Recent Shawnee Mission East graduate Joey Wentz woke up at 7 a.m. on Thursday more anxious than nervous about the nearly 15-hour wait that lied ahead.
It was a bit longer than Wentz, 18, would have preferred, but the payoff was worth it when the Braves chose him with the No. 40 overall pick in the MLB draft’s Lottery A round, which is sandwiched between the first and second rounds.
“It’s been a long day, but it’s a situation not everybody gets to be in,” Wentz said. “I’m definitely happy about it. I feel fortunate to be with the Braves and we’ll see what happens.”
The slot value of the 40th pick, according to Major League Baseball, is $1,616,800, but Atlanta has one of the highest signing bonus pools in the draft.
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It’s possible Wentz could sign for higher than slot value, and he has until July 15 to decide if he’ll turn pro or enroll at Virginia.
“Education is obviously big, but I believe in myself and I believe in my abilities,” Wentz said. “With the Braves, if it’s the right opportunity, and I think it is, that may not matter.”
For now, that decision wasn’t weighing on Wentz’s mind as he celebrated with friends at his family’s home.
“Time seems to go slower when you want something, but I just trusted it and trusted the people around me,” Wentz said. “It was special to have my family and friends here to celebrate, so it was good.”
Wentz — a 6-foot-5, 210-pound lefthander, who was ranked as the No. 16 prospect by MLB.com and No. 26 by Baseball America — went 9-0 and didn’t allow a run in 51 1/3 innings for the Kansas Class 6A state champion Lancers.
Wentz didn’t pitch last summer, so he hasn’t allowed a run in a sanctioned game since his junior year at SM East. That might change if he signs a pro contract.
“I’m planning on that changing in the pros, but hopefully I’ll be able to progress and get better every day and compete on the mound,” Wentz said.
Wentz struck out 104 with only 12 walks and seven hits allowed and didn’t allow a hit in his first four starts as a senior at SM East.
He also was a force at the plate, batting .392 with five home runs, 22 RBIs and 25 runs scored in 75 at-bats.
Wentz was a highly regarded prospect as a first baseman before his fastball reached the mid-90s — it regularly touches 95 now — during the last years, causing him to rocket up draft boards as a pitcher.
Former Braves pitcher John Smoltz, an eight-time All-Star and Hall of Famer, sang Wentz’s praises during the MLB Network pre-draft show, which aired a piece on the friendship he shares with St. Thomas Aquinas senior right-hander Riley Pint.
Smoltz praised Wentz’s polish, mechanics and repeatable delivery from which he throws that overpowering fastball along with a curveball and change-up.
“Immediately, when I see him, I think of (Rangers ace) Cole Hamels back in the Phillies’ days,” Smoltz said of Wentz. “Whoever drafts him is going to be in a nice position.”
Wentz shrugged off the high praise.
“I’m never going to say I’m like Cole Hamels,” Wentz said of the comparison. “He’s one of the best in the major leagues right now, but, if I can build myself up to be like that, it would be incredible.”
Wentz wasn’t going to worry about signing chatter Thursday night, preferring to bask in the glow of being drafted.
He expects to hear from his agent, St. Louis-based Jason Wood, sometime Friday and will go from there.
Atlanta was the club that expressed the most interest during the pre-draft process, according to Wentz, and he views it as a perfect landing spot.
“Just talking with the Braves, I really believe in their plan for me and I can envision myself playing at their new ballpark,” Wentz said.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, Wentz is the fifth player drafted from SM East and the first since Jeff Soptic was picked by the Royals in the 43rd round in 2009.