By Travis M. Smith | KBEC Sports
Four Ellis County baseball standouts heard their names called this week during the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
The foursome was headlined by 2017 Midlothian graduate Russell Smith, a 6-foot-9 left-handed pitcher from Texas Christian University. Smith was selected by the San Diego Padres in the second round (51st overall) on Monday morning.
Jackson Glenn was the next county athlete off of the board. The Dallas Baptist University and Ovilla Christian graduate and middle infielder went in round 5 (133rd overall) to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Starting pitchers Levi David and Jackson Leath — both 22 years old and born just six days apart — very likely marked the first pair of Waxahachie graduates to ever be drafted in the same year. KBEC Sports was still working to confirm the occurrence as of publication.
The tandem is the first to graduate WHS in the same year to be taken in the same draft.
RUSSELL SMITH – 2nd round (51st overall) – Milwaukee Brewers
Tuesday was not the first time for 2017 Midlothian graduate Russell Smith to hear his name called during the MLB first-year player draft. Smith was previously selected in the 38th round of the 2017 MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs.
The 6-foot-9 lefty bet on himself and his work ethic, ultimately forgoing that professional contract to attend Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. The gamble paid off — massively.
Smith jumped 36 rounds and several hundred spots after three years at TCU. He was ultimately taken by the Milwaukee Brewers with the 51st overall pick (2nd round).
Smith departed Midlothian High as a two-time Perfect Game Underclassman All-American and a 2017 Rawlings-Perfect Game second-team All-American. He still holds the Panther baseball program record with a 0.44 ERA — for a season — after allowing just eight hits with two no-hitters and 100 strikeouts during his senior campaign.
Smith took the field in Fort Worth as a true freshman, making 11 starts and 12 total appearances. He recorded a 3.35 ERA over 37.2 IP with 35 strikeouts and a .258 opponents batting average.
Following an injury-required redshirt in 2019, Smith bounced back to full strength and served as the Horned Frogs’ Sunday starter in the COVID-shortened season. He struck out 27 over 21.0IP and finished with a 2.57 ERA (2-0).
Smith then dazzled as the ace of the TCU staff in 2021.
With a heavy mid-90s fastball and plus command, Smith finished his junior campaign with 101 strikeouts to 20 walks over 82.1IP (11.04 K/9). He posted a 3.83 ERA and a 7-3 record, which included a pair of complete-game road wins against Oklahoma and Texas Tech.
Smith earned second-team All-Big 12, first-team All-Big 12 Academic, Big 12 Newcomer of the Week (April 26) and Shriners Hospitals for Children Classic all-tournament team honors for his efforts.
As far as records compiled by KBEC Sports have confirmed, Smith is the second-highest drafted player to hail from Ellis County.
Corey Pointer, a 1994 Waxahachie graduate, was selected by the Atlanta Braves with the 12th pick in the 1994 MLB Draft. Smith was the 15th player taken in the second round this year (Note: There was also a competitive balance round following round one).
JACKSON GLENN – 5th round (133rd overall) – Pittsburgh Pirates
It’s rather safe to label Jackson Glenn as a pleasant surprise in 2021. After all, the 2016 Ovilla Christian grad did not find his name on any preseason prospect list or draft board prior to his breakout campaign as a fifth-year senior at Dallas Baptist University.
But breakout he did.
Glenn began his collegiate career in 2017 with Grayson College, where he ultimately slugged 14 home runs and 99 RBIs over two seasons. He carried that offensive prowess to DBU in 2019.
Glenn was named to the 2019 All-Missouri Valley Conference second-team as a third baseman who led the league in doubles (19) and tied for the highwater mark in RBIs (54). He also sent seven pitches over the outfield fence and collected 73 hits on the season. His season included multi-hit games against No. 22 Baylor, No 19 TCU and No. 18 Texas A&M.
Glenn, like everyone else, then had his 2020 campaign stripped away by the COVID shutdown. The stoppage served as a blessing, as he was hitting just .233 with two home runs and 12 RBI over 16 games.
