The selection of two senior standouts in the 2017 Major League Baseball Draft capped off a sterling season for the Yale baseball team, the program’s best in two decades. Captain and third baseman Richard Slenker ’17 and right fielder Harrison White ’17 both heard their names called to join the cohort of Bulldogs playing professional baseball.
The two plan on pursuing professional careers for as long as possible, they told the News.
The Houston Astros took Slenker off the board first, making the captain their 28th round selection with the 841st overall pick. Slenker had a superb year manning the hot corner for the Elis, hitting 0.342 with four home runs and 40 RBIs and earning a second-team All-Ivy nod. He leaves Yale with a four-season batting average of 0.331 and career totals of 99 runs scored, 103 runs driven in and 47 doubles.
Houston began play in 1961, but has struggled to find success. The Astros have never won a World Series game in the club’s 55-year history — their only appearance in 2005 saw the team swept by the Chicago White Sox. However, the Astros have compiled a transcendent team that hopes to snap that drought, currently leading the American League West by 11 games over the second-place Texas Rangers. Houston’s 45–23 mark is the best in baseball, and its historic pace puts the team in line to win 107 games, a number topped by only 11 squads in the baseball annals.
However, Slenker still has a number of rungs to climb on the professional ladder before taking the field at Minute Maid Park, and will likely begin his career with the one of the Astros’ rookie-ball affiliates, either the Gulf Coast League Astros or the Greenville Astros. The Astros boast one of the most talented infields in baseball. Houston’s current third baseman is Alex Bregman, the second overall selection in the 2015 MLB Draft and a two-time All-American at Louisiana State. Bregman projects as a second baseman or shortstop long-term, but for the moment those spots are occupied in Houston by a pair of All-Stars: two-time batting champion Jose Altuve at second and 2015 AL Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa at short.
Slenker had been expected to be drafted at some point, but White’s selection by the Miami Marlins in the 31st round with the 929th overall pick came as a pleasant surprise and a hard-earned reward for his outstanding season. The right fielder batted 0.377 in Ivy League play this year on his way to a spot on the All-Ivy Second Team. He leaves Yale with a career 0.289 batting average, having been a consistent contributor in the middle of the lineup.
The Marlins are one of the MLB’s newest teams, founded in 1993. They hoisted two surprising World Series titles in 1997 and 2003, vanquishing the heavily-favored Indians and Yankees, respectively. However, they have become more known for their fire sales after attaining success; after winning the World Series in 1997, they went 54–108 in 1998. Currently, the Marlins are 30–35, good for second place in the atrocious National League East, one of the worst divisions in recent memory.
White will likely begin his career with the Gulf Coast League Marlins in Rookie Ball. Rookie Ball is the first home for newly-drafted players, the first step on the path to major league baseball. The only area of strength for the Marlins’ MLB roster is its outfield, where its three best players reside. Superstar slugger Giancarlo Stanton, whose mammoth 13-year, $325-million contract is the longest and largest pact in baseball history, has a stranglehold on right field. Left fielder Marcell Ozuna was an All-Star a year ago, and young center fielder Christian Yelich finished 19th in Most Valuable player balloting.
White and Slenker join classmate Chasen Ford ’17, a 27th-round pick of the San Diego Padres at the conclusion of his junior year, alongside the many other Yale alumns in the world of professional baseball. However, the only former Eli currently playing in the MLB is left-handed reliever Craig Breslow ’02. The “smartest man in baseball” is in his 12th MLB season with a career 3.40 ERA in 560.2 innings, and currently plays for the Minnesota Twins. Catcher Ryan Lavarnway, who played three seasons for the Bulldogs between 2006-08 and holds a plethora of Ivy League offensive records, last appeared in the major leagues in 2015, and currently plays in the Oakland Athletics’ organization.
Slenker and White leave a Yale baseball program that has changed dramatically in the span of a few seasons. After stumbling to a 6–14 Ivy mark in their sophomore campaign, the seniors led the team to a 16–4 season this spring, capped off by the team reaching the finals of the Corvallis Regional.