Lane Thomas, a gifted outfielder from Bearden High School, was all set to play for the University of Tennessee.
No matter what Major League ballpark he worked out in, which scouts attended his games or where USA Baseball took him, the Vols looked to be Thomas’ future.
But when the Toronto Blue Jays selected him in the fifth round of the draft Friday with the 144th overall pick, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Thomas agreed to terms with the club. He chose not to disclose any financial figures but said he got more than the slot value for his position in the fifth round.
Baseball America provided pre-draft values for every slot for Rounds 1-10 in the 2014 draft, and the 144th slot was estimated at $343,000.
“I was Tennessee all the way,” said Thomas. “I didn’t think I was getting a good chunk of money. I was set on college and playing with all my guys that I played with in high school, my friends — (Nick) Senzel and (Kyle) Serrano and Derek (Lance), all those guys at Tennessee. I was more than excited.
“I just really couldn’t pass up on it, you know? Here we are.”
Fellow Tennessee signee Kevin Steen, a hard-throwing right-hander from Oak Ridge High School, was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the ninth round with the 284th overall pick. Steen was not ready to declare himself a professional.
“That (decision) will come later on,” he said. “I’ll be leaving for Atlanta this upcoming week to pitch. They (the Red Sox) are going to follow me the whole summer as I pitch. If I do good, my stock will rise.”
Steen and Thomas were the only members of Tennessee’s 11-man signing class selected in the first 10 rounds. Rounds 11-40 will be Saturday. Tennessee coach Dave Serrano could not be reached for comment Friday.
Thomas received a few calls from teams Thursday night, he said, during the first two rounds. Ultimately getting picked by Toronto wasn’t a surprise, though. He worked out for their general manager and assistant general manager in Atlanta.
The Red Sox and Kansas City Royals looked to be his lead pursuers before the draft. Thomas did a pre-draft workout in Kansas City last weekend, and he was one of 12 prospects invited by the Red Sox in November to work out in Fenway Park.
Thomas will fly Saturday to Florida for a physical and eventually sign with Toronto. He’ll begin play in the rookie leagues.
“I was thinking Tennessee all the way until about 20 minutes ago when it happened,” Thomas said on Friday afternoon. “I talked to my adviser, got everything worked out. It was unbelievable.”
Thomas started all four years and hit for a career mark of .376 with nine triples, 36 home runs, 44 doubles, 123 RBIs and 177 runs scored. He twice hit better than .400 in a season. He hit .410 this past season with 53 walks, 17 home runs, 40 RBIs and 58 runs.
Thomas helped the USA 18-under baseball team win gold in the 2013 IBAF World Cup in Taiwan in September and signed with the Vols on Nov. 13.
Steen also signed that day. The 6-foot-1, 170-pounder pitched nine games this past season and finished with a 2.16 ERA and 48 strikeouts — though he has never had a full offseason and time to devote to the sport. Steen was a starter on the Oak Ridge boys’ basketball team that finished Class AAA state runner-up in mid-March.
He received a call from Tennessee assistant Aric Thomas on Friday.
“He just congratulated me and talked about the next decision is a big decision in my life,” Steen said. “I told him if I’m not getting what I want (financially), I’ll be a Vol. But, then again, it’s once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be blessed and selected to come out in the Major League draft as a high schooler at the age of 17.”
Walters State Pitchers Taken: Walters State freshman right-hander Brent Honeywell became the program’s first player since 1985 to be drafted in the first two rounds. Tampa Bay selected him in the second round (72nd pick) late Thursday.
The NJCAA All-American from Carnesville, Ga., went 11-3 this season with a 2.81 ERA. He struck out 102 and walked 15.
Morristown East’s Brett Martin, a freshman left-handeder from Walters State and a former Tennessee walk-on, was taken by the Texas Rangers in the fourth round (126th overall).
Martin went 9-2 for Walters State with a 3.83 ERA and 63 strikeouts.