By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – Brian O’Connor got some big, big news last night. Branden Kline called to say he’s enrolling at UVa this month.
Kline, a pitcher from Frederick, Md., signed a letter of intent with UVa last fall. But the Boston Red Sox selected Kline in the sixth round of the Major League Baseball draft in June. Kline considered turning pro but said he ended negotiations with the Sox this week.
“I’m 100 percent coming to Virginia,” Kline said in a phone interview this afternoon.
“It was a tough decision, but in the end I’m happy with my decision. My parents never went to college, so I’ll be the first in my entire family to attend college.”
Kline, a 6-3, 195-pound right-hander, was one of five UVa recruits drafted in June. The others were infielder Stephen Bruno, a 26th-round pick of the Yankees; infielder Reed Gragnani, a 27th-round pick of the Red Sox; first baseman/third baseman Robert Amaro, a 40th-round pick of the Phillies; and catcher Kenny Swab, a 48th-round pick of the Reds.
Swab played at Young Harris, a junior college in Georgia, this year. The other four were high school seniors. Draft picks have through Monday to sign pro contracts.
Kline took summer classes at UVa, starting July 6 and ending early this month, and that experience influenced his decision. He proved to himself that he could handle the academic demands, and he quickly grew to love the environment.
“At the beginning of the summer, everything felt weird, because it was a different atmosphere,” Kline said. “By the end of the summer, I didn’t want to leave.”
As a senior at Thomas Johnson High this year, Kline went 6-1. In 41 innings, he struck out 79 and allowed only three earned runs and 16 hits.
“Branden is a very athletic pitcher,” O’Connor said this afternoon. “He’s got a perfect pitcher’s body frame.
“The sky’s the limit for this kid. If you’re trying to mold a pitcher, this is the kind of guy you would want. He’s got a live arm, he’s got a good fastball in the low 90s.
“Like any 18-year-old pitcher, he’s got to improve, and he knows that, with his command and his off-speed pitches and things like that. But I think he’s a tremendously hard worker, and I think he’s a kid with great character. Combine that with his ability, and I think the sky’s the limit for him.”
O’Connor said he felt good about UVa’s chances with Kline even after the June draft.
“I’ve gotten to know Branden very well, and so has Coach [Karl] Kuhn, our pitching coach, over the last year,” O’Connor said. “I made a couple of trips this spring up to Frederick to meet with him and his family, and he came down to a handful of our games this spring, so we were around Branden quite a bit.
“Having him here for summer school shows his dedication towards earning his degree here, to be able to get ahead academically and get an understanding of what the university is all about, and also be able to lift with our strength-and-conditioning coordinator. I think it shows his commitment to his baseball career and also his academic career.”
Kline, who turns 18 next month, said his decision pleased his parents, especially Linda Kline.
“My mom, ever since Day One, she’s always wanted to see me go to school and get that degree, especially from UVa.”