NEW YORK -- Credit Kolya Stephenson with a distinction that he never saw coming. Stephenson, a prep pitcher out of Ocean City, N.J., became the final player selected in the First-Year Player Draft on Wednesday and earned notice as the 13th recipient of the MLB.com Don't Count Him Out Award.
Stephenson, who was selected by Philadelphia in the 50th round, will now try to overcome distinction of being the final player selected in the longest Draft in professional sports. None of his recent predecessors has made it out of Class A, but Stephenson will get a chance to write his own trajectory on the mound.
"I had no idea I was going to get drafted," said Stephenson, who had been hanging out around his family pool when he got the fateful call. "I was going to play college and see what happened after that."
If he wanted to, Stephenson could find reassuring signs from the most recent Draft. James Rice, last year's unwitting winner of the "Don't Count Him Out" distinction, didn't sign with the Yankees and went right back into the Draft. Rice improved his stock considerably and was taken in the ninth round on Tuesday.
Stephenson, who had committed to play at nearby Alvernia University, said that he had worked out for the Phillies once and didn't really think much of it. His father, Dan Stephenson, is the manager of video production for Philadelphia, but the secret was kept from the player until the last moment.
"I was actually in the pool with a few friends. The Phillies called and told me that I had been drafted, and I didn't know what to say," he said. "I may have to think about it. I was dead set on going to college, but my dream is to play professional baseball and to make it to the Major Leagues."
Don't Count Him Out
|2008||Kyle Stroup||Red Sox|
Many of his predecessors have shared that same goal, a distant beacon. Five of the last eight players selected with the last pick didn't sign and haven't had a professional career. Two of them -- Alibay Barkley and Larry Day -- played briefly but weren't able to progress out of Class A.
In fact, only one of the 13 recipients of the Don't Count Him Out Award is still active. Kyle Stroup, selected by Boston with the final pick in 2008, has worked to a 5.74 ERA for Class A Greenville this season.
Historically speaking, the trend isn't much better. Only two players -- Desi Wilson (1989) and Don Wakamatsu ('84) -- taken with the final pick of the June Draft have gone on to a big league career. Both Wilson and Wakamatsu didn't sign as the last pick, though, and were redrafted in a subsequent year.
Stephenson, just 17 years old, is far from a finished product and far from knowing what he'll do next. The right-hander, taken with Pick No. 1,530 in the Draft process, said he'll likely spend the next two months deciding whether he should attend college or sign with the team that employs his father.
Either way, he said, Wednesday was an amazing day that he won't soon forget.
"The Phillies have always been my favorite team, and I've lived and died with them. I've gone to all of their World Series games," he said. "I was shocked and excited. It's an honor to be selected."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.