HANCEVILLE, ALA. – Wallace State pitcher Blake Rivera became the baseball program's highest draft selection in 10 years after being chosen by the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday in the fourth round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft.
Rivera, the 2018 Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) Pitcher of the Year, was the 106th pick overall, a year after San Francisco drafted him in the 32nd round.
Rivera was the first junior college pitcher selected in the draft and the second JUCO player drafted overall.
"It's definitely a huge honor knowing how much the Giants were interested in me and how they stuck with me. It's a huge accomplishment to know they thought that highly of me, especially with so much talent on the board. It's a dream come true," said Rivera, who was watching the MLB.com live stream with his mother and girlfriend when the pick was announced.
Rivera is the highest draft pick in Wallace State baseball history since Boston Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel was drafted in the 3rd round (96th overall) of the 2008 draft. Kimbrel was drafted twice by the Braves during his Wallace State career, similar to Rivera being selected twice by the Giants.
Rivera, a Smiths Station product and an Auburn University commit, went 10-0 with a 1.75 ERA in 67 innings this past season for Wallace State, which finished with a 48-10 record and won the ACCC North Division championship. Rivera struck out 98 batters, averaging an impressive 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
"Blake was very instrumental in our success over the past two years. We knew we had a good chance to win every game when he took the mound. Blake had a confident presence on the mound and believed no one could hit him. They didn't a lot of times," said Wallace State coach Randy Putman, who's had six former Lions advance to the major leagues.
As a freshman, the 6-foot-4 Rivera went 7-1 with a 1.94 ERA for the Lions, striking out 72 batters in 55 2/3 innings. He was an All-ACCC North Division first-team selection.
When Rivera's named was announced by the Giants on MLB.com on Tuesday, comparisons were already being made online with Kimbrel regarding their respective Wallace State careers, pitch repertoire, mound presence and draft history.
"That was awesome to hear. Craig Kimbrel is arguably the best pitcher to come through Wallace State and is now an elite closer. It's the goal of every baseball player here to follow in his shoes and try to make an impact like that," Rivera said.
Added Putman: "If Blake chooses to go professional, I'll be intrigued to see what the Giants' plans are. Blake has a breaking pitch that is major-league material right now, and I believe he has better command of his pitches in the strike zone than Kimbrel did when he was drafted. I think Blake's more than capable of beginning a professional career."
Rivera's selection by the Giants marked the sixth time in seven years at least one Wallace State player has been drafted. Rivera and Braxton Light were the 2017 draft picks, joining Garrett Suchey (2016), Chad Smith (23rd round in 2015), Andrew Dennis (37th round in 2013) and right-hander Bret Marks (22nd round in 2012).
Rivera and his Wallace State sophomore counterparts won 94 games in two seasons, and he'll always be grateful for the time spent in Hanceville.
"Wallace State helped me grow up in all aspects of my life. It was good to get away from home and work hard on my own. I learned how to work to achieve team and personal goals, and I enjoyed every second of it," Rivera said. "Coach Putman, coach (Ben) Hawkins and coach (Chad) Shannon helped me become a better pitcher, and I had the best teammates you could ask for."
Kimbrel and Derek Holland (Giants) are former Wallace State players currently in the major leagues and Jake Elmore is in Triple-A with the Charlotte Knights (White Sox).
Putman had former major leaguers Jay Bell and Travis Fryman drafted in the first round after coaching them in high school in Pensacola, Fla.