June 8, 2005
Notre Dame senior righthanded pitcher John Axford (Port Dover, Ontario) was selected in Wednesday’s second and final day of the 2005 Major League draft, as a 42nd-round pick of the Cincinnati Reds. Axford joins senior first baseman Matt Edwards – a 16th-round selection of the Philadelphia Phillies – as the latest members of Notre Dame’s top-ranked 2002 freshman class who have been selected in the MLB draft (three others were drafted and signed as juniors, in 2004).
The 11-year Paul Mainieri era at Notre Dame now has produced 42 players who have been drafted or signed free-agent contracts.
Axford was a 7th-round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners in the 2001 MLB draft before opting to play for Notre Dame. He ranked among the top Irish pitchers in the 2002 and ’03 seasons but was sidelined by an elbow injury for the entire 2004 season. The 6-foot-6, 190-pounder was eased back into action this season but suffered a midseason setback due to a shoulder injury, ultimately logging just 3.0 innings in five appearances during the 2005 season.
The Canadian National Team product owns a 4.48 career ERA and 14-6 record in three seasons of action with the Irish, totaling 137 strikeouts, 118 walks and 125 hits allowed (.238 opponent batting average) in 144.2 innings and 36 appearances, with 26 starts. He won his first nine decisions of the 2003 season and owned a 2.21 season ERA at that point before finishing ’03 as the staff’s co-leader in victories (9-3), also ranking second on the team in strikeouts (69) and third in innings pitched (71.0; plus a 4.31 final ERA, 50 BB and 63 H/.245).
Axford also was a key member of the Irish staff during the 2002 College World Series season, posting a 3.95 ERA and 5-2 record while making 12 starts in his 17 appearances (70.2 IP, 64 Ks, 59 BB, 59 H/.231). Current major-leaguer Aaron Heilman (.198, in ’98) and Larry Mohs (.201, in ’94) are the only Notre Dame freshmen to compile a better opponent batting average than Axford’s .231 (since ’91) while his 70.2 innings rank as the 6th-most ever by an ND freshman.
His junior season in 2003 included a 12-strikeout game vs. Western Michigan, setting the Eck Stadium record for most Ks by a Notre Dame pitcher.
Axford pitched in the prestigious Cape Cod League during the summers of 2002 (Hyannis Mets) and 2003 (Cotuit Kettleers), when he also trained with the Canadian National Team.
Three of Axford’s classmates were drafted and signed following the 2004 season: RHP Grant Johnson (2nd round, Chicago Cubs), third baseman Matt Macri (5th round, Colorado Rockies) and RHP Chris Niesel (9th round, Cleveland Indians).
Johnson is slated to make his professional debut on Thursday for the Peoria Chiefs of the single-A Midwest League. That game will be played at Peoria’s O’Brien Field versus a Benoit Snappers team that features one of Johnson’s former Notre Dame teammates, catcher Javi Sanchez, who recently was named to the Midwest League all-star team.
Axford is the first Notre Dame player in more than 35 years to be drafted by the Reds, dating back to the 1969 season when RHP Nick Furlong was Cincinnati’s 5th-round selection. Three years earlier, the Reds had picked Notre Dame LHP Dan McGinn in the 1st round of the 1966 January secondary phase draft. Former ND catcher Mark Mapes was a 50th-round pick of the Reds out of high school while former Irish football quarterback Carlyle Holiday was Cincinnati’s 44th-round pick in 2003 (he never played baseball at ND and never signed with the Reds).
Edwards is the first active Notre Dame baseball player to be selected by the Phillies, in the 41-year history of the MLB draft. Incoming shortstop Steve Verduzco was a 5th-round pick of the Phillies in 1991 before joining the Notre Dame program.