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Ex-Cats head for pro baseball

Two former Sonora High School pitchers have gotten a foot in the door of professional baseball.

James Smith and Phil Coke, both 2001 Sonora graduates, are in the developmental stages for the Cleveland Indians and the New York Yankees, respectively.

Smith, a 6-foot-2, 190 pound right-hander, was chosen by Cleveland in the 30th round of the first-year player draft last week. He has "draft-and-follow" status, which means he'll spend another year at Merced while Indian scouts keep an eye on him.

Coke, a 6-1, 210-pound left-hander, had the same status in 2002, when the Yankees selected him in the 26th round out of San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton. He pitched for Delta this season and now is on the roster of the Gulf Coast Yankees in Tampa, Fla.

Smith, 20, went 5-3 with a 3.88 earned-run average as a redshirt freshman for a 22-20 Merced team, and made the all-Central Valley Conference second team. He said a dozen major-league teams contacted him before the draft and that the Colorado Rockies wanted him to sign right away. Smith chose to be patient.

He has the kind of fastball that pro teams like. He said it "topped out" at 93 mph last season and that his heater averaged between 88 and 90 mph. He also throws a slider and a changeup.

After his sophomore season, Smith can either sign with the Indians or go back into the draft, like Coke did when he was selected out of high school by the Florida Marlins but chose to attend Delta rather than sign immediately.

Coke, 20, went 3-8 with a 4.70 ERA as a sophomore for Delta (22-19), but the number that most interested the Yankees was 91 — the speed of his southpaw fastball. He's in Florida now, preparing for the start of the Gulf Coast Rookie League season June 19. he and his Yankee teammates will play through Aug. 24 against affiliates of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies and Detroit Tigers.


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