Patrick Ochs

Biloxi Shuckers reflect on getting drafted

Last weekend is often one of the biggest days in a baseball player's life. Getting 'The Call' up to the Majors is one only a handful get to experience. For a larger number, getting their 'first' call -- the one informing them they have been drafted by a Major League Baseball team -- is the pinnacle of the mountain.

It can be a joyous time but also a nerve racking one.

The experience of Biloxi Shuckers infielder Chris McFarland in 2011 would fall into both categories.

McFarland grew up in Lufkin, Texas. A Rice signee, he had heard he may go in the top 10 rounds, but as anyone who follows baseball knows, anything can happen on draft day.

McFarland began having doubts as round after round passed without his name popping up on MLB.com.

"Coming into the day I was kind of nervous. You see your name not go by after so many rounds and you're like, 'man, am I going to get drafted?'" McFarland said Saturday. "I watched the first couple rounds and was like, ah, whatever. I went to hang out with some family members, went to the store and came back home."

McFarland got his dream in the 18th round when the Milwaukee Brewers selected him out of Lufkin High.

"It was a cool experience, just the whole day," McFarland said. "It was a relief when you do get the phone call you've been waiting for your whole life. That was pretty cool."

The call itself was brief, but memorable. After the Brewers had initially reached out to see if he would accept their signing bonus a little time passed before his phone rang again.

"It was real quick. It was like, 'hey, congrats,'" he said. "I was smiling ear to ear with that little t-ball smile."

Even after being drafted, there was still a decision as to whether to sign with the Brewers or attend Rice.

"It was a nice school and close to home. That's what I loved about going to Rice, with the education and history they have there," McFarland said. "It was a tough call and came down to the last day of the signing deadline.

"I wanted to play pro baseball. That was my dream. You start watching it on TV as a kid and I didn't want to pass up the opportunity."

McFarland has methodically climbed the Minor League Baseball ranks. After starting out in Helena in 2012, McFarland spend 2013 and '14 with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, and last year with the High-A Brevard County Manatees. He opened 2016 with the Shuckers and is currently hitting .203 with a .246 on-base percentage. In 445 MiLB games, McFarland is hitting .268 with a .317 on-base percentage. He also has 20 homers, 181 RBIs and 75 stolen bases to his credit.

Opting for college

Brandon Woodruff's road to Biloxi was a bit different.

Like McFarland, the 6-foot-4 right-hander was selected in the 2011 draft, only 13 rounds earlier -- and by the Texas Rangers.

The Wheeler High standout opted instead to attend Mississippi State.

"My experience was everything I wanted it to be, you know? I was taken out of high school in the fifth round and opted to go to Mississippi State, which was the best decision I ever made," Woodruff said. "I grew a lot in college and then when I got the opportunity to get drafted again it was a blessing. When you get drafted you just have to take it day by day and work as hard as you did before you got drafted because you know your job's not done yet."

Three years later, Woodruff was selected in the 11th round by Milwaukee. Despite going several rounds later, Woodruff said his experience in Starkville prepared him for pro ball.

"I had some injury problems at Mississippi State. That happens and you can't control that, but it made me grow as a person and really understand myself," he said. "I believe it has helped me get to the point I'm at now."

Woodruff has had solid if not spectacular success since turning pro. After spending 2014 in Helena and 2015 in Brevard, Woodruff began '16 with the Manatees before getting promoted to Double-A Biloxi, where he's 2-2 with a 3.81 ERA. After surrendering four runs in his first two starts with the Shuckers, Woodruff allowed four earned runs total in his next 19 1/3 innings heading into Wednesday's start at Jacksonville.

Originally from the Tupelo area, Woodruff has enjoyed his return to the Magnolia State for multiple reasons.

"It's been great for sure to see some family and friends at the ball games," he said. "We definitely have a lot of support from Mississippi State fans down here. That's always good.

"I haven't heard any cowbells yet, but I can't wait to hear those."

Patrick Ochs, a Sun Herald sports reporter, can be reached at pochs@sunherald.com or followed on Twitter at PatrickOchs.

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