UCSB baseball wrapped up a long season two weekends ago, going out with a bang by winning their final three series. But this week, several Gaucho players patiently await the knock of opportunity on a door that could open them up to millions: the 2003 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft on June 3 and 4.
Highly-touted junior pitcher Matt Vasquez figures to be the first Gaucho to be plucked from the ranks of college baseball and given a professional baseball contract.
“I’ve had calls from many teams, and about a dozen of them are really interested in me,” Vasquez said.
The Santa Barbara native was drafted out of high school by the Texas Rangers in the seventh round of the 2000 draft but opted instead to play at UCSB. Vasquez finished his third year as a Gaucho with a 4-4 record and logged 93.1 innings on the mound, second highest on the team.
“As much as we don’t want to lose Matt, it is a sincere hope that he goes in the top five rounds,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “Matt has a tremendous opportunity to pitch in the major leagues,” UCSB Pitching Coach Dan Ricabal said.
Senior left-handed pitcher Sean Thompson also has his sights set on a career in professional baseball, and he, as well as Vasquez, has the support of his coaches and teammates.
“Having everyone behind you like that puts you on a high,” Thompson said. “It tells you that all your hard work has been paying off and that you’re heading in the right direction.”
Like Vasquez, Thompson was also drafted by Texas in 2000, but in the 27th round while playing for El Camino College in Torrance, Calif. Thompson posted six wins and recorded team highs of 17 starts and 104.1 innings pitched in his senior season at UCSB.
“Sean is going to have to grind it out in professional ball and prove himself at every level; they aren’t going to give him anything,” Ricabal said. “But he’s competitive, he knows how to pitch and he’s left-handed, so all of these things will make him attractive.”
Though he can play one more season at UCSB, junior catcher Chad Ziemendorf could also find himself signing a professional baseball contract in two weeks. In addition to handling the pitching staff that led the Big West in wild pitches and hit batsmen, Ziemendorf led the team with six home runs and drove in 29 runs.
“I’m excited to finally see my dream to play professional baseball come true, whether it happens this year or next year,” Ziemendorf said. “It’s exciting to think that it could happen this year.”
For some, June 3 and 4 will present vindication for years of hard work and dedication, and for others, it will produce disappointment and broken dreams. “If you go in with expectations, it could be a disappointing day. But it’s no doubt the most anticipated day for these guys,” Brontsema said.
Nobody can blame the Gaucho prospects for having high hopes.
“This has been my goal for my whole life,” Thompson said in anticipation of Draft Day.
“I look at the draft as a new beginning,” Vasquez said. “My amateur career is ending and my professional career will begin.”
Despite such a lofty goal, Vasquez has as good a grip on reality as he does on his sliders.
“I’ll have to try hard no matter where I go, what level I play or what round I get drafted in.”
Any players that leave a mark on a program and move on to another level of play will be definitely missed and create holes to be filled.
“Matt and Sean ate up a majority of our innings, and they will be big losses to this program,” Brontsema said. “It would certainly be nice to have Chad back next year also. He can come back and have a much better year.”
In the time between the end of the season and the amateur draft, Thompson and Ziemendorf each had a workout with a major league club and Vasquez has entertained two. Joining the three of them in yesterday’s workout for the Cincinnati Reds at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium were senior Josh Fulton and juniors Nate Sutton and Jared Edrosolan.