‘Fork in the road’

Wando outfielder Kep Brown is considered the top MLB draft prospect in the state by Baseball America.

Kep Brown’s senior season was off to a storybook start.

The Wando High School outfielder, big and strong at 6-5 and 200 pounds, had burst on to the national scene last summer, slugging baseballs over fences at national showcase events to make himself one of the most highly rated high school hitters in the country.

This spring, Brown carried that form into his final season of high school ball, raking to the tune of 15 hits in his first 29 at-bats, including six doubles, one triple and two home runs. Through 13 games, that translated to a .517 batting average, .548 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage of 1.000.

“He was going to have a special season,” said Warriors coach Dirk Thomas.

Then came the night of April 10 and a key region game against rival Stratford. Brown’s teammate, Harrison Smith, made a spectacular catch in left field to save a run. Standing in right field, Brown jumped into the air to pump his fist in celebration.

It was his final play of the season.

“Right when I came down, I felt it pop,” Brown says now. “I bent over like I was tying my shoes and felt it. I knew something was wrong.”

Brown had torn the Achilles tendon in his left leg, ending his season and throwing his status as a projected first-round pick in the MLB Draft — which starts Monday — into question. No wonder he sat on the back of a cart that night and threw his glove and cleats away in anger.

“I yelled out some probably not-so-good words,” Brown said. “But I wasn’t mad about the draft; I was just so disappointed I would not be able to help my team. Sitting on that cart, I threw all my baseball stuff away. I didn’t even want to look at it.”

Wando, of course, went on to win its first Class AAAA state title even without its star right fielder. And Brown, two months into a rehab projected to take six to eight months, remains the top-rated prospect in the state as the draft begins. Baseball America ranks him No. 89 in the country, while Perfect Game lists him at No. 73.

Those rankings project to about the third round of the draft, which means Brown might not get the six-figure signing bonus handed out to first-round picks. Slotted bonuses in 2015 range from more than $2 million in the middle of the first round to more than $500,000 at the end of the third round.

The way Brown sees it, he can’t lose. If he doesn’t sign with an MLB team, he’ll report to the University of Miami this fall to play college ball with the national power Hurricanes.

“It’s a fork in the road,” said Brown, whose older brother Rudder is a wide receiver at The Citadel. “And either you way you take, it’s a great route. I’m excited.”

Brown’s injury poses a dilemma for MLB teams intrigued by his power potential, the website Perfect Game noted.

“What happens when a high school position player suffers an injury with a long rehabilitation period in the middle of the spring?” Perfect Game wondered. “That rarely happens. There isn’t as much precedent for how the scouting industry will handle it.”

As for Brown, he’s handled the injury as well as could be hoped. He had surgery two days after the injury, and his rehab is right on schedule. He’s still on crutches, but should get his walking boot removed soon.

“My tendon is still tight and will be for a while,” Brown said. “But the best part of my day is going to rehab and getting it loose and getting it worked out. The doctors and people at physical therapy are amazed at my progress.”

Despite the injury, Brown remained close with the Wando team, acting as an extra coach during the Warriors’ drive to a state title.

“It was hard emotionally for him,” Thomas said. “But the way he handled it, it shows how much he’s matured and developed. He sincerely felt worse for the team than he did for himself; he felt he was letting us down.”

Said Kep, “They didn’t need me on the field to win state, but I hope they needed me in the dugout. I tried to keep them on an even keel, to be a leader even when I was hurt. In baseball, you can never be too high or too low; the people who are successful are right in the middle.”

And that’s how Kep Brown plans to handle whatever the MLB Draft may bring this week.

“It’s not how I wanted to go through my first draft,” he said. “But I’ve got a feeling that God has a plan for me.”