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Small schools make their mark in 2013 Draft

Lee University, Western Oklahoma State each have five players selected

The schools that developed the top picks of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft were familiar. The first four college players selected represented Stanford, the University of San Diego, Oklahoma and North Carolina, all places that welcome a swarm of area scouts and cross checkers every spring.

But the Draft also brought the spotlight to several smaller colleges that might be unknown to even the most ardent baseball fans. Lee University, an NAIA school in Cleveland, Tenn., had five players drafted, including three on Saturday, the final day of the Draft. Five players were also selected from Western Oklahoma State, a junior college in Altus, Okla., best known for producing Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons.

Both Lee and Western Oklahoma State had just one fewer player selected than North Carolina, college baseball's top-ranked team. Their banner Drafts have been building for several years. Both programs are powerhouses at their respective levels, but have only recently begun churning out Major League talent in bunches.

Schools like Lee and Western Oklahoma State are in a good position to take players that don't fit at the bigger, more well-known programs.

"We're not going head-to-head with an SEC school," Lee coach Mark Brew said. "There's a lot of guys with stories out there. There's a lot of guys that develop late or have an academic issue and can't get into another school.

"Or maybe they're just overlooked."

Western Oklahoma State coach Kurt Russell has made it a habit of going to the Caribbean to find overlooked players. It paid off handsomely when he unearthed Simmons, who was the Braves second-round pick in 2010.

Simmons said he didn't even think playing professionally was an option before going to Western Oklahoma State. But once he got there, Simmons found the perfect environment to develop.

"There is a lot of hard work and hungry players," Simmons said. "They play in a lot of tough conditions. You can't explain it until you go over there. There's a lot of guys with a lot of talent pushing each other over there."

This year, catcher Sicnarf Loopstok, an Aruban native, was Western Oklahoma State's best prospect. He was selected in the 12th round Saturday by the Indians. Before the day was over, four of his teammates would also have been drafted.

While Loopstok's name attracts immediate attention, it is his play on the field that stands out to scouts and Russell.

"He's going to turn into a plus power guy when his pitch recognition comes along," Russell said. "He can be a big leaguer. That's a great pick for Cleveland."

Lee hasn't produced a player as successful as Simmons yet, but, like Western Oklahoma State, it has placed itself on scouts' radars in the last few years. Four players were drafted from the school in 2011, and a record five were selected last year.

Even though this year's team only tied the program record for drafted players, Brew said this year's Draft class was different.

"This year was a special year," Brew said. "The pitching staff is deepest we've ever had."

At the front of the Flames staff was right-hander Myles Smith. At least a dozen scouts were in the stands every time he took the ball, and Brew said there were as many as 35 scouts at a few of Smith's starts. He made it worth their time, throwing his fastball as hard as 96 mph and striking out 94 batters in 84 1/3 innings.

The Red Sox selected Smith in the third round Friday, making him the highest player ever drafted from Lee.

Smith is typical of the kind of player Lee attracts. He began his college career at Missouri before transferring to Miami Dade College last year. He was drafted in the 16th round a year ago, but he decided not to sign.

Both Brew and Russell said continued success in the Draft is critical to attracting players like Smith or Loopstok to their program.

"It helps us continue to recruit the kids that we've been recruiting," Russell said. "Many times, regardless of their background or culture, their goal is to get drafted.

"Major League Baseball's been good to us. It always has been."

Teddy Cahill is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill.