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Once a ValleyCat, MLB draft status doesn't matter

Once a ValleyCat, MLB draft status doesn't matter

Tri-City squad includes more than top picks
Once a ValleyCat, MLB draft status doesn't matter
AJ Lee is shown during Sunday's game in Troy.
Photographer: Michael Kelly

TROY — His goal is to improve each day.

Nothing more, nothing less.

So that AJ Lee plays alongside fellow Tri-City ValleyCats who were picked much higher than the 34th round in which he was selected in this year’s Major League Baseball amateur draft doesn’t concern — or rattle — him one bit.

“No, not at all,” Lee said earlier this week. “Once you get here, nobody really cares what round you were drafted in. We’re all here playing the same game, so I just go out there and give everything I have every night.”

At present, the roster for the ValleyCats — the Houston Astros’ Class A short-season affiliate in the New York-Penn League — includes seven of the Astros’ top-10 picks from last month’s draft, including first-round pick Korey Lee.

But Tri-City’s roster also boasts a number of late-round picks, such as AJ Lee. Seven of the team’s 33 players on the ValleyCats’ roster for Wednesday’s game at Staten Island were picked in the 22nd round or later of this year’s draft.

And, in the unpredictable world of professional baseball, where a player was once picked only means so much. Former ValleyCats picked well beyond the first few rounds — such as 20th-round pick J.D. Martinez, a current star for the Boston Red Sox — have put together successful MLB careers, while former overall No. 1 pick Mark Appel — who briefly played for Tri-City in 2013 — never made it to the majors. 

The nature of the game makes it difficult to project how players will progress. 

What players can control, though, is how they approach the game.

“So I just go out there and push myself,” said ValleyCats outfielder E.P. Reese, a 25th-round pick in this year’s draft. “I want to make sure I have no regrets in the end.”

Since each joined Tri-City, both Lee and Reese have been regular fixtures in the team’s lineup. In his first 13 appearances, AJ Lee was hitting .279 with seven stolen bases, while Reese was hitting .240 in his first seven games.

AJ Lee, 22, played college baseball for Maryland, while the 21-year-old Reese played for Winston-Salem State. 

“It’s definitely a little bit of a shock when you first get here. Just the level of competition and being with a whole different group of guys, but you settle in pretty quickly. We have a clubhouse full of great guys,” AJ Lee said. “Night in and night out, you’re facing good talent, where in college you may only face one or two good arms [per] weekend. . . . But, here, night in and night out, you’re facing high-level competition.”

Reese said it could feel “overwhelming” at first as he adjusted to professional baseball. 

“But it’s become a lot easier,” Reese said. “It’s been a learning experience.”

And a fun one, too.

“I’m having a blast,” AJ Lee said.

Reach Michael Kelly at [email protected] or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter.

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