San Francisco Giants

This pitcher could become tallest player in majors. The Giants are banking on it.

‘Do you play basketball?’ Life as a nearly 7-foot UK pitcher

At a towering 6'11", Kentucky's Friday night starter Sean Hjelle was named 2017 SEC Pitcher of the Year. Here he discusses how the length helps him and confuses passers-by.
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At a towering 6'11", Kentucky's Friday night starter Sean Hjelle was named 2017 SEC Pitcher of the Year. Here he discusses how the length helps him and confuses passers-by.

The San Francisco Giants think they’ve found something unique in University of Kentucky pitcher Sean Hjelle.

The Giants selected the 6-foot-11 UK junior with their second-round pick in the Major League Baseball Draft on Monday night, using the No. 45 overall selection.

"We like the way he handles himself," said John Barr, the Giants’ scouting director. "He doesn't look like a 6-foot-10 or 6-foot-11 pitcher because he moves so well. You expect him to be a little more gawky or something, but he actually moves his feet and he has a feel. He throws strikes. We see him being a starter in the big leagues."

Barr doesn’t think it will take long for the 21-year-old right-hander to get there, which was part of the strategy in the Giants drafting him. San Francisco chose another college player, Georgia Tech junior catcher Joey Bart, with its first pick Monday, No. 2 overall.

"We're ecstatic to be able to get two guys who can contribute to the Giants in the near future," Barr said.

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Sean Hjelle celebrated a strikeout during Kentucky's victory over North Carolina State in the NCAA Tournament Lexington Regional at Cliff Hagan Stadium in 2017. The win sent UK to the super-regional round for the first time ever. Michael Reaves

The Giants have been a dominant franchise in recent seasons, winning World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014. San Francisco entered Tuesday 30-30 this season, in third place in the National League West Division and 1 ½ games out of first place. They felt fortunate to land a pitcher of Hjelle’s caliber.

"That was a waiting game to see if he was going to make it to us," Barr said.

Hjelle was the first UK player selected in this year’s draft. More selections were expected Tuesday when rounds three through 10 unfolded. The draft concludes with rounds 11-40 on Wednesday.

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Only one other player as tall as Kentucky's 6-foot-11 Sean Hjelle has made it to the major leagues. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

If Hjelle makes it to the big leagues, he will join former Morehead State star Jon Rauch, who also stood 6-foot-11, as the tallest major leaguers in history. Rauch pitched for seven teams during a 12-year MLB career that ended in 2013.

Hjelle finished his three seasons at Kentucky with a 22-10 record, ranking fifth on the school’s all-time wins list. He finished ninth in career strikeouts with 222.

In 15 appearances in 2018, Hjelle went 7-5 with a 3.44 earned-run average, striking out 91 and walking just 22 hitters in 99 1/3 innings. Opponents hit just .232 against him this season and .242 for his career.

Hjelle’s most dominant campaign came in 2017 when he was named Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year after going 7-1 with a 1.90 ERA against league competition. He was 11-4 overall that season with a 3.89 ERA.

Tuesday's selections

Three more UK players were drafted in the early going Tuesday.

Junior outfielder Tristan Pompey was chosen by Miami in the third round, junior catcher/first baseman Kole Cottam went to Boston in the fourth round, and junior right-handed pitcher Zach Haake was taken by Kansas City in the sixth round.

Pompey, chosen No. 89 overall, batted .335 in 50 games for Kentucky this season, scoring 41 runs and driving in 39. He also had seven home runs and stole 10 bases.

Cottam was the 130th overall pick. He finished 2018 with 19 home runs and led the Wildcats with a .352 batting average and 54 runs scored. He had 12 doubles and 51 RBI.

Haake, who was 2-4 with an 8.47 ERA this season, was the No. 182 overall pick.

Drew Rom, a left-handed pitcher from Highlands High School, was taken in the fourth round, No. 115 overall, by Baltimore.

Detroit chose University of Louisville left-handed pitcher Adam Wolf with the first pick of the fifth round, and the Los Angeles Dodgers took U of L second baseman Devin Mann with the last pick of that round.

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Sean Hjelle was named Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year in 2017. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

Kentucky baseball pitcher Sean Hjelle is known for his involvement outside of the sport and the community. He and head coach Nick Mingione talk about his service and passion outside of baseball.

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