Towson U.'s Russ highest local draftee


Towson University left-hander Chris Russ was selected by the Texas Rangers in the third round of yesterday's Major League Baseball draft.

Russ, a 6-foot-5, 185-pound junior from Atholton High School in Howard County, was chosen highest among four local players taken after the completion of 20 rounds, with the draft to resume today.

In all, six Marylanders were tabbed in the free-agent process.

The others chosen yesterday included two first-team All-Metro choices this year in right-handed pitcher Phil Akens of top-ranked Fallston and Southwestern out-fielder Travis Ezi. The other was 1997 Old Mill All-Metro right-hander Mike Ziegler, who just pitched Florida State into the College World Series.

Akens was selected in the 13th round by the Florida Marlins, Ezi in round 12 by the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Oakland A's took Ziegler in the 14th round.

Two other Marylanders, both right-handed pitchers who throw 90 mph-plus, were taken in the second round. They were Kenny Nelson of Riverdale Baptist by the Atlanta Braves and 6-7 Peter Bauer of Montgomery's Paint Branch, who pitched at South Carolina, by the Toronto Blue Jays

Russ was a second-team All-Metro first baseman-pitcher out of Atholton in 1997 who blossomed the last two years at Towson.

In his senior year at Atholton, he batted .534, with nine doubles, four triples and 19 RBIs, and, as a pitcher, was 6-1 with a 2.96 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 52 innings. Towson coach Mike Gottleib signed him as a pitcher.

'He had a lot better record statistically as a sophomore than he did this year [4-5]," said Gottlieb, "but he lost a couple tough games despite his improved velocity."

Russ came out of high school throwing 81 to 82 mph, but according to Gottleib worked hard while growing a couple inches.

"He put 4 more mph on his fast-ball last year and got command of his curve," said Gottleib.

Throwing in the high 805 and topping out at 91 with a superb sinker and curve with a lot of bite, Russ turned himself into the highest draft pick the Tigers have had other than ex-major-leaguer Chris Nabholz in 1988.

Nabholz was a second-round pick by Montreal in '88, Gottleib's first season as head coach, and pitched in the majors with the Expos from 1990 to 1995.

The 6-6, 215-pound Akens, who was 8-1 with 79 strikeouts in 56 innings and a 1.20 ERA for the Class 3A finalist Cougars this season, was "somewhat disappointed" in not being taken until Round 13.

"I honestly thought I would go a little higher," said Akens, who expects to talk business with the Marlins in the next few days.

If he doesn't sign, Akens will pitch for Indian River Community College in Fort Pierce, Fla.

Ezi, an outfielder who has a time of 6.3 seconds in the 60-yard dash, was ecstatic when he got word yesterday from the Dodgers.

"They're sending me a package in the mail and I will be sitting down with the area scout, Scott Sharp in a couple days," said Ezi.

Ezi, who set a state record for batting average (711), has a baseball scholarship to Young Harris (Ga.) Community College.

Ziegler, a junior, ran his record to 9-4 on Sunday in a 6-1 victory over Miami to earn a berth for the Semi-noles in the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. Ziegler, who also was expecting to go higher but could raise his bargaining power with Oakland in Omaha.

A first-team All-Metro pitcher in 1997 at Old Mill, when he tied the state record for strikeouts (19) in a game, Ziegler was a junior college All-American at Shoals (Ala.) in 1998 and at Tallahassee (Fla.) CC in '99 before signing with FSU.

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