George County's Walker Robbins took a big step forward in achieving his dream of playing professional baseball Friday.
The St. Louis Cardinals' selected the 6-foot-3, 215-pound southpaw in the fifth round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft, 166th overall.
"It was pretty exciting. To see the guys on TV call my name and see my picture pop up," Robbins told the Sun Herald. "It's all just a big relief, knowing the pressure is off and now I can just go ahead and play."
Robbins drew plenty of interest from the San Diego Padres, Milwaukee Brewers and Houston Astros prior to the draft, but he said Friday the Cardinals began to emerge late as a possible landing spot.
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"They talked to me a lot before the draft and showed some interest in me," Robbins said. "I felt like they might be the one."
Prior to the draft a big question was whether or not Robbins would be selected as a pitcher or first baseman. The Cardinals actually ended up selecting him as an outfielder.
The Cardinals visited George County prior to the draft and worked out Robbins at his high school.
"I did some outfield drills there, for them, too," said Robbins, who hasn't played in the outfield since he was a freshman. "I guess that helped me out a lot."
The Cardinals' initial interest in putting Robbins in a corner outfield spot didn't surprise GCHS coach Brandon Davis.
"I think he's athletic enough to play in the corner. Obviously he has enough arm to play in right field," Davis said. "That lets you know their intentions that they want him to swing the bat well and don't want to let him waste his athleticism at first base.
"Put him in the outfield and let him swing his bat and just play."
Once the thrill of being drafted subsided, the business side of the draft kicked in. Can the Cardinals lure Robbins away from his commitment to Mississippi State? It looks like it.
Robbins' pick carries a value of $315,600, according to MLB.com. With a bonus pool of $9,364,300, 10th in MLB, the Cardinals likely have some wiggle room to offer Robbins over slot if they desire.
Robbins said the Cardinals checked with him before drafting him and he doesn't anticipate any snags in the negotiation process.
"I was hoping everything would work how I wanted it to and I'd go out of high school. When I finally got the call, it was the greatest feeling," he said. "I feel like everything worked out and I'll probably go ahead and go."
Robbins, the 2016 Sun Herald Baseball Player of the Year, was one of the top players in Mississippi the last two years, as he helped lead George County to consecutive South State titles.
As a senior, Robbins hit .477 with 12 extra-base hits, 16 RBIs and an OPS of 1.305. He was also a legit ace for the Rebs, posting an 8-2 record with an 0.67 ERA, 110 strikeouts and 18 walks in 72 2/3 innings. Robbins also tossed two no-hitters, including a perfect game.
"I think he's one of the more intriguing high school, two-way guys in the draft," MLB.com senior writer Jim Callis previously told the Sun Herald. "Lefty who can be in the low 90s and has some feel for secondary pitches."
Callis believes Robbins will make his way through professional ball as a hitter, primarily because of his approach at the plate.
"He's left-handed and although he's a big guy, it's a fairly compact swing," Callis said. "He doesn't sell out and just swing for the fences. You feel like he's going to hit for average. Kind of a flatter swing right now, but I could see him adding some loft. He has bat speed and strength, so he could be at least an average power guy."
Davis is obviously partial to his star player, but he believes Robbins has what it takes to be successful as a professional ball player.
"They're getting a much better person than a baseball player, but I think that person will turn into a really good baseball player," he said. "In life period, your talent will only go as far as your character will take you and I think his character will take him a long way."
All in the family
Should Walker sign, he'll join his brother, Mason, in professional baseball. The older Robbins was drafted by the New York Mets in the 20th round of the 2011 draft but opted to go to Southern Miss. He was selected three years later by the Chicago White Sox in the 25th round. He's currently having a solid season with High-A Winston-Salem in the Carolina League, hitting .314 with 17 extra-base hits and 19 RBIs in 44 games.
High on the Coast
Robbins' selection continues a streak of South Mississippians going high in the draft:
-- Former Picayune High and Pearl River Community College right-hander Jacob Taylor was selected 127th overall in 2015 by the Pittsburgh Pirates. His pro debut was cut short after two innings with the Gulf Coast League Pirates due to injury.
-- The 2014 draft was particularly good to South Mississippi as four Coast standouts were selected in the first 182 picks. St. Stanislaus southpaw Jacob Lindgren was drafted out of Mississippi State 55th overall by the Yankees; Harrison Central first baseman Bobby Bradley went 97th to Cleveland; George County's Justin Steele was selected 139th by the Chicago Cubs and Gulfport's Jonathan Holder was drafted 182nd out of MSU by the Yankees. Other Coast products who were selected in the later rounds included outfielder Braxton Lee (Picayune/Ole Miss; 367th overall; Tampa Bay), pitcher Hawtin Buchanan (Biloxi/Ole Miss; 591st; Seattle), outfielder Mason Robbins (George County/Southern Miss; 738th; Chicago White Sox), pitcher Tyler Bray (Vancleave/Louisiana-Monroe; 795th; St. Louis), infielder Chase Nyman (Pascagoula/East Mississippi C.C./951st; Seattle) and infielder Daniel Keating (Gulfport/1,181st/Pittsburgh). Keating opted not to sign and attend USM.