Major-league teams select six Arlington players in draft

Posted Monday, Jun. 17, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A half-dozen former Arlington school district student-athletes were selected in the recent major-league draft, including five Martin Warriors.

“It was a good day for Martin. The emails and text messages were flying on draft day,” Martin coach Curt Culbertson said. “Just from a school and program standpoint, it’s a really good feeling to have those kids go.

Teams don’t “draft just anybody,” he added. “There’s a mold that you’ve got to fit. Obviously, you’ve got to have talent, but you have to be a person that they think can withstand that kind of business.”

The first player with Arlington ties to go was former Warrior Brian Ragira, who was taken out of Stanford in the fourth round (132nd overall) by the San Francisco Giants. He was followed by Arlington High product Aaron Blanton and Martin grads Tony Rizzotti, Ryan Walker, Chase Jensen and Jantzen Witte.

“He never got uptight,” Culbertson recalled of Ragira. “He handled his failures with character, and he was just a class act from a person standpoint — smart and dedicated. From an athlete standpoint, what I remember most about Brian was that the ball just jumped off his bat. He had a great bat speed.”

Culbertson was impressed that Ragira was taken as a first baseman.

“I’ll tell you what kind of athlete he was,” Culbertson said. “He played outfield for us some. He played third base for us when he was a sophomore. He pitched for us. Then, he goes to Stanford and plays first base for three years. He’d never played first base that I knew of. That’s the kind of athlete he was. He will definitely get a chance to go through the process of the minors to get a chance at the big leagues.”

Having five players taken in the same draft class says a lot about the success of the Martin program, but Culbertson thinks it goes beyond the diamond.

“I hope it says that we are putting the right type of kid out there,” he said. “I would like for it to say that we’re graduating the right type of baseball player and the right type of kid. The kid that’s committed to doing the very best he can and is committed to the game, hard work and the right attitude. That’s what I most proud of, probably.

The Miami Marlins selected former Colts standout Blanton, a shortstop from Richland College, in the ninth round. David Nix, baseball coach at Arlington High, spent four years working with Blanton.

“He was a very small kid when he came in as a freshman, but I already knew that he had outstanding baseball skills,” Nix recalled. “He had a cocky attitude and a whole lot of confidence in what he can do. I had coached against his brother and knew his dad, so I could see where he was going to grow over the years.”

As a freshman, Blanton played on the JV and then played varsity for three years.

“He just got better each year,” Nix said. “He had a great arm and was full of confidence. He had all the skills, and as he grew into his body, he got a little faster running and everything came to fruition. His senior year he helped us go three rounds [in the playoffs] and was one of our top hitters. He played third base for us then, even though he’s kind of a natural shortstop, but he also pitched and closed. By the time he got to Richland College for his freshman year, he was hitting 92 mph throwing. His fielding was always superb and his hitting was going good, so Miami took him as a shortstop.”

Former Martin standout pitcher Rizzotti was selected by San Diego in the 25th round. Culbertson suggests that Rizzotti’s biggest asset may be his perseverance.

“Tony was our No. 1 pitcher for two years. He had a great arm and great work ethic. He was also a very dedicated athlete that worked hard and tried to improve his game every time out,” Culbertson said.

But injury problems sidelined him for years after high school.

“He was out for almost two years and hadn’t really thrown a pitch,” Culbertson said. “But he stuck with it and went to Tulane and had a really good year, so that tells you a little about him, that he’s a driven kid. This was a goal for him way back, so I was proud of him for sticking with it. A lot of people may not have stuck with it.”

A trio of former Martin infielders were also drafted. Walker, a shortstop and a Freshman All-American at UTA in 2011, was taken in the 18th round by Minnesota. Jensen was selected as a shortstop in the 22nd round, also by San Diego. Witte was selected out of TCU in the 24th round by the Boston Red Sox.

“Chase, Ryan and Jantzen all did the same thing for me,” Culbertson said. “They were all three middle infielders, they all played second and short, they all hit one, two, three in the order. They were all excellent athletes and people. They’re the kind of kids that you want to coach and want on your team.”

Culbertson knows the road ahead is challenging for the latest Martin alumni but feels like they all have a shot at playing in the bigs.

“They deserve this — they deserve a chance,” he said. “That minor-league route, that’s a tough, hard route, but I think they all have a chance.”

Nix also feels good about Blanton’s opportunity.

“I think he’ll make it, I really do,” he said. “I have that feeling because I don’t think he’ll ever give up. I don’t think anything will deter him, as long as he stays healthy and doing what he’s doing.”

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