Despite a relatively quiet season in the Big West, the UCSB baseball team managed to make its presence felt in the 2005 Major League Baseball (MLB) First-Year Player Draft held on June 7 and 8.
Four Gauchos had their names called during the draft, besting last year’s three Santa Barbara draft selections. Seniors shortstop Chris Malec, right-handed pitchers Alex McRobbie and Loren Fraser and junior right-hander Steve Morlock were all picked during the two-day draft.
“The coaching staff was quite pleased to see the [Gaucho] players get drafted. It’s really great for them,” UCSB Pitching Coach Tom Myers said. “Malec and McRobbie have put in a solid four years and Fraser has put in two. It’s good to see it pay off.”
Malec was the first Santa Barbara player selected in the 2005 draft. With the 499th overall pick, the New York Yankees drafted the versatile infielder and 2005 All-Big West player. Malec, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer in April, signed a contract with the Yankees on June 21 and is expected to join the Staten Island Yankees of the Class A New York-Penn League upon completion of chemotherapy treatment.
Day two of the draft brought good news for three more UCSB players. The Toronto Blue Jays took McRobbie in the 24th round while the Detroit Tigers selected Fraser with the 990th overall pick.
Morlock, the only Gaucho to go to a National League team, was picked in the final round by the Chicago Cubs. With a lingering shoulder injury in need of rehabilitation and another season remaining in his eligibility, Morlock is expected to return to the Santa Barbara starting rotation next year.
“Morlock was drafted late so he could sign before school starts in September, but I think [he] will come back for his last season. I think he still has something to prove here,” Myers said. “He played with recurring soreness most of the season and if he can come back at 100 percent, then he’s got a chance to be very good next year.”
Both McRobbie and Fraser have signed contracts with their respective teams and started their professional careers this week. Fraser has been assigned to the Oneonta Tigers to play against Malec in the New York Penn League while McRobbie opened the Appalachian Rookie League season this week as a Pulaski Blue Jay in Pulaski, Va.
The biggest surprise of the draft for the Gauchos was the absence of senior right fielder Matt Wilkerson’s name from the selection list. Entering the draft, Wilkerson appeared to be Santa Barbara’s best prospect, finishing his senior season with an All-Big West selection, the team lead in home runs, RBIs, runs scored and stolen bases, and the school record for career home runs.
“That was a shock that [Wilkerson] did not go in the draft, but sometimes those things take place with the major league draft,” Myers said. “Nothing is ever for sure with the draft and that was proven with [Wilkerson] getting overlooked.”
Wilkerson’s career is not over though, the Santa Margarita, Calif. native signed a free agent contract with the St. Louis Cardinals on June 16. Wilkerson started off the New York Penn League season on a positive note, blasting his first professional home run to give the New Jersey Cardinals an opening day win June 26.
The four seniors can look to former Gauchos in the professional ranks for encouragement. Three players drafted in 2001, the last season UCSB reached the NCAA playoffs, are playing for the Triple-A affiliates of their professional teams. Outfielder Skip Schumaker spent one week playing for the St. Louis Cardinals before being sent back to Triple-A Memphis while his former teammates, outfielder Ryan Spilborghs and pitcher Jim Bullard, were both promoted to Triple-A for the first time this week.
Santa Barbara’s draftees can look forward to long bus trips, bad food and the rigors of playing baseball nearly every day of the week.
“They have to develop physical and mental routines. In comparison to playing in college, you have be that much stronger mentally. If you have a bad night, you have an opportunity to show resilience because 12 hours later you’ll be back out there again with a chance to redeem yourself,” said Myers, who played in the minors for three organizations. “I feel like what we do here gives them a foundation physically to play professionally, but now the toughest part is going to be how they perform mentally.”