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Washington State’s A.J. Block signs with Kansas City Royals as free agent

UPDATED: Mon., June 15, 2020

Washington State’s A.J. Block fires a pitch in a game against Niagara this spring at Bailey-Brayton Field in Pullman.  (Washington State Athletics )
Washington State’s A.J. Block fires a pitch in a game against Niagara this spring at Bailey-Brayton Field in Pullman. (Washington State Athletics )

A.J. Block wasn’t selected in the shortened Major League Baseball draft, but a professional career is still on the horizon for the left-handed pitcher from Washington State.

No Cougars were taken in this week’s draft, which was shortened from 40 rounds to five because of circumstances around the novel coronavirus outbreak, but Block was signed as a free agent by the Kansas City Royals Sunday, three days after the modified event concluded.

According to a school press release, Block was considered a priority free agent and became one of the first collegiate seniors to agree to an undrafted deal.

Block, a 39th-round draft pick by the Chicago Cubs coming out of Newport High School, was chosen by the Detroit Tigers in the 17th round of the 2019 draft, but the Bellevue native opted to return to school for his senior season and help lay the foundation for the new program led by first-year Cougars coach Brian Green.

The southpaw made just four appearances – all starts – before WSU’s season was wiped out by the pandemic and was effective going 2-1 while maintaining a 3.24 ERA and striking out 34 batters in 27.2 innings.

Like all spring sport seniors, Block was granted the opportunity to return for the 2021 season, but Green suggested his pitcher was ready for the next step in his career and encouraged Block to pursue professional baseball.

“A.J., what a great story, coach (Anthony) Claggett and I met with his family over the summer and we promised the family, ‘Look we’re going to get you prepared for professional baseball better. You didn’t have a win last year, we promise you you’ll have a better experience,’ ” Green said in April during a virtual forum with The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages. “… I was pumped, he had two wins, three games with 10 strikeouts or more, he did a great job with his mental game.

“Just really, really, really matured, and he’s ready for pro ball, so we’re pumped about that.”

Following the shortened season, rated Block as the second-best senior pitcher in the Pac-12 Conference and the eighth-best senior pitcher in the country.

He was the first Cougar pitcher in at least 33 seasons to record at least 10 strikeouts in his final three starts and finished his collegiate career with 55 appearances and 178 strikeouts in 175.2 innings.

“It was three pitches for strikes, the curveball, the change(up), both sides with the fastball,” Green said. “And command and up to 94 (miles per hour).”

Block also excelled in the classroom, being named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District 8 First Team earlier in the summer and was a Pac-12 All-Academic selection. Block had a 3.62 GPA while earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science.

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