Owen Murphy and Ryan Cermak grew up just a couple of blocks away from each other in Riverside. Both played for the Riverside Rockets travel team that Cermak’s father Jeff started in 2009 when Cermak was just 8 years old, and both were on the roster of the same Riverside-Brookfield High School team when Cermak was a senior and Murphy was a freshman.
On July 17 they both were high draft picks in the Major League amateur draft.
The defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves picked Murphy with the 20th pick in the first round. About three hours later, Cermak was chosen in the second round, with the 71st pick in the draft, by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Murphy was picked at least 15 spots higher than where he was projected to go in mock drafts.
“I’m still in a state of shock, to be honest with you,” Murphy told the Landmark about 24 hours after being drafted. “I didn’t expect to be taken that early, but the Braves picked me up and it’s such an amazing feeling.”
Murphy and Cermak are believed to be the highest drafted players ever from Riverside-Brookfield High School. They are the first alumni drafted since Will Kincanon was drafted in the 11th round by the Chicago White Sox in 2017. Kincanon is currently in the White Sox minor league system but has been injured this year.
Both Murphy and Cermak hosted draft night parties at their Riverside homes for family, friends and teammates.
Cermak got emotional when his name was called.
“It was amazing,” Cermak said. “I’m not a crier but I will admit I did cry a little bit. I was off to the side with my friends and they started screaming for about 10, 15 seconds, just like pushing me with pure happiness. First thing I did I got up and went straight to my mom and hugged her and then went straight to my dad and hugged him. That was pretty much my moment.”
Murphy, 18, is a 6-1, 190-pound right-handed pitcher and infielder, who graduated from RBHS in May after a stellar high school career. Last summer he made the Team USA 18-under squad, and following his senior season in June he was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Illinois.
This spring Murphy was practically unhittable on the mound for RBHS, compiling a 9-0 record with a microscopic 0.12 ERA. He struck out 157 batters in 58.1 innings and threw four no hitters in his senior year. As a hitter, Murphy hit .578 and belted 18 home runs while driving in 75 runs.
Murphy committed to Notre Dame as a sophomore, but he is planning on walking away from his scholarship to sign with the Braves and begin his professional career immediately. He is expected to be offered a signing bonus in the $3 million range.
Murphy declined to go into contract details but said he could report to the Atlanta minor league system as early as the end of the week.
“It will be this week, I’m not sure when but it will be this week,” Murphy said of his signing.
While turning down a scholarship to Notre Dame is difficult, Murphy said he is committed to baseball as his future.
“I’ve always had the mindset of I want to play the highest level of baseball as quickly as possible,” Murphy said.
Despite his gaudy hitting statistics, Murphy’s immediate future will be on the mound. While he wanted to try being a two-way player, the Braves are insisting that he focus entirely on pitching.
“I’m actually going to just be a pitcher,” Murphy said. “That was included in the deal and everything, and that’s the way it’s shaking out. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to the two-way life, but this is what the Braves see the most fit. I’m still an athlete so I’m willing to do whatever, but what the organization wants me to do right now is pitch, so that’s what I’m going to do for them.”
Scouts loved Murphy’s fastball, which has been clocked in the low to mid 90s and has excellent movement. Scouts liked his competitive fire and relentless work ethic as much as his fastball.
Cermak and Murphy overlapped one year at RBHS, but they didn’t really play together because Cermak missed almost all of his senior season in 2019 with an injury suffered while playing basketball. As a freshman, Murphy stepped right into Cermak’s role as a shortstop and pitcher for the Bulldogs.
Cermak, 21, was not as heavily recruited as Murphy. He went to Illinois State University and struggled as a freshman, playing third base and hitting .208 during a 19-game COVID-shortened season.
Three games into his sophomore season at ISU, Cermak was moved to center field where he could use his great speed and he blossomed. At 6-2 and 215 pounds, Cermak possesses both speed and power, and he quickly developed into an elite center fielder with great range and a powerful arm.
He was one of only three college outfielders to win a Rawlings Gold Glove award, won two straight Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year awards and was named to the all-conference team two consecutive years. He also developed into a power hitter, batting .340 with 19 home runs and 43 RBI this past season.
Cermak said a key to his success was learning not to beat himself up over inevitable failures, such as strikeouts and errors, that are part of baseball.
“This is just a kid’s game,” Cermak said. “You can’t get down on yourself when you fail.”
Cermak said he would have been happy to be drafted by any team, but said the Rays were his second favorite team after the White Sox when he was growing up. He especially liked former Rays third baseman Evan Longoria.
He is projected to receive a signing bonus of around $900,000, and told the Landmark he, too, expects to sign this week and begin his professional career in the coming days at the minor league level.
Cermak and Murphy kept in touch with each other over the last few years and it was exciting for both of them to be drafted on the same night. They caught up the day after the draft to marvel at what’s happened
“It’s amazing just to have two guys from the same little town of Riverside go and have the opportunity to go play high level baseball, professional baseball, at such young ages,” Murphy said. “I mean it’s so cool. It’s hard to even put into words.”