Mark Armstrong sent Jonah Heim a text message on Friday afternoon that simply read: “We did it!”
What the two Western New York high school baseball players managed to do was get taken in Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player draft.
The annual draft is typically anti-climactic in these parts, but this year it had the drama of a walk-off win. It’s the first time Western New York has had two high school players taken in the top five rounds, according to baseball-reference.com.
Armstrong, a durable right-handed pitcher for Clarence High School, was the third-round pick of the Cincinnati Reds. He was the next to last player taken in the third round. He was the Reds’ fourth pick, the 104th overall.
Heim was taken in the fourth round by the Baltimore Orioles. He was the O’s fifth pick and was 129th overall. He’s a 6-foot-3, 200-pound switch-hitting catcher, who just finished a tremendous season at Amherst High School.
Armstrong, who is also 6-3, 200, can hit 90 mph with his fastball, which he mixes up with a curveball and change-up. Scouts were impressed with his clean mechanics and complete-game outings. They also liked the athleticism he showed playing three sports for the Red Devils. He had signed a college scholarship with the University of Pittsburgh.
Heim was being courted by the New York Yankees, having been invited over the winter to tour their spring training complex in Tampa, Fla. Nonetheless, Heim said he’s excited to have been taken by the O’s because he grew up an AL East fan. He had signed a college scholarship with Michigan State.
Both players said on Friday they will forgo their college careers and sign professional baseball contracts as soon as they’re eligible after graduation.
Armstrong didn’t know what his signing bonus would be, saying only it was “life-changing money.” Last year the Reds used their third-round pick to draft pitcher Dan Langfield out of Memphis and paid him the recommended slot value of $436,800.
Armstrong said it didn’t take him long to choose pro baseball over college. “I went pretty high, you really can’t get too much better than 104 overall,” he said. “I’m going to sign a pro contract.”
Armstrong was happy to be with his Clarence teammates when the call came.
The Red Devils were at a practice facility in Syracuse getting a workout in before playing in today’s state championship in Binghamton. The players were gathered around an iPad watching MLB.com when his name was called. Moments later, Armstrong’s phone rang.
“I had a good feeling if I was available the Reds would consider me,” Armstrong said. “They called me about once a week and there was a Reds guy at every game I pitched.”
The Red Devils will send Armstrong to the mound today when they play Arlington at 1 p.m. in the state semifinal. If they win, they play for the crown at 4 p.m.
“I’m not going to worry about that stuff,” he said of the draft. “I want a state championship, it’s something I’ll never forget. I’m going to enjoy the next couple days and hopefully have a big smile on my face.”
Heim said he will sign for the value of his pick, approximately $390,000.
“I think it fits perfectly where I went. It felt crazy, I couldn’t ask for anything better, I’m happy,” said Heim, who expects to start his career at extended spring training. “I’m going to go the pro route, that’s always been my No. 1 option.”
The last player to get drafted from Amherst High was Duke McGuire in the 36th round by the Mets in 1970.
The Orioles also took the last player from Western New York to get drafted, outfielder Kyle Hoppy of Orchard Park in 2009. Hoppy was in the chain from 2009-2012 and played the last six weeks of his pro career in the Phillies organization before being released.