Bethune-Cookman catcher/designated hitter Michael Cruz saw his name announced in the seventh round of the 2016 Major League Baseball (MLB) Draft on Friday, selected by the Chicago Cubs with the 224th overall pick. Cruz, a 5-foot-11, 210-pound junior from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, was the first HBCU product to go off the draft board and joins teammate Clayton Middleton, also a catcher, Alabama State right-handed pitcher Angel Alicea and North Carolina Central right-hander Andrew Vernon as the four HBCU players selected in this year’s amateur draft. Cruz finished the regular season in the top 16 nationally for home runs, completing the season with 16 overall. He drove in 41 runs and led the MEAC with 16 doubles while being named a conference first-teamer as a designated hitter.
Middleton, a 6-foot, 205-pound catcher from Oviedo, Florida taken by the Texas Rangers in the 22nd round, was the 669th overall selection. He finished the 2016 season second on his team with a batting average of .335 with three home runs and 31 RBI. He was named first team All-MEAC and helped the Wildcats to their 18th conference title and a berth in the NCAA Gainesville (Fla.) Regional. Cruz and Middleton join the 2014 MLB Draft class of former Wildcats Keith Zuniga, Montana Durapau and John Sever.
Alicea a 6-1, 200-pound junior from Santa Isabel, PR was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays. After beginning the season as the starting shortstop, he focused on pitching full time in early March, posting a 3-0 record with a 1.47 ERA with two saves in 17 appearances with three starts. 20th round, 612. The 612th overall selection in the 20th round, Alicea becomes the sixth Hornet baseball player drafted in the past three seasons and the eighth since 2014 to sign a professional contract. Vernon, a first team all-MEAC selection, was taken with the 831st overall pick in the 28th round by the Milwaukee Brewers.
Vernon, a 6-4, 232-pounder, nailed down four saves and led the league with 85 strikeouts, which set a new single season mark in the modern era at NCCU. With those 85 strikeouts, Vernon also finished the regular season 12th in NCAA Division I in strikeouts per nine innings with an average of 11.93 punchouts. Vernon is also high in the NCCU career leaderboards in pitching as he is second in the modern era with 181 strikeouts and holds the second lowest opposing batting average of .243.
A native of Raleigh, North Carolina, Vernon pitched four seasons for NCCU and ended his career as the modern-era leader in career saves with 15 and kept a career ERA of 3.89 which tops the list as well. Over his four years on the mound Vernon made a career-record 83 appearances with seven starts as he had an opportunity to move from the bullpen to the mound in his senior campaign.