The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

June 12, 2009

Yanks draft UPJ’s Watkins


From Whoppers to pinstripes, Ben Watkins’ afternoon took an unexpected twist on Thursday.

The New York Yankees selected Watkins in the 40th round of Major League Baseball’s draft. The Pitt-Johnstown right-hander was about to order lunch during a break in his summer job with Penelec when he got the call.

“The Yankees scout called me after I had just gotten on my lunch break,” said Watkins, who also starred at Conemaugh Township High and with the AAABA League’s Johnstown Grays. “I was trying to decide which size Whopper meal I was going to get. I can’t believe it. It still hasn’t hit me yet. I didn’t even get my lunch. It’s an absolute shock. I’m so excited.”

Watkins, the first UPJ player drafted since coach Todd Williams took over the program in 1998, is expected to report to the New York-Penn League’s Staten Island Yankees.

After two seasons at Clarion, Watkins transferred to UPJ and had a breakout year as a senior.

The Tire Hill resident was named WVIAC Pitcher of the Year and Daktronics Atlantic Region Pitcher of the Year. His 7-1 record and 0.84 ERA in

531/3 innings also led to Watkins’ selection as a NCBWA second-team All-American in Division II. He was a first-team Academic All-American.

Watkins struck out 63 batters and allowed only five earned runs as a senior.

“We play against really tough competition in the WVIAC,” Watkins said.

“It keeps you focused on what you’re doing on the mound. That helped.”

Watkins had been on major league scouts’ figurative radar throughout the season. He worked out for Yankees scout Matt Hyde.

“The workout that I had with the Yankees was promising. I still was unsure going into (Thursday),” he said. “I went out and threw for this guy a few weeks ago. I had to drive up to Millersville to throw for him. He was coming down from Boston.”

At Conemaugh Township, Watkins played for coach Sam Zambanini. He started four years for manager Chris Pfeil’s Johnstown Grays in the AAABA League and is one of a handful of players in league history to appear in four AAABA Tournaments.

Watkins played for the Grays in the 2004 and 2005 AAABA Tournaments and was a pick-up player in 2006 and 2007.

In 2007 he won the AAABA League’s Pete Vuckovich Award as the league’s top pitcher after going 6-0 with a 0.74 ERA.