You’ve just been offered a large amount of money to walk away from college and do what you’ve dreamed of doing since you were hitting off a tee. Take the money and run! No-brainer, right?
Not so for a handful of UCSB juniors on the Gaucho baseball team who face such a decision on June 7 and 8, the dates of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. UCSB seniors Nate Sutton, Taylor Vogt, Brian Adams, Ivan Ramirez, Aaron Jones, Greg Powers and Rich Sorenson will have to choose between playing professionally and finishing school only if they haven’t already.
Santa Barbara juniors Matt Wilkerson, Chris Malec, Loren Fraser, Nate Holguin and Matt Kalafatis have a much more difficult choice to make: Stay at UCSB to play another year, possibly improve their stock and inch closer to a UC degree – or strike while the iron is hot and forge into the world of professional baseball.
“I’m definitely thinking about the draft, but I have no control over it,” second baseman Malec said. “It’s something to talk about with my family and [UCSB Head Coach Bob] Brontsema, but we’ll cross that bridge when it comes.”
Malec has a very realistic chance of being drafted high after a fine third season with the Gauchos, and may benefit from exposure to scouts from both coasts. Malec made the Cape Cod League All-Star Team over the summer on the East Coast and earned First-Team All-Big West Honors with a .306 batting average and 54 RBIs, two off the team lead.
“Malec will have the toughest decision on the team,” Brontsema said. “He’s better than his final numbers came out to be.”
Wilkerson came on at the end of the season, ending with nine home runs and 56 RBIs, both team bests. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays chose Wilkerson, an outfielder, in the 30th round of the 2001 draft, but even though he finished the season well, his coach believes he could benefit from another year with the Gauchos.
“It all depends on what round they go in, and I think Wilkerson could come back and improve his stock,” Brontsema said. “He was not 100 percent all season, and at the beginning he wasn’t throwing the ball as well as he can because of his arm injury last season.”
Vogt can hit the ball out of sight and is quite a physical specimen at 6’3” and 235 pounds, and Sutton has a well-above-average batting eye at the plate going for him. The movement on Jones’ pitches is not easily taught, nor is Ramirez’s competitive spirit.
“Sutton should get an opportunity to play, and I would hope that Taylor would, too,” Brontsema said. “Jones should certainly get a chance because he’s got good stuff, and Ivan should be in the mix as well.”
Living out dreams and getting paid to do it is fantastic, but professional baseball is a business and sometimes that fact is lost on young players. Less than 10 percent of players in the minor leagues make it to the majors, and often players are bought cheaply only to play with and against the high-priced prospects.
“If there’s not a large sum of money invested in you, the chances that you’ll make it are diminished,” Brontsema said. “A huge amount of money for a 22-year-old kid is not always a huge some of money in life.”
Either way, several young men from the UCSB baseball team could be on their way to the ride of their lives beginning on June 7 and 8.