Baseball Draft: Linza taken by White Sox

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 8, 2011

By Mike London
SALISBURY — One of the many messages on Keegan Linza’s phone on Wednesday afternoon came from Casey Rasmus, his catcher at Liberty.
“He texted he’d just been picked in the draft,” Linza said. “I was actually not following things too closely, but when I went online to see who took him, that’s when I saw my own name pop up. Now that was cool. A fun day.”
Rasmus was taken by the St. Louis Cardinals, who employ his brother Colby in center field. He went in the 36th round, the 1,100th player chosen.
Officially, Linza was the 1,161st player selected in the three-day draft. The Chicago White Sox made the 6-foot-6, 230-pound right-handed pitcher, the 20th pick of the 38th round.
“Not a big surprise,” Linza said. “I’d talked to several teams, but the White Sox seemed the most interested.”
Linza is blessed with a keen mind and a long-armed, wide-shouldered, prototype pitcher’s frame. He’s been viewed as a potential pro since he was a freshman at East Rowan.
After transferring to North Rowan, Linza starred for the Cavaliers as a sophomore and junior. His senior year was a wash after he hurt his wrist sliding into second base, but he finished his prep career with a record of 18-8, 219 strikeouts and a 1.84 ERA.
There was some question early in his career about which sport he’d pursue. As North’s quarterback in 2005, he threw for 2,262 yards and 18 TDs and was CCC Player of the Year.
Baseball won out. Linza signed with South Carolina, his dream school, prior to his doomed senior season at North.
After an 8-0 effort with the Rowan County Legion team in the summer of 2007, there were several detours.
Opportunities were limited for Linza as a Gamecock freshman, and he saw the mound in just three games. Seeking steadier work, he transferred to Northwest Florida State Community College for his sophomore year. He got plenty of innings on the competitive Panhandle, went 5-3 and made all-conference.
His next stop was Lynchburg, Va., to join the Liberty program. The connection was obvious. Jim Toman, instrumental in recruiting Linza for South Carolina, had moved on to become Liberty’s head coach.
“It’s been a journey, but I’ve enjoyed all of it,” Linza said. “I wish I’d been able to contribute more at South Carolina, but it just wasn’t in the cards. Liberty turned out to be a great fit, though.”
Linza has been tremendous with the Flames, 8-0 as a junior and 11-3 as a senior with a 2.08 ERA. He ranks sixth nationally in wins this season and tied the school record for victories. He was runner-up for Big South Pitcher of the Year honors.
“He’s brought a great work ethic to the field, and he’s a really tough kid,” Liberty pitching coach Garrett Quinn said. “Great makeup and a really strong spirit. He can run it up there around 90 mph, and when he didn’t have his best stuff, he still competed and gave us a chance. He’ll be a great ambassador for Liberty and a great asset for any pro team he pitches for.”
Quinn said Linza had plenty of memorable outings as a Flame, but the one that stands out came very early this season, with Liberty down in Georgia, taking on the Mercer Bears.
“We were already 0-3,” Quinn said. “The team needed a win, the pitching staff needed a win, and the coaches needed a win. Our fourth game was Keegan’s first start. He took the bull by the horns and pitched a gem. It was like he was saying, ‘OK, this is how we do it.’ That game got our season turned around.”
Liberty finished 35-24, placed second in the Big South behind Coastal Carolina and had seven players drafted this week.
Linza has been a coach with the Rowan County Legion team this summer, an internship to finish his degree, and the 4.0 student has been accepted into law school.
“Plan A was law school; Plan B was the draft,” Linza said. “Now it’s Plan B. I can put off law school and give baseball my best shot.”
Linza figures to be assigned to either Great Falls, Mont., or Bristol, Va. Great Falls opens June 20. Pete Rose Jr. manages Bristol, which cranks up on June 21.
Linza doesn’t plan extended negotiations. He anticipates signing with a White Sox representative this weekend.
“I’ll get a little bit of money, but it’s not about that,” Linza said. “I’ll pitch for whoever they want and in whatever role. I’m just excited to be getting a chance.”
He has 108 innings under his belt now, so he won’t be overworked by the Sox. If he’s successful this summer, he could start next season in Kannapolis.