Three players with local ties were chosen with the first 14 picks of the Major League Baseball Draft on Monday. But the praise for top pick and UC Irvine commit Royce Lewis, UCI junior and NCAA batting champion Keston Hiura (No. 9) and former Little League World Series and Huntington Beach High hero Nick Pratto (No. 14) may have been higher than the spots in which they were selected.
As the first Orange County high school player ever chosen No. 1 overall, Lewis, who was named National Baseball Athlete of the Year by the National High School Coaches Assn., is universally renowned for his five-tool package.
The JSerra High senior shortstop was taken by the Minnesota Twins, virtually ending all hopes that he would somehow choose college baseball over the life-changing riches bestowed upon first-round millionaires.
Lewis, 18, who has retained Newport Beach’s Scott Boras as an advisor, has a slot value of $7,770,700, though he may sign for less.
Hiura, the NCAA regular-season batting champion (.442) who also led the nation in on-base percentage (.567) and slugged a school-record .693 for the Anteaters this spring, was termed the top college hitter in the draft by Baseball America writer and MLB Network draft analyst John Manuel.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Hiura, 20, undrafted out of Valencia High in Valencia, was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers, becoming the first UCI player chosen in the first round. His slot value is $4.6 million.
Pratto, 18, had the walk-off single to lead Ocean View Little League to a 2-1 victory over Japan in the 2011 title game in Williamsport, Pa. He was dominant on the mound, at first base and at the plate for the Oilers and was labeled the top high school hitter in the draft by MLB Network analyst and former Colorado Rockies General Manager Dan O’Dowd.
Pratto, who had committed to USC, was chosen as a first baseman by the Kansas City Royals. His slot value is $3.7 million.
Pratto’s good friend and Huntington Beach High teammate Hagen Danner, 18, a catcher and pitcher, was taken in the second round (No. 61 overall) by the Toronto Blue Jays. Danner’s slot value is $1 million.
Blake Hunt, a Mater Dei High senior catcher and Costa Mesa resident, was chosen 69th by the San Diego Padres.
“My body went numb,” Lewis, 18, told the MLB Network about his reaction to being the top pick, a surprise to some. “It was an unbelievable feeling.” The 6-1, 185-pound Aliso Viejo resident watched the draft on television with family at his grandparents’ home.
Lewis, who hit .388 with four home runs and 25 stolen bases to earn Gatorade California and Trinity League player of the year laurels, was not widely considered a candidate to go No. 1 before speculation Monday elevated him beyond the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 spots.
Hiura moved into the top 10 after a late-season surge that included 14 hits in his final 19 at-bats. An elbow injury limited him to designated hitter duties the last half of his three-season college career, and some speculated that uncertainty around the health of his throwing arm would render him a risky pick.
Hiura, who considers himself a second baseman, though he played mostly outfield for UCI, said his arm is currently not an issue. He plans to resume throwing with the intention of returning to the field soon.
“It’s unreal,” said Hiura, who watched the draft at Anteater Ballpark. “Every kid who plays baseball growing up dreams of this and to make it a reality, it’s an unbelievable feeling. I was glad to be able to spend it with family, friends, teammates and coaches. It’s definitely a day to remember, and it’s definitely an honor to be in the top 10.”
Pratto said he watched the draft with a gathering of supporters at his girlfriend’s house in Huntington Beach. He later went to Danner’s house, where they both witnessed Danner’s selection.
“Words can’t describe it,” said Pratto, a 6-2, 195-pound left-hander who hit .330 with nine homers and 22 RBIs for the Oilers. “I’ve had this dream forever, but once you hear your name called, it’s something that nothing can prepare you for.”
Pratto said he plans to sign and forego a future at USC.
“I want to go play [professionally],” Pratto said.
The 6-2, 195-pound Danner, who was drafted as a catcher, hit .350 with 12 home runs as a senior. He was also 11-1 with a 1.21 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 63 1/3 innings and his fastball was clocked at 92-94 mph.
“It was a roller coaster,” said Danner, who was listed by MLB.com as the No. 41-ranked prospect. “I definitely waited longer than I wanted. But when I heard my name called, I was relieved. It was awesome to be with all my friends and family members who were pumped up for me. I gave it a big fist pump. I had tears in my eyes and it was awesome.”
Danner said he was excited to be chosen as a catcher.
“I love that,” said Danner, who plans to sign and forego playing at UCLA. “I want to hit. Just knowing that it’s all over with now and I get to go play my game, makes me more than happy.”
Hunt, who played in the Costa Mesa National Little League, hit .394 with six homers, 28 RBIs and five steals for Mater Dei in 2017. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound right-hander, a Pepperdine commit, has a slot value of $858,600.
The draft continues Tuesday with rounds three through 10, beginning at 10 a.m. Rounds 11 through 40 will be Wednesday, beginning at 9 a.m.