The emergence of the UC Irvine Baseball team as a legitimate contender for the Big West conference crown during the past few seasons has caught not only the attention of many students, fans and alumni, but also many Major League Baseball scouts as well.
Six UCI players were drafted in the 2005 MLB Draft with two more signing with teams as free agents. With their prolific collegiate careers over, these players now turn their ambition and skills over to professional baseball and their minor league systems with their minds set on playing in the big leagues sometime in the near future.
One of these players, starting pitcher Christopher Nicoll, was the highest pick taken out of UCI in this years draft. Chosen by the Kansas City Royals in the third round as the 82nd overall pick, Nicoll finished this past season with an 0-3 record, but recorded 34 strikeouts in only 27 1/3 innings with a stellar 3.62 earned run average. As he continues to develop in the minors, UCI Head Coach Dave Serrano believes that ‘Nicoll has the best chance of all the players taken in this years’ draft to play in the big leagues as the Royals have a history of moving their young talented players quickly through their minor league system.’
Other former Anteaters who went under the radars of many scouts have dominated for their new teams. Third baseman Matt Anderson was passed up by baseball organizations for 30 rounds until he was selected by the New York Mets with the 929th overall pick. Making those other organizations that passed him up regret their decision is an understatement as Anderson was named to the All- Appalachian League team with a stellar .314 batting average combined with five home runs and 30 runs batted in. He was quickly promoted to their Single-A affiliate where he continues his solid hitting and defense at the hot corner.
Another dominant pitcher that has had ‘the best success from last years’ graduating class,’ according to Coach Serrano, is Steve Schroer. Undrafted by every baseball organization, Schroer has simply been lights out for the New York Yankees minor league affiliate, the Staten Island Yankees. He finished the season with a 3-3 record and a microscopic 1.60 ERA while compiling 39 strikeouts in only 39 1/3 innings.
Other picks in the draft also continue to excel in the minors. Catcher Mark Wagner (Boston Red Sox affiliate), shortstop Brett Dalton (Philadelphia Phillies affiliate), pitcher Nash Robertson (Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate) and right fielder David Kennedy (Tampa Bay Devil Rays affiliate) have all gotten playing time with their new minor league clubs.
Wagner hit .203 in limited action for the Lowell Spinners while Dalton hit .229 for the Batavia Muckdogs and recorded 20 walks with 13 RBI. Robertson displayed his repertoire for the GCL Pirates as he averaged nine strikeouts per nine innings, although he didn’t earn a single decision. David Kennedy, another undrafted player, batted .225 for the Hudson Valley Renegades and led the team with five triples.
Even with all these players taken off the roster, Serrano still believes that with his returning starters and young recruits, the Anteaters can compete in their conference-even if many consider it to be a rebuilding year. Many key players return for the Anteaters including 2005 Collegiate Baseball Preseason All- American closer Blair Erickson and the ace of their pitching staff, Justin Cassel. If these key pitchers, and other leaders on the team such as Jamie Martinez, Glenn Swanson and Chad Lundahl can stay healthy, the Anteaters will not only have many victories, but these players could also become shoo-ins themselves in the 2006 MLB draft.
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