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June 10, 2013

WALLACE STATE BASEBALL: Lion catcher Dennis humbled by draft selection

It started out like any other baseball game for Andrew Dennis.

The former Wallace State backstop was down in the bullpen getting prepared to play another summer league contest for the Lima Locos in Lima, Ohio, when his manager summoned the team for an annoucement.

“Coach said he wanted to talk to us about the draft,” Dennis recalled. “I was thinking, ‘Awesome, we had someone on the team to get drafted.’ I had no idea it was going to be me. I was speechless to be honest.”

Dennis was selected in the 37th round of the amateur draft as the 1,109th overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates after spending two seasons with the Lions.

His most recent campaign in a Wallace State uniform was rock solid, as Dennis collected 55 hits on the season, including 13 doubles and 25 RBIs, while sporting a .315 batting average. He hit a team-high .368 with 24 RBIs as a freshman in 2012 when the Lions won a share of regular season ACCC North Division title and finished state runner-up.

Being the team player and competitor he is, Dennis didn’t dwell on the exciting news for too long.

After all, there was a game to be played.

“I am definitely humbled by it,” he said of his selection. “But I had to put it aside until we got done playing. After the game, I enjoyed it. It told me that all my hard work is truly paying off.”

Wallace State coach Randy Putnam has had the privilege of tutoring the former Lion both on and off the field over the past two seasons and said he believes the Pirates’ organization — should he choose to forego college — would be getting a fine player in Dennis.

“I was proud of Andrew for being selected,” Putnam said. “It keeps our track record of sending players to the pros going. He’s a quality player, and he’s got a chance with his ability to play at the next level.”

Whether or not he makes the leap to the big leagues remains to be seen, although, according to Dennis, he’s almost certain he’ll take his talents to the University of Alabama-Birmingham this fall, where he hopes to round out his skills in order to get drafted in a higher position come next summer.

“Where I was drafted, I wouldn’t make that much money by going to to the pros,” Dennis said. “I’ll most likely be going to UAB. I need to work on my skills defensively and get a little bit stronger.”

Dennis said he has a desire to increase his power hitting before making the trek to a major-league organization. He didn’t manage a home run for the Lions in almost 200 career at-bats.

“I have a good frame to put on some weight,” he said. “I’d like to be able to hit for more power in the coming years. It’s going to be tougher to do, though, with the better pitching I’ll be facing and the new wood bats I’ll be using.”

One thing’s for sure, however, Dennis will put in the work to get where he wants to be.

Just ask his former coach.

“He’s very demanding of himself,” Putnam said. “He strives for perfection on the field. That shows he wants to be successful and do it the right way.”

Added Dennis: “I was good enough to be drafted by a major-league team. I think I’ll be able to accomplish the goals that I want to get accomplished.”

Should Dennis accept an offer from the Pirates, he would join Craig Kimbrel, Derek Holland, Graham Godfrey and Jake Elmore, as well as four other former Lions, playing at the professional level.  

Recent graduate Bret Marks, who was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 22nd round of the 2012 draft but chose to return to Wallace State for his sophomore campaign, will continue his baseball career at the University of Tennessee.

% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at jwinfrey@cullmantimes.com.

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