 79.2 innings pitched.