Josh Fleming turned a stellar season at Webster University into an MLB Draft day dream.
The 6-foot, 195-pound left-hander, a graduate of Columbia High School, was selected by the Tampa Bay Rays in the fifth round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft Tuesday.
Fleming, the No. 139th pick overall, was rated the 210th-best prospect by Baseball America. The call from the Rays came sooner than he expected.
“It came a little bit earlier than we thought, just based on the whole rankings thing,” said Fleming, who watched the draft at home with family and friends. “I was outside when the Rays called and said my name would be coming up really soon. It was just really cool to see my name pop up there and hear my name called. I’m not sure it’s hit me yet.”
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Fleming was 8-1 with 0.68 ERA in 13 games, all starts, with eight complete games and two shutouts. In 92 2/3 innings, he gave up just 54 hits, walked 12 and struck out 115. Opponents batted .169 against Fleming, whose low-90s fastball is complemented by a changeup and curveball.
He is the first player ever drafted out of Webster University, an NCAA Division-III program in Webster Groves, Missouri. He’s also the first drafted out of the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in 19 years.
“My coach told me before the season if I wanted this moment I’d have to work really hard,” Fleming said. “I took what he told me to heart, because this has always been my dream, to be a professional baseball player. I spent twice as much time in the weight room as I had before. I worked my butt off.”
As a 160-pound high school senior, Fleming struck out 91 batters in 73 innings. He then went 7-3 as a freshman at Webster.
The 35 pounds he gained in the weight room over the next two seasons helped make him dominant.
His 1.92 career ERA is a Webster record.
“Pitchers usually lose it for a few innings in a few games, but I don’t remember Josh losing control of any game for more than a pitch or two,” said Webster coach Bill Kurich. “He’d be able to correct himself in a pitch.”
Fleming is a finalist for the American Baseball Coaches Association national player of the year. He’s already the pitcher of the year and a D-III All-American.
Fleming has yet to receive an assignment, but said he’ll be on a plane to the short-season low-A minors in a week or two.
“I think I’d like to continue as a starting pitcher, but I’m really happy to fill whatever role they have in mind for me,” he said.