While USC is most heralded for producing the most first round picks in NFL Draft history, the 12-time National Champion USC Baseball program is not too shabby when it comes to producing future MLB talent.
One of the last four teams left out of the NCAA Tournament, the much-improved USC squad (29-24, 16-14) were led right off the top by Friday night ace, and First Team All-Pac-12 Selection Wyatt Strahan. He was drafted 94th overall in the Third Round by the Reds, and ginger "Big Red" has just signed his slot-valued professional contract.
Strahan finished the season on a strong tear of 7-plus inning starts, finishing with a 6-5 record following his last start of the year (7 IP, 2 ER) against No. 1 Oregon State allowing a career-high 8 walks against the conference's best and most offensive patient attack. He really did settle in during Pac-12 play however, amassing an impressive 2.92 Pac-12 ERA.
Knowing for his great fastball, which touched 95-96 as the game progressed, Strahan finished with a team-high 89 strikeouts this season. Nicknamed Donkey, Strahan threw more than six innings with 100 pitches or more in all but two of his starts this year. This following a completed two-year transition from Trojan closer to eventual ace starter.
Part of a Trojan legacy that spans four generations, the next brand of Nootbaar has been drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 12th Round. Nigel, who worked primarily out of the bullpen the last two seasons, only played in nine games this season but has electric stuff that was showcased rather well in the Cape Cod League last summer.
He was the first Trojan to be drafted by the Orioles since Damon Buford was drafted in 1990, but it may have actually been "Nigel Nootbaar" that drew great MLB Draft discussion. Trojan fans will hear the Nootbaar name for years to come as his brother, Lars (2016), is also committed to play baseball for USC.
Over the past three seasons, Nigel made 43 appearances, striking out 69 batters through 99 complete innings with three saves and it will be interesting to see where Nootbaar gets slotted. Since he is located just outside the profitable top 10 rounds, money may be tough to come by for the junior. Evaluating his limited collegiate stock and family lineage, the Orioles might have some leverage over Nootbaar, who is expected to sign right away.
The older brother to fellow Trojan Brent, "All Business Bob" Wheatley will be going to work for the Toronto Blue Jays as the 774th pick in the 24th Round. Better pack some extra suits as Wheatley will certainly have his crafty mind on both the baseball diamond here in the states and possibly playing across the border in the near future.
Coach Hubbs spent a great deal of time working with Bob in film, who compares himself to Tom Glavine in the way he throws strikes and uses pitch ability to work the count, refocusing that delivery and fine tuning his overall game. As one of the four-year Trojans, his mission to turn USC back into an NCAA Tournament team was almost complete.
Wheatley started the year on an incredible tear, slashing through top-10 Cal Poly (7 IP, 10K) while posting a minuscule ERA through his first five starts. After an impressive outing against UCLA, Wheatley finished with a 7.44 ERA in Pac-12 play. His 6-foot-5 frame and ability to locate in the zone however, is what will keep him afloat in the minors.
The former walk-on who epitomized what it meant to be a Trojan baseball player on a daily basis, La Canada native and Loyola High School standout Kevin Swick worked his way into being drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 22nd Round, following in the footsteps of fellow Trojan Joe DePinto (2011, 21st).
Swick finished his four-year career with a .284 batting average through 174 games, collecting 167 hits, including a team-high 61 hits this past season. Swick also excelled in the classroom, earning All-Pac-12 First Team Academic Honors and Capital One All-American Academic Honors with his stellar 3.83 USC GPA.
"It's kind of been a dream come true," Swick told the La Canada Valley Sun. "As a little kid, every little kid who plays baseball dreams of playing for a major league team. Just to get this opportunity, I'm so blessed. I'm so thankful to have my parents and my brother, who supported me."
The graduating senior may have an excellent future in the business world, interning for Fidelity Investments in Boston last summer all while being dean's list honoree from 2010-2014 in Marshall School of Business. Best of luck to Mr. Swick. These opportunities come around once in a lifetime so play some baseball, then make your real money.
While he was not drafted over the weekend, senior captain Jake Hernandez was signed by the New York Yankees and expects to immediately suit up for short-season summer ball in Staten Island. Starting as the full-time first baseman this season, Hernandez put together his best season yet hitting a team-best .327 with 20 RBIs in Hubbs' cleanup spot.
I want to thank the Yankees for giving me this opportunity to live out my dream! I also want to thank… http://t.co/WLhCJw4HUJ— Jake Hernandez (@jdez_13) June 9, 2014
Hernandez passed on an opportunity to play for the Detroit Tigers as a 22nd Round selection back in 2010, but now at 22, he can look back on what has been a valuable educational and athletic experience as a four-year player for USC Baseball.
He was one of the main staples to the fun-loving #Barrio band of brothers, he helped develop Garrett Stubbs into the Pac-12 Honorable Mention defensive performer he's become, all while holding freshman All-American Jeremy Martinez under his protective wings in the batters box right behind him in the lineup and watching him grow in a fatherly role.
KEEP GRINDING ALONG
These five players are now working to join the 107 Trojans that have ever suited up in the big leagues. While the journey ahead is certainly filled with plenty of trying moments, the up-and-coming talents like Kyle Twomey, Kyle Davis, Dante Flores, and Timmy Robinson among others, who can't wait for their chance at the MLB Draft next season.