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MLB draft 2024: How JJ Wetherholt, ex-Mars High and WVU baseball star, became a top prospect

Mars Area High School graduate JJ Wetherholt, seen here in action for West Virginia University, has been projected as the top overall pick in this month’s Major League Baseball draft. Associated Press file

Playing professional baseball was never a pipe dream for JJ Wetherholt.

“I thought I could chase my dream and make it a reality. That’s just the mentality I’ve always had,” the 2021 Mars Area High School graduate said.

After three superb seasons at West Virginia University, Wetherholt is not crossing his fingers that he will be taken in this month’s Major League Baseball draft. A number of sources, including ESPN and Baseball America, have projected him going No. 1 overall to the Cleveland Guardians as late as mid-June.

The 20-round draft is scheduled for July 14-16 in Fort Worth, Texas. Round 1 begins at 5 p.m. and can be watched on ESPN, MLB Network and ESPN+.

“It’s a blessing,” said Wetherholt, who played every infield position but first base for the Mountaineers. “It puts more of the spotlight on Mars and WVU and is another example that Western PA has some great ballplayers. It’s cool that more and more people know my name. It’s been a great experience and I’m thankful.”

He traveled to Phoenix in mid-June for the MLB combine, where he had conversations with representatives from 13 teams, including Cleveland and Pittsburgh (No. 9).

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David Bednar, a closer and fellow Mars graduate, has been with the Pirates since 2021.

“I just want to go to a team that wants me,” Wetherholt said. “Wherever I get taken, it’s going to be a step in the right direction.”

Wetherholt put up a remarkable sophomore season in 2023 for the Mountaineers. Batting either leadoff or in the No. 2 spot, the left-handed hitter’s .449 batting average was the highest in NCAA Division I in 15 years. He added 16 home runs, 24 doubles, an on-base percentage of .517 and stole a team-leading 36 bases.

In his time in Morgantown, Wetherholt batted .370 (206 for 557), hit 29 home runs, collected 129 RBIs and scored 148 runs in 145 games.

“Early in his career, he had a tendency to hit a lot of pull-side groundballs on pitches that were coming inside on him,” said Steve Sabins, who was Wetherholt’s hitting coach all three seasons and recently was named head coach at WVU following the retirement of Randy Mazey. “But he learned to drive the ball to both gaps, and since then pitchers have tried to make adjustments against him, but they’ve been unsuccessful. Nobody can find a hole in his swing.

JJ Wetherholt, left, had dreams of making the big leagues since he was starring for Mars. On June 14 he’s likely to hear his named called among the first picks in the 2024 MLB Draft. Eagle file photo

“JJ turned in the best offensive performance over a three-year stretch in program history.”

During an abbreviated stint with Chatham of the famed Cape Cod League last summer, Wetherholt began to feel some discomfort in his left hamstring. He was fully healthy when WVU’s season began in February, but the problem returned in a season-opening series against Stetson. He left the lineup and did not return until a game against Kansas the first week of April. According to The Athletic, Wetherholt was dealing with a Grade 3 strain, a complete tear of the muscle.

“I never had to deal with an injury before that kept me out that long,” he said. “It was frustrating, but I learned to be a better teammate off the field. My focus was on rehabbing, getting back and helping the team make a deep run.

“Once I got back, I was trying to find a groove the rest of the year.”

Related Article: Enrietto: Bednar story ongoing

The Mountaineers (36-24) extended their season farther than any team in program history, reaching a Super Regional before bowing to North Carolina. Wetherholt contributed a .331 batting average, eight home runs, 30 RBIs and 30 runs scored. In a win over Grand Canyon that clinched the Tucson Regional, he was 3-for-6 with two runs scored.

During his high school career, Wetherholt was voted All-Section, All-WPIAL and Team MVP at Mars. He is grateful for his three years in Morgantown.

“The blend of school, social life and baseball was awesome,” he said. “It was an unbelievable experience for me.”

As he stands on the cusp of a pro career, Wetherholt’s legacy at WVU is cemented.

Sabins said: “He’s as good a representative of our state and university as we could ever ask for.”

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