ABILENE, Texas - Head coach Britt Bonneau and the Abilene Christian coaching staff Thursday announced their 2012 signing class, which features seven high school recruits who will be among the first to play NCAA Division I baseball for the Wildcats.
This year's group of signees includes catchers Kendall Kerns and Connor Messman, infielders Gunnar Buhner, Tanner Buxton and Aaron Draper, outfielder Taylor Waters and right-handed pitcher Joe Boyce. The players will enroll at ACU in the fall of 2013 and begin their collegiate careers in the spring of 2014.
"The kids we've recruited possess the talent, skills and character to compete right away at the D-I level," said Bonneau, who is entering his 16th season at the helm of ACU baseball. "They are going to provide a solid foundation for this program moving forward, and I can't thank my coaches (Brandon Stover, Elliott Cribby) enough for all the hard work they've put in since May to bring in this class."
Buxton, Draper and Kerns are all native Texans. Messman and Waters are from Arizona, while Boyce and Buhner hail from Washington. Buhner is the son of former Major League Baseball all-star and Seattle Mariner great Jay Buhner.
Profiles of each ACU signee are listed below in alphabetical order.
RHP Joe Boyce (North Bend, Wash./Eastside Catholic HS)
A 17-year-old native of Auckland, New Zealand, Boyce will arrive at Abilene Christian with a wealth of international experience as he recently represented his homeland during a World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament in Taiwan. As the as the youngest player on its roster, Boyce pitched a couple of games for the Diamondblacks prior to his team's elimination in the title game by Chinese Taipei.
Boyce began his playing career at age eight and has competed for his country at all age group levels, including the New Zealand Under 18 Development squad, which has taken him to tournaments in Hong Kong, Guam and the United States.
It was while touring Washington state in July of 2010, that the 6-foot-1 Boyce caught the attention of the prestigious Chaffey Baseball Club based in Kirkland, Wash. From there, Boyce decided to finish high school in Washington so he also play for Chaffey, which won the ‘Battle of Omaha' baseball tournament last summer with an undefeated record.
Boyce also has played for the Northwest Bandits of the Seattle Elite League during his time in the states, and will compete for Eastside Catholic High School next spring.
"We expect Joe to be a leader of our pitching staff for years to come," said Stover, who is in his 11th season as the Wildcats' assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. "Joe's had some experiences that most kids his age only dream of and pitching in the WBC is something he can build on for his future at ACU."
"Joe is a bright young star on the mound," added Cribby, who first encountered Boyce while as the head coach for Mount Si High School in Washington. "He can command three pitches for strikes and has continued to get better year after year. His experience and mound presence is rare for just being 17 years old."
INF Gunnar Buhner (Fall City, Wash./Mount Si HS)
Buhner is another Pacific Northwest product with ties to Cribby, who started coaching the middle infielder in 2010 when both were at Eastside High School. Cribby later coached Buhner as part of the O'Brien Auto Group 16U team in the summer of 2011, and again in 2012 at Mount Si High School. Buhner played two years at Eastside before transferring to Mount Si, which went 20-4 this past spring en route to a 3A King County Championship and fifth-place showing at the state tournament.
Buhner hit over .350 this past summer between stints with the Kansas City Royals Area Code team and the O'Brien Auto Group 18U squad. He will play for the Washington Athletics next summer prior to his arrival on campus.
"Gunnar is one of those kids that can play anywhere on the field and he'll look like he's played there his whole life," Stover said. "We're excited to see what he will develop into in the future. He's continuing to grow and we cannot wait to have him in our program."
"I'm looking forward to being back on the diamond with Gunnar," added Cribby. "He is a great sign for us as he'll be able to step in and play many positions right away."
SS Tanner Buxton (Aubrey, Texas/Aubrey HS)
Buxton is a projected shortstop for the Wildcats who made quite a name for himself on the mound last spring after winning the District 9-3A Pitcher of the Year Award. Buxton's numbers for Aubrey High School included a 9-2 record and 2.10 ERA in 64 innings pitched.
His efforts also earned him a spot on the all-area first team. In 2011, Buxton was voted the district's Co-Newcomer of the Year and was a second team all-area honoree.
"Tanner is a physical kid who will continue to get bigger, faster, and stronger," Stover said, "and we believe he'll mature into a great player over the next four years. "Tanner also comes from a great family and we expect him to have a positive impact on our ACU family."
Buxton plans to study kinesiology while at ACU.
SS Aaron Draper (Plano, Texas/Plano West HS)
A middle infielder, pitcher and catcher, Draper has been part of the Plano West starting lineup since his freshman year when he started 20 games and helped take his team to the state semi finals. Draper also had a solid season in 2012, which culminated in his being named to the District 8-5A honorable mention squad.
"Aaron is a hard-nosed player that plays the game the right way," Stover said. "He comes from a high school program and select program that expect to win, and we think that mentality is important for our future. Aaron will be a great asset for the next four years."
Draper played for D-BAT Gowins this past summer and led his team in both hitting and on-base percentage while playing through tournaments hosted in Lubbock, Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta (Perfect Game 17 National Championship) and Joplin, Mo. (Premier Junior Championship).
Draper's older brother, Evan, plays baseball for Oklahoma Christian.
C Kendall Kerns (Tyler, Texas/Brookhill HS)
Kerns is a hard-hitting backstop who has batted well over .500 each of the last two seasons and whose accolades include back-to-back first team all-state citations. He's also helped lead Brookhill High School to consecutive state championships and was part of the Perfect Game 17U WWBA National Championship team.
"Kendall is a big-strong kid that has tons of potential," Stover said. "He and Connor (Messman) will have to carry our pitching staff as freshman, and we believe that Kendall is mature enough to handle that task. We expect him to be a huge part of our program."
Kerns' combined triple crown numbers from the past two years include seven home runs and 65 RBI. He hit .508 as a sophomore in addition to winning Defensive MVP honors, and batted an incredible .544 this past spring.
Kerns is a member of his school's national honor society and plans to study business and finance while at ACU.
C Connor Messman (Tyler, Texas/Brophy Prep HS)
A three-year starter at Brophy College Preparatory, Messman helped lead his team to a No. 16 national ranking and spot in the DI state championship game after batting .276 with five home runs and 23 RBI. Messman also scored 18 runs and clubbed eight doubles as his school finished with a 23-10 record.
Messman hit .314 with 26 RBI and 13 doubles the year prior for a 23-10 Brophy team that reached the state 5A quarterfinals.
"Connor comes from one of the best high school programs in Arizona, where he is used to winning," Stover said. "He is just one of those guys that gets it done and I expect that he and Kendall will give us strength behind the plate for the next few years. We really look forward to seeing him behind the plate at the Crutch."
Messman also played two years of football at Brophy and plans to study business and finance while at ACU.
OF Taylor Waters (Mesa, Ariz./Basha HS)
Noted for his aggressive base running and range in the outfield, Waters is in his first year at Basha (Ariz.) High School after playing three previous seasons at Franklin High School in Elk Grove, Calif. While at Franklin, Waters was an all-city honorable mention centerfielder and helped lead his 2011 team to a Sac-Joaquin Division I Championship.
In the summer, Waters plays tournament baseball for the Arizona Dodgers under coach Rodney Davis.
"After seeing Taylor play this fall, we knew this is the type of player we want in our program," Stover said. "He is someone who always gives maximum effort and runs extremely well, and that is exactly what we want in our players. He plays the game all out and we expect that to continue for four years. We are ready for him to roam our outfield."
Waters made his school's principal's honor roll and plans to study business and management at ACU.
Information for this story provided by ACU Sports Information.