Alan Walden again is taking a personal interest in Major League Baseball's annual player draft.
The former Red Bank High School star hopes to have his name called for the first time since 2009, when he spurned an Atlanta Braves offer to follow through on a University of Tennessee scholarship.
Scouts found a more mature - and certainly more healthy - Walden this time around, and they found him at Chattanooga State rather than in Knoxville with the Volunteers. Pro scouts also are interested in Tigers teammate Patrick Merkling, a left-hander who was the TCCAA pitcher of the year.
"I don't think the year in Knoxville was a wasted year. I grew up a lot," Walden said. "I was living on my own and I had a lot of responsibility. I learned a lot. I got tougher mentally. I could take criticism."
Walden spent much of his one season at UT rehabbing after shoulder surgery and rebuilding his confidence.
Jared Allen, Polk County IF-OF
Jonathan Clark, Lee Univ. OF
Shay Crawford, Lee Univ. LHP
Chris Grayson, Lee Univ. OF
Patrick Merkling, Chatt. State LHP
Alan Walden, Chatt. State RHP
Brandan Zajac, Walker Valley LHP
"I wasn't the dominating pitcher I had been in high school, and it took me a while to deal with that," he said. "Guys have since told me that recovering from an injury is more mental than physical. I'm not knocking Coach [Todd] Raleigh, but my deciding to leave was a good choice. I weighed the pros and cons of being at UT, and the cons outweighed the pros."
He felt Chattanooga State would be a better fit, and he worked his way back to a low-90s fastball, finishing with a 4-2 record and a 3.00 ERA this season for the region champion Tigers.
"He ended up throwing really well," Chattanooga State coach Greg Dennis said. "He had a great outing against Walters State [in the postseason tournament] and basically saved our bacon. He was throwing a consistent 90-92 mph and was hitting 94. His arm strength was every bit what it was his junior year in high school."
Walden was scrutinized early in his senior season at Red Bank and was considered likely to be drafted in the first seven rounds. However, a shoulder injury put him on the shelf. The Braves, who had followed him since his junior season, selected him in the 43rd round in 2009.
"I was hurt and wasn't even throwing," he said. "They came back and said they would come up with more money if I could show by the end of the summer that I was throwing again. Their offer was good, but it wasn't what I was expecting to get. I felt like by going to Tennessee that I'd get the rehab I needed, but then I went to Tennessee not knowing the situation and how Coach Raleigh treated some of his players."
The draft isn't the only avenue open to him. He has a scholarship from Memphis already signed.
"It's up in the air. I don't know what's going to happen," he said. "People say you're going one place and then you don't."
Walden has had workout sessions with the Washington Nationals and Kansas City Royals.
"But then Dad (Alan Sr.) thought the Pirates were going to draft him," Walden Jr. said, "because they had talked with him the most, and he wound up getting picked by the Indians and he'd never talked to them."
The 2011 draft began with the first and supplemental rounds Monday night and picks up at noon today, probably going through round 25. The final rounds will begin at noon Wednesday.
Dennis will be hiring a new pitching coach soon. Robert Long is leaving the program after a tenure that includes three NJCAA Region VII championships and two conference pitchers of the year.
"It's going to be strange without Robert," Dennis said. "He's been here six years and he's been a huge part of the success from where we were when we got here to where we are now. Obviously he's done a phenomenal job."
Long, who had major league experience with two organizations during a 12-year professional pitching career, said he has loved coaching at the college level and would be interested in getting back into it. Right now, though, his priority is his full-time job. He's a project manager for a construction company, and "we're covered up after all the tornadoes and stuff," he said. "It's been that way since the storms that hit in February."
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765.