ARLINGTON, Texas -- After leading UTA to its first Sun Belt Conference Western Division Championship, four Mavericks have opened their professional careers in minor league baseball. Get all the details in the latest MiLB Notebook.
UTA's historic 2017 season saw a total of four players drafted or sign a free-agent professional contract in June. Right-handed pitcher Austin Gardner signed as a ninth-round pick, southpaw Jakob Hernandez inked as a 21st round selection and Brady Cox was picked in the 36th round. Senior right-handed pitching workhorse Kadon Simmons then signed a free-agent deal with the Milwaukee Brewers.
All four players have opened their professional careers in their respective rookie-level teams.
Cox, a native of Fort Worth, Texas, and one of the more decorated performers in program history, has opened his career with the Arizona Rookie League Royals, scoring a pair of runs and walking four times in his first six professional games. Over his UTA career, Cox played in 184 games and hit .285 (186-for-652) with 27 doubles, three homers and 86 RBI, scoring 103 runs. As a junior durable catcher, he hit .365 to earn first-team All-Sun Belt Conference honors.
Gardner, a product of Coppell, Texas, has worked 3.2 innings in his professional debut with the Gulf Coast League (Rookie) Yankees. Gardner had a prolific season in 2017 as one of the top relievers in the conference. He led the team with 29 appearances, owning a 2-1 record and a 2.42 ERA with two saves and 55 strikeouts in 44.2 innings.
A 6-foot-4 lefty, Hernandez has fanned five without allowing a hit or walk in his first two professional innings with the GCL Phillies. Hernandez stepped right into the weekend rotation in his debut season with the Mavs in 2017, posting a 6-1 record – including a 5-0 mark on the road – in 13 starts, sporting a 3.28 ERA with 89 strikeouts in 79.2 innings.
A native of Cut & Shoot, Texas, Simmons has appeared in his first two professional games with the Arizona Rookie League Brewers, tossing three innings to open his MiLB career. Simmons posted a 16-8 record over two years in the UTA rotation, owning a 3.65 ERA in 190 innings, striking out 115. He led the conference with a 9-4 record as a junior, posting a 3.05 ERA in 103.1 innings.
A total of 17 former UTA stars are currently in affiliated minor league baseball or in the big leagues. John Lackey (Cubs), Dillon Gee (Rangers/Twins) and Hunter Pence (Giants) have each worked in MLB in 2017.
Despite battling injuries, Lackey has made 17 starts for the defending World Champion Chicago Cubs, with Pence hitting .252 with six homers and 35 RBI in 258 at-bats with the San Francisco Giants. Gee worked in four games with a start for the Texas Rangers earlier in 2017 before signing a minor-league deal with the Minnesota Twins, where he has made two shutout starts in Triple-A for the Rochester Red Wings.