If John Savage had his way, he’d close the windows and shut the door. Anything to keep out the draft. The UCLA baseball coach hated that the first day of the major league draft was on the same day the Bruins played Loyola Marymount in a regional final.
UCLA first baseman Michael Toglia made two errors in the first inning Monday, about an hour after he was the first-round pick of the Colorado Rockies.
“Wow, Mike’s drafted, then he makes two errors and we’re thinking, ‘What the hell’s going on here?’ ” Savage said. “Was that the reason? It’s hard to say, but it happened.”
Second baseman Chase Strumpf hit a three-run home run in the fourth inning. After he rounded the bases his dad poked his head into the Bruins dugout to inform him he’d just been drafted by the Chicago Cubs.
Strumpf took the field and promptly booted a routine groundball.
“I was trying so hard to not think about [getting drafted] that I was starting to think about it a little bit and got distracted,” Strumpf said.
The Bruins survived the miscues, winning 6-3 to advance to a best-of-three super regional that begins Friday at 6 p.m. against Michigan at Jackie Robinson Stadium. The winner advances to the College World Series.
But the draft, which concluded Wednesday, remained on the minds of everyone all week. A UCLA record 13 players were drafted, a source of undeniable pride for Savage and his program. Yet it was also an unwelcome intrusion.
The Bruins are 51-9 and ranked No. 1 in the nation in large part because of their cohesiveness. Getting drafted — or not getting drafted — is intensely personal. It can turn team unity upside down, “we” becoming “me.”
“It can change the culture and environment in our clubhouse,” Savage said. “Some guys are thrilled, some are disappointed, some wonder why somebody else was drafted higher than they were.”
Savage suggested the draft be held midweek after the super regionals so it’s not on a game day and would only impact the eight teams that make the College World Series.
And the draft is only the beginning for players about to embark on professional careers. They will secure an adviser (read: agent) if they don’t already have one, begin negotiations and — for those who sign — report to a minor league team and don a new uniform.
It’s an exciting time. Players are on the cusp of realizing their lifelong dream of playing professional baseball.
Yet it’s Savage’s job to keep them in the moment, reminding them that reaching — and winning — the College World Series has been their goal since they set foot on campus.
Michigan (44-19) defeated UCLA 7-5 on March 8, so the Bruins can’t take the Wolverines lightly. If it’s any consolation to UCLA, Michigan is facing a similar issue after winning a regional in Corvallis, Ore. Pitchers Tommy Henry and Karl Kauffman were second-round sandwich picks of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Rockies, respectively.
“It’s really a tough time for college coaches,” said Savage, who has had 105 players drafted in his 15 seasons at UCLA. “But we’ve dealt with it before and we’ll deal with it now.”
UCLA 2019 MLB DRAFTEES
Name (Pos.) Round Pick Organization
Michael Toglia (1B) 1 23 Colorado Rockies
Ryan Garcia (RHP) 2 50 Texas Rangers
Chase Strumpf (2B) 2 64 Chicago Cubs
Ryan Kreidler (INF) 4 112 Detroit Tigers
Jack Ralston (RHP) 7 215 St. Louis Cardinals
Jeremy Ydens (OF) 8 243 Washington Nationals
Justin Hooper (LHP )14 409 Kansas City Royals
Jack Stronach (OF) 21 623 San Diego Padres
Jake Pries (OF) 24 735 New York Yankees
Nate Hadley (RHP) 25 749 Minnesota Twins
Kyle Molnar (RHP) 26 781 Los Angeles Angels
Jake Hirabayashi (INF) 39 1,169 Minnesota Twins