'You're joking, right?': Indians draft Gators trio

July 14th, 2021

When Indians’ fans hear the phrase, “The Streak,” they’re mentally teleported back to 2017 with moments from Cleveland’s incredible 22-game winning streak flooding through their minds. But for players like Tommy Mace from the University of Florida, that phrase has a completely different meaning.

The Florida Gators baseball team is creating a streak of its own, but instead of it involving wins and losses, it’s based around its highly talented players getting drafted by the same big league team. First it was A.J. Puk and Logan Shore, both of whom were drafted by the A’s in 2016. Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar both joined the Royals in 2018, and Feleipe Franks and Wil Dalton were both selected by the Red Sox in 2019. After no Gators were selected in the shortened 2020 MLB Draft, Mace and two of his teammates continued the trend in 2021.

Mace was selected by the Indians in Competitive Balance Round B as the 69th overall pick. He was on the phone congratulating Cleveland’s second-round pick, Doug Nikhazy, when someone gave him the news that Jack Leftwich, a fellow Florida hurler who just so happens to be Mace’s roommate and good friend, was selected by the Indians in the seventh round.

“I mean, we definitely joked about it,” Mace said of the possibility of he and Leftwich continuing the streak. “It was never something that we thought would ever come true. … Now it’s me and Jack that have been drafted by the same team out of Florida. And they were all best friends.”

It’s no different for Mace and Leftwich. The two were roommates this past year and previously lived right down the road from each other. They’re throwing partners and close teammates, as Leftwich posted an Instagram picture of him and Mace on the field at the end of the Gators’ season. The caption read: “end of an era love you @tommymace47”.

“I FaceTimed [Leftwich], and he answered and he just started laughing,” Mace said. “I was like, ‘You’re joking, right? You’re joking around with me.’ He’s like, ‘No, no, we’re teammates.’ And I was like, ‘Wow, that’s unbelievable that that actually happened.’”

Not only did it happen, but the two were joined by another fellow Gator when right-hander Franco Aleman was selected in the 10th round. This marks the sixth trio from the University of Florida to ever get drafted by the same organization in the same year and the second to go to Cleveland (2002: Pat Osborn, Keith Ramsey and Aaron Davidson).

“Well, I think if you ask a lot of people, the SEC is an elite conference and one of, if not the best, conferences in the country,” Indians director of amateur scouting Scott Barnsby said. “One, it just fell that way, but two, we’re excited to add players that came from that elite program. We feel like that should actually benefit them in the long run.”

Mace thinks so too, noting that having that support will be key in making his transition to pro ball. But it’s the way he will mesh with the rest of the organization that will prove to be the determining factor of his success.

Mace said it was imperative for him to land with a team that will put him on the right path to succeed. Although he didn’t have the flashiest of numbers last season, pitching to a 4.38 ERA, it’s his metrics that make him so intriguing. The scouting reports on him heading into the Draft raved about his spin rate, which is something that an analytics-based team like the Indians crave. And after Cleveland’s player development staff has proven what it can do with pitchers like Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac, Mace is ready to jump on board.

“A big, durable workhorse,” Barnsby said of Mace. “He’s 6-[foot]-6, and we feel there’s still some projection left in the frame. He’s touched 97 [mph], pitches with a plus-fastball. There’s two different breaking balls with Tommy -- both of them are effective.”

The Indians selected 19 pitchers (18 collegiate arms, one high school), including Mace, in the 20-round Draft. While the organization labors for months -- or in some cases, years -- over getting to know the players they draft inside and out, fan bases don’t usually learn about their favorite team’s draftees until later in their professional careers. So, what is Cleveland getting in Mace that can’t been read on his stats sheet?

“For Indians fans, Tommy Mace is just a hard worker that wants to compete in the big leagues for as long as possible with the Indians,” Mace said, “and try to win games and get in the playoffs and win the World Series.”

Step one of his journey to make that dream a reality will start in the very near future. And it’ll only help to have his two close friends in Leftwich and Aleman by his side.

“I think it'll definitely help you be more relaxed and be yourself,” Mace said. “That's very, very important in your development, is just to be relaxed and be yourself and let you do what you need to do on and off the field. And having those guys around you to support you is key.”