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Oregon Ducks baseball star Kenyon Yovan, UO football recruit Robby Ashford await MLB draft

The Register-Guard logo The Register-Guard 6/9/2020 Steve Mims
a baseball player holding a football ball: Robby Ashford will be one of two incoming freshmen quarterbacks for Oregon unless he decides to skip college and play professional baseball. [Dennis Victory/AL.com] © Provided by The Register-Guard Robby Ashford will be one of two incoming freshmen quarterbacks for Oregon unless he decides to skip college and play professional baseball. [Dennis Victory/AL.com]

Kenyon Yovan and Robby Ashford would have almost certainly been selected in a 40-round Major League Baseball draft this week.

Yet with the draft being slimmed down from 40 rounds to five as a cost-cutting measure in the wake of COVID-19, Yovan and Ashford will both have to wait and see if they are selected during the two-day event starting Wednesday.

Yovan, an all-Pac-12 pitcher during his first two years with the Ducks, earned all-American honors at designated hitter as a junior during a season cut short by the coronavirus pandemic before he was able to take the mound. Ashford, who graduated from Hoover High School in Alabama, has signed to play quarterback at Oregon, but is also a standout baseball player who could receive a signing bonus large enough to convince him to skip college.

a man in a baseball uniform throwing a ball: Oregon's Kenyon Yovan pitches during the 2019 season opener against Texas Tech at Rip Griffin Park in Lubbock, Texas. [Brad Tollefson/A-J Media] © Provided by The Register-Guard Oregon's Kenyon Yovan pitches during the 2019 season opener against Texas Tech at Rip Griffin Park in Lubbock, Texas. [Brad Tollefson/A-J Media]

During a conference call last week, ESPN's MLB insider Kiley McDaniel said he was unsure if Yovan or Ashford would be among the 160 players taken in the draft.

"I finalized my rankings for 1 through 150 and I'm kind of working through 151 to 250 since I think there will be a lot of unsigned high school players so we will need an extra 100 guys more than the picks we have for the best available at the bottom of the screen on the broadcast," McDaniel said. "Yovan is in the mix to be on that list."

McDaniel said Ashford's chances of getting drafted may depend on his contract demands because teams don't want to risk selecting a player who won't sign during the shortened draft.

"The buzz from teams in the last week or so is there's some questions around college football," McDaniel said. "It's not the slam dunk that it once was. If there's some money in baseball, some teams like him a little more than the average team does, and if there's seven figures, that might be a little more attractive than it was before. I think he looked like a "probably no" before the pandemic. And now I think it's slowly turning into a "maybe." And I might have a better answer for you a little closer to draft day."

The first round is on ESPN beginning at 4 p.m. on Wednesday followed by the final four rounds on Thursday at 2 p.m. on ESPN2. The MLB Network will also televise the draft both days.

Yovan was drafted by Seattle in the 32nd round of the 2016 draft out of Westview High School and was selected by the Los Angeles Angels in the 27th round last year, but elected not to sign a pro contract both times.

Yovan, who redshirted after throwing just two innings due to injury in 2019 and was given an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA following the early end to last season, would have two years of eligibility remaining if he is not drafted and elects to return to the Ducks. He could also sign as an undrafted free agent, although those deals are capped at $20,000.

"He looked like a second- or third-round pick a couple summers ago as a pitcher and then he got hurt," McDaniel said. "He hasn't really pitched very much. He has plus power, but it's not a super long track record of hitting. It's probably like a first base/left field sort of fit in pro ball.

"He's older now and it's not clear what the future is on the mound. ... I'd say he's probably in that 50-50 to get selected sort of area, but there's hundreds and hundreds of players in that area. The good news for guys like him where there are maybe injury markers that would make a team hesitate, you only need one team to take you."

Yovan has gone 7-5 with 20 saves and 135 strikeouts in 120 innings on the mound during four seasons with the Ducks. He batted .429 with four home runs in 15 games as a junior.

"He's got a decent shot to be drafted and I would probably say it would be more as a hitter," McDaniel said. "But if a team takes him, I think they would always leave that route open to see if he can get healthy enough to get back on the mound."

Ashford, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound outfielder, is rated as the No. 160 prospect in the draft by MLB.com.

"He's a modelfriendly player in that he's 17 on draft day," McDaniel said. " And there are certain teams, Cleveland is the big example, that really move guys up the board based on that. If you look at the high school hitters they've taken specifically in the first couple rounds, it's almost always 17yearolds.

"He didn't have a long track record of hitting. He was pretty good at East Coast Pro, which is a big event he was at, and he showed all the tools you need to show. He was a little more polished than some were expecting."

Ashford was batting .353 with 18 RBIs, 15 runs scored, six stolen bases and a home run when his senior season ended early due to COVID-19.

Ashford originally committed to play football and baseball at Mississippi before signing with the Ducks in February. He joins Jay Butterfield as incoming freshmen at quarterback. Ashford is also expected to try and play baseball for the Ducks if he attends college.

Jesuit High School pitcher Mick Abel is expected to be the first prep player from Oregon selected in the first round since Matt Smith of Grants Pass in 1994. The 6-foot-5 right-hander is ranked as the No. 11 prospect by MLB.com and projected to go 17th to Boston by ESPN.

Abel has signed to play at Oregon State, but will likely bypass college in favor of a multi-million dollar signing bonus.

Oregon State junior pitcher Kevin Abel, who is no relation to Mick Abel, is projected as the No. 152 prospect in the draft by MLB.com despite not pitching much in the past two years. The 6-2 right-hander, who won four games during the College World Series when OSU won the title in 2018, pitched only two games in 2019 before having Tommy John surgery and did not return to the mound this spring.

Oregon State junior pitcher Christian Chamberlain, who is 8-5 with a 3.09 ERA in three seasons, is also a candidate to be drafted.

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