Taylor Kohlwey was just relaxing Saturday afternoon when his phone began buzzing.
And buzzing. And buzzing. And buzzing some more.
His device was lighting up with text messages from friends and family congratulating him.
“I was thinking, ‘For what?’" Kohlwey said. "I didn’t know."
The UW-La Crosse product would soon find out the reason for the much-deserved adulation when his phone buzzed again — this time with a phone call telling him he was just selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Kohlwey, who rewrote the record books at UW-L, was chosen 624th overall and in the 21st round by the San Diego Padres on Saturday, making him the 10th player from the Eagles program to be selected in the MLB draft.
“I wasn’t overly surprised, just because I knew the interest and who we’ve talked to the last few years,” UW-L coach Chris Schwarz said. “But that anxiety of not knowing was still there. Taylor deserves every opportunity he earned with this.”
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The fast-paced action of the third day of the MLB draft — rounds 11-40 all took place Saturday — kept the phone call between Kohlwey and the Padres representative short.
“Basically, he told me that they had picked me, and they’ll get me more information soon,” Kohlwey said.
Part of that information will be the time and location of a minicamp set up for Kohlwey and the other 41 players San Diego selected to determine where the franchise will send them within the minor-league system. The Padres have five minor-league affiliate teams — Triple-A El Paso, Double-A San Antonio, Advanced A Lake Elsinore, Single-A Fort Wayne, and Short-Season A Tri-City.
Kohlwey, who is a Holmen High School graduate, always had the goal of making it to the majors. When he chose to attend UW-L after high school, that goal never left his mind, and the numbers he posted during his UW-L career transcended concerns about playing at the NCAA Division III level.
“I always believed I could (get drafted), I don’t know if anybody else would’ve or did, outside of me and my parents,” Kohlwey said. “Today just reassures me that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, you can make it if you work hard.”
The man who coached Kohlwey throughout his time at UW-L — Schwarz — saw that Kohlwey had the physical traits to be a great player, but just needed to refine his skills.
“That’s really the difference. At the Division I level, you see the guys who are more polished right out of high school. At Division III, they need a little more development. That’s really how it was with Taylor.”
Discipline at the plate was the area Schwarz saw the most improvement in Kohlwey’s time as an Eagle.
“No matter how good you are, that discipline is one of the toughest things to learn,” Schwarz said. “After he broke out his sophomore year, pitchers were trying to pitch around him more and he probably chased more than he should’ve parts of his junior year. But he continued to adjust and learn how to wait pitchers out.
“When he’s at his best, he’s swinging at the pitches he wants to, and swinging aggressively.”
The highlights of Kohlwey’s UW-L run are what got him on the MLB scouts’ radars — last season he was named the American Baseball Coaches Association and d3baseball.com Division III player of the year; had a 51-game hit streak, the second-longest in Division III history; set UW-L records for batting average (.485), hits (96), runs (76) and doubles (22). He finished as the career leader in average (.447), hits (227), RBI (154), runs (191) and doubles (58).
The Padres were not shy about picking Division III players in this year’s draft. They also selected UW-Whitewater pitcher Lake Bachar in the fifth round. Bachar (7-1, 2.24 ERA) didn’t pitch in any of the six games the Warhawks and Eagles squared off, and the Eagles went 5-1 in those matchups, including a 14-5 win to secure a WIAC Tournament championship in May.
“It’s very cool that they picked a couple guys from our conference,” Kohlwey said of the Padres approach. “It shows that we’re a good conference.”
Schwarz said Kohlwey’s case can be an example for prospects looking at the UW-L program. He admits that Kohlwey started with a high-level skill set, but his work ethic and drive to learn from his coaches are big factors in how Kohlwey got to this point.
“You have to have the talent and the skills, no question. And even then it’s hard to get drafted,” Schwarz said. “But Taylor is a great example that if you have those things, and you work like he did, you can have a great college career and give yourself a chance to get seen. Now it’s in his hands.”
While the minicamp will determine where he ends up in the Padres organization, Kohlwey knows what he will need to do in order to accomplish his lifelong goal, and that's hit.
“I know I’m going to be facing some tougher competition,” he said. “But I’m just going to try to hit my way up.”