Owasso star leads Oklahoma contingent in baseball draft

Updated: June 7, 2007, 10:57 PM ET
Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Pete Kozma provided another first Thursday for an Owasso High School program that has seemingly accomplished almost everything.

The shortstop became the first player from the tradition-rich program in suburban Tulsa to be chosen in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft when the St. Louis Cardinals took him with the 18th overall pick.

The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Kozma led the Rams to the Class 6A title this spring, hitting .522 with 11 home runs, six triples, 21 doubles, 14 stolen bases and 55 RBIs. His first-inning solo home run was the difference as Owasso beat Edmond Memorial 1-0 in the state championship game, giving the Rams their sixth title in 10 years.

"It's pretty incredible, no doubt about it," Owasso coach Larry Turner said of the hoopla surrounding Kozma. "Our program the last 10 years has been amazing, with the great players that we've had and the run that we've had. This just adds to it and takes it to another level."

Turner called Kozma "the best player I've ever coached," a number that includes former major-league pitcher Jamie Bluma. Turner said that 10 minutes before the draft started Thursday, Kozma was at Owasso's ballpark practicing his hitting.

"He is just so unassuming," Turner said. "He's not flashy, he plays the game for the right reasons and respects it. Now he's going to get paid for it."

Steve Gossett, an area scout for the Cardinals, praised Kozmas work ethic and said he thinks Kozma will make it to the major leagues in four to five years.

"He's got an advanced approach at the plate and a lot of times you move (through the minor leagues) as fast as your bat will carry you," Gossett said, adding that the Cardinals player development officials "are going to love the way he attacks the game. Its a question of how quick they want to move him.

"The one thing that stuck out in my mind about Pete is, you look in his eyes and you see a guy that you really feel is going to play in the big leagues."

Kozma has signed to play collegiately with Wichita State, but team officials believe the defending World Series champions will have a good chance of signing Kozma to a pro contract.

It's the second time in recent years the Cardinals have used a first-round pick on an Oklahoma product. In 1996, the Cardinals chose Braden Looper, a Wichita State pitcher from Mangum, third overall.

Three Oklahoma college players were chosen with compensatory picks between the first and second rounds.

The San Francisco Giants took Oklahoma catcher Jackson Williams with the 43rd overall pick. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound junior from Broken Arrow received second-team All-Big 12 Conference honors from league coaches after hitting .344 with 15 doubles, four home runs and 44 RBIs. The Sooners finished 34-24 and did not make the NCAA tournament.

No Oklahoma catcher had been drafted so high since John Russell went in the first round of the 1982 draft to the Philadelphia Phillies. Williams said he had expected to be drafted between the second and fifth rounds.

Going higher than that was "quite the pleasant surprise," Williams said. "They've got a good ballclub. They've got some good young guys on the mound. I'm looking forward to hooking up with them and hopefully playing in San Francisco someday."

Williams said it was likely that he would forgo his final season of collegiate eligibility and sign with the Giants.

Two Oklahoma State juniors, third baseman Matt Mangini and outfielder Corey Brown, went with the 52nd and 59th overall picks to the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A's, respectively.

Mangini, in his first season with the Cowboys after transferring from North Carolina State, is hitting .343 with nine home runs and 49 RBIs for Oklahoma State, which is 41-19 entering this week's NCAA super regional at Louisville. Brown is hitting .339 with 21 home runs and 70 RBIs.

In the fourth round, with the 143rd overall pick, Philadelphia took Oklahoma State senior second baseman Tyler Mach, who is hitting .401 with 16 home runs and 81 RBIs for the Cowboys.

Two state players went in the fifth round: Oklahoma junior centerfielder Joe Dunigan, with the 165th overall pick to Seattle, and Oral Roberts junior right-handed pitcher Jeremy Hefner to the San Diego Padres.

Dunigan hit .352 with 11 home runs and 54 RBIs, all team highs for the Sooners. It is the second time he's been drafted, as the Montreal Expos picked him in the 41st round in 2004 after Dunigan graduated from high school.

The 177th overall selection, Hefner is the highest-drafted Oral Roberts player since 1988, when San Francisco picked catcher Michael Dean in the third round.

Hefner went 9-2 with a 3.03 ERA, struck out 107 batters in 86 innings and threw five complete games. He was a first-team All-Mid-Continent Conference selection for the Golden Eagles, who finished 40-17 and reached the NCAA tournament. He has been drafted on two previous occasions.

The draft will continue through Friday.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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