Former Free State LHP Zach Thornton drafted 159th overall by New York Mets

photo by: Submitted photo

Zach Thornton, drafted 159th overall by the New York Mets on Monday, walks off the mound during a game pitching for Grand Canyon University this past season.

Big-league dreams became reality for Lawrence native Zach Thornton on Monday when the New York Mets selected the former Free State left-handed pitcher 159th overall in the fifth round of the 2023 MLB Draft.

Thornton entered this year’s draft after finishing his junior season with a 9-2 record and 3.87 ERA through 88 1/3 innings pitched during a one-year stint at Grand Canyon University. Thornton was a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy, recognizing the country’s top college ballplayer.

At the end of a three-year college career, Thornton spent this past weekend leading up to the draft waiting for the call with his family.

On Monday, Brian Reid of the Mets’ amateur scouting staff made the call.

“Our TV was a little behind everyone else’s because I started getting phone calls before I actually heard my name,” Thornton said. “I started getting congrats from people who knew I was a Met before I knew that I was.”

The road to this year’s draft was a distant departure from those of the pros Thornton grew up idolizing while playing baseball back home.

When Thornton’s senior season at Free State was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the lefty followed three of his high school teammates — infielders Colter Maldonado and Peyton Sparks and pitcher David Stuart — to Barton Community College, where he’d spend two seasons prepping his game for the Division I level.

At one point this year, Thornton recorded a career-high 13 strikeouts through seven scoreless innings against New Mexico State on March 10.

“We all knew it was going to be a one-year kind of deal,” Thornton said about his time at GCU. “Coming in there and having the ball in my hand right away was good for me because I learned how to be a leader after coming onto a team and organization that has a lot of upperclassmen.”

photo by: Carter Gaskins

Free State players Peyton Sparks (1) and Zachary Thornton (10) celebrates a play during the Class 6A state tournament Friday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark on May 24, 2019.

Free State head baseball coach Mike Hill and assistant coach Nolan Dietrich got in touch with Thornton shortly after his name was called on Monday.

“(Hill and Dietrich) wished me (their) best wishes,” Thornton said. “I have the utmost respect for all the coaches over there at Lawrence Free State, no matter the way my high school career went.”

This weekend, Thornton will board a plane to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and make his way to the Mets’ Single-A affiliate in Port St. Lucie for an initial physical and evaluation.

A quick turnaround means Thornton might find himself back on the mound in no time at all.

“They talked to my adviser and they said to get as much golf in as I can in Lawrence because (the Mets) are going to want you pretty quick out there,” Thornton said.


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