Last week Justin Slaten paid for a ticket and drove for two hours to watch the Texas Rangers play baseball.
Tuesday he became a team employee.
Slaten, a junior right-handed pitcher for the University of New Mexico last season, got the call he was hoping for Tuesday morning. The Rangers selected Slaten in round three of Major League Baseball’s 2019 Amateur Draft with the 86th overall pick.
“This day has been unreal,” Slaten said in a phone interview from his Longview, Texas, home. “I grew up rooting for the Rangers, going to games. For them to draft me, man, it just seems unreal.”
Slaten enjoyed a swift climb up Major League draft boards during and after his strong junior season. Baseball America had him projected as a fourth- to fifth-round pick as recently as last week.
That changed Tuesday, when rounds 3-10 of the 2019 draft were completed.
“I talked to my adviser just a few minutes before (round three) started,” Slaten said. “He told me things were kind of crazy but, ‘I think you’ll go to the Rangers.’ I looked at the order and Texas had the eighth pick of the day. That’s when things got a little nerve-racking.”
The slot value for Slaten’s draft position is listed at $699,700, according to MLB.com. He became UNM’s highest draft selection since Luis Gonzalez went in the third round in 2017.
“Justin Slaten is one of the classiest kids to come through this program,” UNM coach Ray Birmingham said. “He will be pitching in the Major Leagues soon, you watch.”
Slaten said he expects to receive information about when and where to report after the draft concludes today.
“They told me to just celebrate,” Slaten said, “and that’s what I’m doing.”
Slaten was the first of four players with local ties to be drafted Tuesday. New Mexico State shortstop Joey Ortiz was picked by the Baltimore Orioles in round four, 14 picks ahead of Glenallen Hill Jr. – the son of Albuquerque Isotopes manager Glenallen Hill – who went to the Arizona Diamondbacks. La Cueva High School graduate and former UNM catcher Andrew Pratt was selected by the Washington Nationals in round 10.
Ortiz, the first player picked in round four at No. 108 overall, became the highest selection in New Mexico State program history. The value for his position was listed at $538,200.
“I am so thankful for this opportunity and the chance that the Orioles organization took on me,” Ortiz said in an NMSU release. “I truly trust in God’s plan for me and I truly have been blessed. The real work begins now!”
Hill Jr. was a senior shortstop and outfielder at California’s Santa Cruz High School last season. The switch-hitter’s slot value was listed at $469,000.
Pratt spent the past two seasons at Lubbock Christian University after transferring from UNM in 2017. He hit .358 as a senior with 13 home runs and 54 RBIs in 52 games. The slot value for Pratt’s draft position was listed at $144,100.
More players with New Mexico ties are likely to be drafted today in rounds 11-40. UNM outfielder Jared Mang, NMJC shortstop Joab Gonzalez, Piedra Vista High right-hander Nate Swarts and NMSU teammates Tristen Carranza (outfield) and Tristan Peterson (infield) are the state’s top remaining prospects according to Baseball America.