4 V.I. baseball players tapped in MLB draft

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Four young Virgin Islands athletes have been offered Major League Baseball contracts after this week’s professional draft.

According to V.I. Future Stars Baseball founder Darren Canton, that is a single-year record number of drafts for the territory. Also, the V.I. players were drafted in earlier rounds than any V.I. players before.

“It’s just a result of the exposure that we’ve been getting lately and that we will continue to get from professional teams and colleges,” Canton said. “It means an opportunity for many players coming up that they have not had in the past.”

Canton started the baseball recruiting organization five years ago. This year, V.I. Future Stars may see its first player sign an MLB contract.

Jamaine Cotton, a Kean High School graduate and pitcher at Western Oklahoma State, said he plans to sign a $75,000 deal today with the Houston Astros.

This is the second time Cotton has been drafted. Last year, he turned down a $24,000 contract. Cotton said that he wanted to become a more polished player — and be able to command more money — before making a commitment to professional baseball. Cotton said Canton did his best to help develop local baseball stars, but “coming out of the Virgin Islands, we didn’t really have the things that we needed.”

“Every year, it’s getting better for young men in the Virgin Islands in baseball,” he said.

Jabari Blash, a sophomore at Miami Dade College, already has been drafted twice during his young career. The Texas Rangers selected the outfielder, a Charlotte Amalie High School graduate, last year in the ninth round for a $300,000 contract, but Blash did not sign and returned to school. This year, the Seattle Mariners picked Blash in the eighth round.

Akeel Morris, a 17-year-old CAHS pitcher, was picked by the New York Mets in the 10th round. James Sneed, a left-handed outfielder at St. Croix’s Educational Complex, was drafted by the Anaheim Angels in the 14th round.

Canton said that Blash and Sneed have not decided whether they will sign, and Morris is planning to play this summer on a traveling team in Florida in hopes that his performance will attract a better offer.

Players have until Aug. 15 to negotiate their contracts.

Asked at a press conference Wednesday what would determine whether he signs, Morris said, “The money has to be good, and, really, the money has to be good.”

— Contact reporter Constance Cooper at 774-8772 ext. 364 or e-mail ccooper@dailynews.vi.

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