June 8, 2007
AUBURN, Ala. -
Six Auburn baseball players heard their names called during the second day of the Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft on Friday. Russell Dixon (7th round/Houston Astros), Bruce Edwards (15th round/San Francisco Giants), Brett Butts (19th round/Atlanta Braves), Mike Bianucci (23rd round/Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim), Philip Stringer (24th round/Astros) and Josh Blake (35th round/Arizona Diamondbacks) joined Josh Donaldson (48th overall, supplemental round/Chicago Cubs) as Tigers drafted this year.
Dixon missed the past year due to a thumb injury after putting together a .303 batting average in his first two years at Auburn. In 107 games (93 starts), he hit 27 doubles, two triples and five home runs and drove in 60 runs, playing mostly in right as a sophomore after spending most of his time as the designated hitter in his freshman campaign.
"It's been a whirlwind the past couple of days. I had kind of given up (after the sixth round) and was about to walk out of the room when my dad told me to stick around for one more pick and sure enough the Astros picked me," Dixon said. "It's awesome that it's my hometown team, too, after not even playing an inning this year."
Edwards was a four-year player for the Tigers and worked his way into the Auburn record books with his speed, stealing 57 bases over his four-year career, sixth all-time at AU, including 28 this past season, which is the third-highest total in a single-season on the Plains. As a senior he hit a career-high .328 and scored 53 runs in 52 games, making 50 starts in center field.
"This is something I have waited a lifetime for," Edwards said. "I have worked my entire lifetime for this and I am just so happy to get an opportunity. I really didn't think it was going to be the Giants but now that it is, I am real happy it's the Giants. I am going to wait to hear where they want me to go and then go out there and work my hardest and give it all I got."
Butts, a junior, had a solid season for Auburn coming out of the bullpen, leading the team in saves (six), innings by a reliever (54.0) and appearances (26). His 2.83 ERA was third-lowest on the pitching staff as he went 2-2 on the year, striking out 54 and walking just 23.
"I am just glad it's over with. I have been stressing about it forever. Since the season ended I didn't know what to do," Butts said. "I have been a Braves fan forever and it is a little more special to be drafted by the hometown team."
A sophomore, Bianucci has hit 22 career home runs for Auburn in 92 career games. A career .343 hitter, he blasted a team-best 14 homers this year and drove in 51 runs, hitting clean-up in 45 contests. He also led the team with a .640 slugging percentage in 2007 as he had 26 extra-base hits on the year. Over the course of two seasons, he has never had a stretch longer than eight games between homers.
Stringer played the last three years of his career at Auburn after transferring from Tulane following his freshman season. As a senior he played in 41 games, starting 24, and hit .198. Considered a solid glove for the Tigers, he committed a career-low nine errors this past season.
"I am real excited for the opportunity to go play ball and enjoy it," Stringer said. "It's a great honor to be picked up by the team that I grew up watching. I am a Houston kid and it's real neat to get picked by your hometown team. That's always the goal."
Blake appeared in 12 games for the Tigers this season, compiling a 5.40 ERA in 21.2 innings. In 22 career appearances for Auburn after transferring from Arizona State, he has gone 2-3 with a save, striking out 22.
"I think it's a great opportunity and I am just real grateful that they took a shot on me," Blake said. "I am thrilled that I have an opportunity to play professional baseball."
Prior to this week's draft, fifth-year senior Chris Dennis signed with the Texas Rangers, who had drafted him in the 40th round of the 2006 MLB Draft. Dennis went 3-3 with two saves and a 3.66 ERA in 23 relief appearances for Auburn this season after spending most of the 2006 season as a starter. He heads to Arizona this Sunday before reporting to Spokane (short season) on the 15th.
"I am ready to play. I have been chomping at the bit because it has been three weeks since I last played," Dennis said.
The Tigers have had 15 players selected since the 2005 season, Tom Slater's first at Auburn. The seven players drafted in one draft matches the previous high from the 2005 season and the 15 players drafted in a three-year span (2005-07) matches the program high of 15 from 2003-05.
Auburn has had at least one player drafted every year since the 1975 draft.