Ivy League product goes to Nats in 17th round

Center fielder Alec Keller was an in-state product out of Douglas S. Freeman High School in Richmond, Va., but he did not receive a single baseball scholarship offer from any colleges in Virginia.

Granted, Keller -- who was drafted by the Nationals in Round 17 of the First-Year Player Draft on Saturday -- got a late start in the recruiting process. However, the only opportunities he had to play in his home state were for walk-on roster spots. So with his above-average grades and stellar SAT scores, Keller set his sights on the Ivy League.

The center fielder ended up at Princeton, where he posted a .336 career average. During his four-year career, though, one game in particular this past season gave Keller the upmost satisfaction.

The Tigers traveled to Charlottesville, Va., in March for a midweek contest against then-No. 3 Virginia. And while the team lost, 14-4, Keller had a fantastic day against the flagship school of his home state, going 3-for-4 with two runs and an RBI -- falling just a home run shy of the cycle -- proving his worth to one of the many programs that never gave him a chance.

"It was pretty nice," Keller said with a chuckle. "I can't lie."

During his time at Princeton, Keller earned First-Team All-Ivy three times. In his senior season, the center fielder batted .327 with a .396 on-base percentage, two home runs, 19 RBIs and seven stolen bases. He was named the Ivy League Player of the Year in 2014, the second Tiger in as many years to claim the accolade. And though the team didn't fair as well as did Keller this past season, compiling a 14-26 record, he said winning the league's highest honor was a solid conciliation prize.

"It was kind of a bittersweet award," Keller said. "But it meant a lot. It was the culmination of four years of hard work, so I was really happy about that."

Four years after every school in Virginia passed on giving him a scholarship, Keller is now going to have to chance to play within the organization for which nearly the entire state roots.

And while playing for a better-known college baseball program might have given Keller an easier track to the big leagues, the center fielder said he wouldn't have traded his time at Princeton for anything.

"In the end, I'm not really that bitter, because I had a great college experience," Keller said. "And I'm in the same spot I might have been coming out of a school like UVA or another Virginia school."

Daniel Popper is an associate reporter for MLB.com. He also can be found on Twitter @danielrpopper. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.