Cooper Kinney joined an elite group Sunday night, when the Baylor School graduate became the fifth Chattanooga-area player selected in the first round of Major League Baseball's amateur draft.
The Tampa Bay Rays selected Kinney with the 34th overall pick, which had a slot signing value of $2,148,100. The only local prospect to be drafted higher was Ringgold's Kenny Henderson, who was picked fifth by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1991. Sequatchie's Dakota Hudson was also picked 34th overall by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016.
"I finally think all the hours of hard work has paid off," Kinney said. "This is super satisfying. I have worked really hard for a long time. It's all just now hitting me that this is my future, and I am extremely grateful and excited."
Kinney made a strong impression at the Perfect Game National Showcase in June 2020, and the 6-foot-3, 200-pound left-handed hitter had a mammoth performance down the stretch of his senior season this past spring with the Red Raiders, who were ranked among the nation's top 10 high school teams.
The South Carolina signee hit .571 (32-for-56) with 13 doubles, nine home runs and 42 RBIs over his final 17 games as Baylor — coached by his father Mike Kinney and Greg Elie — won its third straight TSSAA Division II-AA state championship.
Kinney also put on a powerful display in late April when more than 20 MLB scouts watched his pregame batting practice, which looked more like a home run derby.
He hit .396 with five home runs and 14 extra-base hits as a sophomore in 2019 — the Red Raiders were among the high school baseball teams whose 2020 season was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic — and as a senior he batted .480 with 30 extra-base hits (10 home runs) and 50 RBIs.
"This was the first year I have clicked into a lot of power," Kinney said. "I put in a lot of work in the weight room, and the results worked with my approach. I have always focused on hitting line drives and hitting the ball where it's pitched."
Kinney was the 19th high school prospect selected in the first round of the 2021 MLB Draft and is projected to play second or third base in the Rays' farm system, which is currently ranked No. 1.
University of Louisville catcher Henry Davis was selected first overall Sunday night at Bellco Theater in Denver, and Vanderbilt star pitchers Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker were selected second and 10th overall by the Texas Rangers and New York Mets, respectively.
University of Tennessee signee Brady House from Georgia's North Cobb High School was taken 11th by the Washington Nationals. The Atlanta Braves selected Wake Forest power pitcher Ryan Cusick with the 24th pick.
The Cincinnati Reds, for whom the Chattanooga Lookouts are the Double-A affiliate, had three picks Sunday night. They took UCLA shortstop Matt McLain at No. 17, outfielder Jay Allen of John Carroll High School in Fort Pierce, Florida, at No. 30 and Florida State catcher Matheu Nelson at No. 35.
The 20-round draft, which is being held in conjunction with MLB All-Star festivities for the first time, continues Monday and finishes Tuesday.