CHS grad selected in MLB draft

Webster University pitcher Josh Fleming, a 2014 graduate of Columbia High School, posted an 8-1 record with a 0.68 ERA this spring as a junior. (Webster University photo)

A 2014 Columbia High School graduate was selected in the fifth round of the Major League Baseball draft on Tuesday following a sensational spring on the mound for Webster University.

“It feels great,” Josh Fleming told the Republic-Times shortly after the Tampa Bay Rays took him with the 139th overall pick.

Fleming was watching MLB draft coverage with family, friends and teammates when his name was called.

“They all went crazy when the pick came,” he said. “It was an awesome moment.”

Fleming, a 6-foot-2 junior lefthanded starting pitcher at Webster, greatly improved his draft stock after posting an 8-1 record with a Division III-leading 0.68 ERA and 115 strikeouts in 92+ innings. He was named’s 2017 Central Region Pitcher of the Year, and was also chosen as Pitcher of the Year in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

Opponents hit just .169 against Fleming, who was ranked 210th on Baseball America’s Top 500 list entering draft week.

“Fleming has been shooting up draft boards with a fastball sitting 91-94 that can be thrown well on both sides of the plate,” Charlie Meyer of wrote last week. “Fleming is a guy who I think could go high based upon his limited innings and high upside.”

Fleming becomes the first Webster baseball player to be drafted by a major league team.

Fleming said he has put on 50 pounds and has grown about five inches since his playing days at CHS.

He went 8-4 with a 1.53 ERA during his senior year with the Eagles.

“My arm was feeling really good this season — probably the best it’s ever felt,” Fleming said. “I was just able to throw a lot of strikes, and that was the key to my success.”

He credited a solid infield defense, anchored by a gold-glove-winning shortstop, for the strong season.

“I guess it hasn’t totally sunk in just yet, but I’m ready to go wherever (Tampa Bay) wants to send me,” he said.

Fleming plans to meet with Tampa Bay officials later this week to sign some paperwork and receive instructions on next steps.

He is the son of Lori and Mark Fleming of Columbia. Josh has an older brother, Zach, and younger sister, Elizabeth.

“I am very excited for Josh and his family,” Columbia head baseball coach Neal O’Donnell said Tuesday. “He is very deserving and I know he’s looking forward to this next chapter in his life.”

O’Donnell said there were early signs of future success for Fleming while at CHS.

“He was always a guy who threw strikes with a repeatable, fluid delivery,” the coach said. “His changeup was his best pitch when we had him, and his velocity has steadily risen while at Webster. His control and command of two to three pitches always has made him difficult to hit.”

Last year, Waterloo High School slugger Jordan McFarland was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 36th round, but opted instead to honor his commitment to Arkansas University. He hit .271 with two home runs and 10 RBIs for the Razorbacks during his recently completed freshman season.

Two other locals are listed as potential MLB draftees. This year’s draft continues through the end of Wednesday.

Gibault Catholic High School graduate Wes Degener, a 6-foot-3 junior outfielder at Lindenwood University-St. Charles, is a potential late round pick.

He hit .408 with 56 runs, 35 RBIs and 21 stolen bases for the Lions, who advanced to their first-ever NCAA Division II World Series this spring. Degener is a two-time Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletic Association first team all-conference selection.

“Degener is a ballplayer,” writes Meyer. “He will be the scrappy type that will go out and get the job done.”

Degener is playing again this summer with the Valmeyer Lakers of the Mon-Clair League.

Another name being talked about as a potential draftee is recent WHS graduate Erik Kaiser. With a fastball clocked in the 90s, the 6-foot-5 righthanded starting pitcher posted a 3-3 record and 1.17 ERA this spring with 87 strikeouts in 59.7 innings for the Bulldogs. He also hit .425 with six home runs and 41 RBIs.

Kaiser, who has already committed to playing at Vanderbilt University and will most likely honor that commitment, pitched in front of MLB scouts during several of his starts this season.

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Corey Saathoff

Corey is the editor of the Republic-Times. He has worked at the newspaper since 2004, and currently resides in Columbia. He is also the principal singer-songwriter and plays guitar in St. Louis area country-rock band The Trophy Mules.
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