After Penn baseball’s best season in 10 years, the Quakers had their best draft in program history this summer. June 14, four members of the Red and Blue were selected in the MLB amateur draft — besting 2003 for the Quakers’ most selections in a single draft.
Pitchers Billy Lescher and Jake Cousins were taken by the Detroit Tigers and Washington Nationals in the 17th and 20th rounds, respectively, and fellow pitcher Adam Bleday went in the 27th round to the Houston Astros. Closer Jake Nelson rounded the group out, going in the 33rd round to the Tigers.
Penn hadn’t had multiple players go in a draft since 2015 — when catcher Austin Bossart (14th round) and pitcher Ronnie Glenn (22nd round) both got calls — and before that it had been since 2011.
“When you look at it, in the last three years, we’ve had six kids get drafted,” Penn coach John Yurkow said. “That’s pretty good no matter where you’re at.”
The 515th pick in the draft, Lescher led the Quakers as a junior this past season with four saves across 16 appearances in relief. The junior allowed runs in only three outings on the year, running up an 11.2 inning scoreless streak en route to a 3.18 ERA overall.
Lescher anchored the bullpen for a Penn team that made its first appearance in the Ivy League Championship Series in the John Yurkow era. The Red and Blue were able to secure their first Gehrig Division title since 2007 but were ultimately swept by Yale in the best-of-three championship series.
Cousins was taken with the 613th pick and will join the Nationals organization after serving as the Quakers’ ace in 2017. He was a unanimous first team All-Ivy player his senior year, logging a 7-2 record and 3.15 ERA and finishing his Penn career third in wins (20) and sixth (2.91) in ERA in program history.
“I had no idea the Nationals were really looking at me and then I saw my name and it was just awesome,” he said, later adding, “It’s been a roller coaster — it’s always been the dream to play in the MLB so just to finally get the opportunity, for the Nationals to give me a chance is a dream come true.”
Bleday took multiple stops before working his way to Penn — starting at Virginia before heading to Gulf Coast College and then ultimately ending up in University City in 2016.
“Coming to Penn, obviously academics is critical,” he noted, explaining his decision to end up in University City, “but at the same time I still wanted to juggle athletics as best as I could and just give myself a shot, ultimately, to keep playing.”
It was a move that paid off.
The 811th pick in the draft, Bleday completed his first year in the starting rotation in 2017, logging a 2-5 record but leading the league with 74 strikeouts — the sixth-best single-season mark in program history.
“It’s a great feeling, it’s a relief, I’m excited to keep playing — all of the above,” he said.
Selected 995th overall, Nelson concluded his sophomore year with three saves and a 2.25 ERA in an injury-shortened season. Having taken a post-grad year in 2015, the right-hander was eligible for the amateur draft despite having only just finished his second campaign in University City.
Nelson and Lescher will have until mid-July to make their final decisions on whether to sign, and Yurkow was unsure on draft day what either would ultimately decide.
While Lescher has signed and is planning to continue school park-time, Nelson plans to continue at Penn for at least one more full year.
Overall, these four bring the total number of drafted players since 1990 to 15, with Doug Glanville logging the high-water mark as a first round pick by the Cubs in 1991.
“It says a lot not just about us but the coaching staff and how they manage and handle us — it’s been fun to be around them and to want to win games,” Bleday said. “I felt they made me better, and I hope I made them a little bit better too.”