Glenn told the Dallas Morning News that he used the downtime to focus on his strength and mental approach. He relied on the 75 Hard Challenge, which became popular on TikTok and required 75 days of two workouts daily with no cheat meals and a ton of water.
“He took a huge jump for us,” DBU coach Dan Heefner told the DMN. “I think he would have turned it around last year and had a solid season. But the big thing for him is he really changed his body during the quarantine time, and it totally changed him as a player.”
Glenn was ultimately named the MVC Player of the Year and named an All-American by five publications after leading the Patriots to the NCAA Super Regionals.
Glenn slugged 21 home runs and 19 doubles with 55 RBIs and a team-best .366 batting average. He also moved from the hot corner to second base.
Glenn ended his DBU career with 30 home runs, 40 doubles, 118 RBIs and a .317 BA.
LEVI DAVID – 9th round (262nd overall) – New York Mets
Levi David once captured the 5A state championship in the 50-meter freestyle as a senior at Waxahachie High School. He has, however, made quite the career with two feet firmly planted 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate.
The work David had put in over the past four years paid off Monday when he was selected in the 9th round (262nd overall) by the New York Mets.
The 2017 Waxahachie graduate previously attended McLennan Community College, a Division-I junior college located in Waco. An early injury during his freshman season followed by a redshirt in year two led to a bumpy start to David’s collegiate career. He eventually found his way to Northwestern State as a relief arm.
David found success during the COVID-shortened 2020 season, finishing his first campaign with the Demons after making five relief appearances. He then played for the Acadiana Cane Cutters in the Texas Collegiate League, which he credited with exposing him to a “professional” baseball-type atmosphere.
The 6-foot-5 righty returned to Natchitoches, Louisiana and found fantastic success as a starting pitcher this past season.
David finished the season tied for second in program history with 104 strikeouts, averaging 15.34 K/9 — ranking him third nationally. He also limited opposing hitters to 5.02 H/9, which led the Southland Conference and ranked seventh nationally.
David recorded three double-digit strikeout games across his 14 appearances and 13 starts. He was twice named the Southland Conference Pitcher of the Week and was eventually named to the All-Southland Conference third team.
During an interview Monday evening on KBEC’s The Press Box, David credited his stellar season to a vastly improved curveball, which paired well with his 92-95 MPH fastball. The numbers backed his claim up, too, as opposing hitters went just 5-for-98 against the pitch. He recorded 80 of his 104 strikeouts with the offspeed pitch, as well.
“It is so special to see Levi get picked up by the Mets,” head coach Bobby Barbier told NSU Athletics of the 53rd Demon drafted all-time. “He has worked so hard for this day and deserves every bit of it.”
MLB.com beat writers labeled David as the “most intriguing” selection for the Mets during the 2021 draft.
JACKSON LEATH – 12th round (344th overall) – Texas Rangers
Jackson Leath began his collegiate career at Blinn College, a junior college located just outside of College Station. He started 10 games as a sophomore, striking out 61 over 61.1 IP and on his way to a 5-2 record.
Leath then carried his strikeout artistry to Knoxville, Tennessee and the campus of the University of Tennessee.
He recorded 29 strikeouts over 18.2IP with a perfect 4-0 record and impressive 1.45 ERA during the COVID-shortened 2020 season. The effort led to Leath being named a 2021 preseason second-team All-American by Baseball America. He was also listed as the 36th-best prospect by D1Baseball.com’s Top 2021 College MLB Draft SEC Prospects list.
Leath continued his dominant tenure in a Volunteer uniform into his second appearance in 2021. The senior had recorded 6.1 scoreless innings with eight strikeouts and having scattered four hits when he suffered a torn hamstring during the first inning of his second appearance.
Leath detailed the injury, recovery and more with KBEC Sports during a recent airing of The Press Box.
According to Tennessee Athletics, Leath is the fourth Volunteer to be selected by the Rangers. He joins Julio Borbon (2007), R.A. Dickey (1996) and Chris Kelley (1992).
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith