UCLA coach John Savage spent the draft signing deadline day in Wenatchee, Wash. But he wasn’t taking a summer vacation in central Washington.
Savage was keeping an eye on recruits James Kaprielian and Ty Moore, who are playing for the Wenatchee AppleSox in the West Coast League. Two other two big recruits, Hunter Virant and Felipe Perez, are also in the WCL, at Walla Walla and Corvallis, respectively.
Deep down, Savage always thought the Bruins had a chance to land all four players—but he wasn’t breathing easy until the 2012 draft’s signing deadline passed at 5 p.m. ET on July 13.
When the clock struck zero, the Bruins could celebrate a recruiting class that features six players ranked inside the top half of the BA 500, including two (No. 53 Virant and No. 73 Kaprielian) ranked inside the top 75. UCLA was one of college baseball’s biggest winners from deadline day.
“To be honest with you, we’re ecstatic,” Savage said. “We think that we have as good of pitching depth coming in as anyone in the country.”
And that’s even without righthander Lucas Giolito, the first-round pick who signed with the Nationals for $2.925 million just before the deadline. Realistically, it always seemed like a long shot that UCLA would land either Giolito or fellow first-rounder Max Fried, but getting Virant and Kaprielian would make this haul a huge success.
Both the lefty Virant and the righty Kaprielian garnered top-two-rounds interest from scouts thanks to their innate feel for pitching, but their commitments caused them to slip to the 11th and 40th rounds, respectively. Virant was the first pick of the 11th round by the Astros, who had money to spend after cutting a deal with No. 1 overall pick Carlos Correa.
But when Houston spent most of the money it saved on Correa by signing supplemental first-rounder Lance McCullers for $2.5 million (nearly twice the pool amount for his spot) and fourth-rounder Rio Ruiz for $1.85 million (well above his $360,200 pool amount), it was clear the team would not have enough money left over to make a serious run at Virant.
Virant, Kaprielian and Perez (who ranked No. 129 on the BA 500 but went undrafted because of signability) all have quality stuff, but all stand out more for their feel for pitching and projectability than their present velocity. Virant can run his fastball up to 93 at times, but he normally sits in the 87-89 range, and it plays up thanks to his downward angle and ability to command it to both sides. Kaprielian is ultra-aggressive with an 88-91 mph fastball and the makings of two plus secondary pitches in his curveball and changeup. Perez works in the same velocity range and has similarly promising offspeed stuff. And righthander Cody Poteet (No. 189 on the BA 500) can run his fastball up to 93-94 mph at times to go along with a curveball that flashes plus.
No team has a better quartet of incoming arms—especially since all of them are ready to make immediate impacts.
“In regards to pitching, I think it’s as good a class as we’ve ever had,” Savage said. “It ranks right up there with (Rob) Rasmussen, (Dan) Klein, (Erik) Goeddel and (Matt) Grace (2007 high school draft class), and of course the (Trevor) Bauer/(Gerrit) Cole year (2008). And really, these are pitch-ready guys: three or four pitches, with pitchability and some serious projection.”
Pitching will be UCLA’s strength next year, as the entire weekend rotation will be back (Adam Plutko, Nick Vander Tuig and Zack Weiss), plus key relievers David Berg, Ryan Deeter and swingman Grant Watson. And the additions of Moore (No. 246) and two-sport talent Aaron Porter (No. 223) will bring some physicality and offensive upside to a team that must replace its entire outfield.
The Bruins have landed plenty of blue-chip recruits during Savage’s tenure, but a year ago they found themselves in the “losers” half of this column for the first time, as Austin Hedges, Tyler Goeddel and Joe Ross all signed right before the deadline. Now UCLA is back in a more familiar spot, leading the list of deadline day winners.
“I think from where we were a year ago, with Hedges and Goeddel and Ross, and I think this was a pretty good day for us,” Savage said.
Other Big Winners
• UCLA isn’t the only Pacific-12 Conference team that had reason to celebrate Friday. Stanford scored a major coup when ace Mark Appel turned down $3.8 million from the Pirates and elected to return for his senior year. Considering Appel was widely regarded as the favorite to be selected first overall heading into draft week, it’s safe to say the Cardinal couldn’t have expected he would be back to anchor its staff for another year.
It’s not like Appel didn’t perform as a junior; on the contrary, he went 10-2, 2.56 and earned second-team All-America honors. His pure stuff—an electric mid-90s fastball, hard slider and improved changeup—compares favorably with any pitcher in this draft class. Under the old rules, Appel would have fetched himself a bonus in the neighborhood of $6 million whether he slipped past the first couple of picks or not. But under the new rules, the Pirates could not pay him more than $3.8 million as the No. 8 overall pick without forfeiting a first-round pick next year, and they weren’t willing to do that. And the Appel camp was apparently unwilling to accept a bonus that is millions below what they believe the righthander is worth.
“After much thought, prayer and analysis of both opportunities, I came to the conclusion the best decision is to remain at Stanford continuing my studies, finishing my degree and doing all I can to assist the Cardinal baseball team in our goal to win a national championship,” Appel said in a statement.
And his return does make Stanford a legitimate national championship contender. The pitching staff looked like the primary question mark facing the Cardinal heading into next season, and it will get other big boosts from incoming freshmen Freddy Avis and Daniel Starwalt. Avis, No. 56 on the BA 500, is one of the top pitching recruits in the nation, a premium athlete with a fastball that reaches the mid-90s and the makings of a quality curveball. He did not sign with the Nationals as a 25th-round pick. Starwalt (No. 256) had a pedestrian spring and slipped to the Phillies in the 37th round of the draft, but he has shown 94-95 mph heat and a plus curveball in the past.
Stanford also landed a catcher with offensive and defensive upside in Austin Barr (No. 234), an unsigned 29th-rounder by the Mets.
• Vanderbilt topped our recruiting class rankings last year and has a chance to do so again this fall. The Commodores secured a deep group of incoming freshmen that has even more balance than UCLA’s class, with a marquee headliner in righthander Walker Buehler (No. 50 on the BA 500). And Vandy got a big boost when outfielders Mike Yastrzemski and Connor Harrell elected not to sign in the 30th and 31st round, respectively.
There was some speculation that the Pirates could make a run at Buehler (their 14th-round pick) if they couldn’t reach a deal with Appel, but ultimately they did not have enough money remaining in their bonus pool to sway him away from his commitment to Vandy. At his best, the righthander pitches in the 90-94 mph range and mixes in a devastating power curveball and quality sinking changeup. He gives the ‘Dores a premium arm in their recruiting class for the second straight year, following in Tyler Beede’s footsteps.
Carson Fulmer (No. 123), a 15th-rounder by the Red Sox, also can run his fastball up to the mid-90s and flashes a plus slider. His command lags behind Buehler’s, but his upside is tantalizing, and he’s another front-line talent for Vandy.
Dansy Swanson (No. 138) has the instincts and quick-twitch athleticism to step into Vanderbilt’s starting shortstop void as a freshman, so getting him through the draft was critical. He did not sign as a 38th-round pick by the Rockies. Outfielder Rhett Wiseman (No. 136) and infielder Xavier Turner (No. 282) also bring big raw tools, though both players need refinement. No class can match the versatility and upside of Vanderbilt’s.
• Georgia Tech had a great deadline day because of what it got back more than what it added. No team in college baseball will have a better group of seniors than the Yellow Jackets, as fourth-rounder Brandon Thomas, 15th-rounder Buck Farmer and undrafted Sam Dove will all be back in the fold. And 30th-round pick Kyle Wren did not sign as an eligible sophomore, keeping the dangerous Tech lineup mostly intact.
Thomas (No. 89 on the BA 500) and Farmer (No. 117) both were well regarded prospects as juniors, and heading into the draft it seemed likely that both players would sign. But when Farmer slipped in the draft, he determined that his best path would be to return for another year atop the Georgia Tech rotation and try to improve his stock. Farmer’s decision impacted Thomas’ decision somewhat.
“Buck had said pretty early in the summer that he was coming back, and that made Georgia Tech look like a better option, no doubt,” Thomas said. “I knew that going in the first five rounds meant that I was a pretty high pick, so I definitely thought when I was drafted that signing was a strong possibility. I talked it over with my family and friends, coaches and some of my past baseball mentors, and got a lot of good advice. I wrote down the pros and cons of signing and thought about it a lot, and the more I did, the more excited I was to come back for my senior year. I think we have a chance to be a really good team, and I got excited about that.”
The return of the dynamic Thomas helps ensure that Tech will, in fact, be very good. He led the team in hitting (.360) and OBP (.481) and tied for the lead in slugging (.550) as a junior. The team’s second-leading hitter was Dove, who ranked 399th on the BA 500 but went undrafted despite hitting .340/.411/.443. Wren needs to bounce back from a down sophomore year, but he showed what he is capable of doing during his freshman All-America season in 2011, when he hit .340 with 16 steals and seven triples.
And the power-armed, durable Farmer gives the pitching staff the anchor it needs. If Matt Grimes can get healthy, Tech could have one of the ACC’s best one-two punches.
• Texas Christian landed another likely top-10 recruiting class, led by righthander Mitchell Traver (No. 110) and lefty Alex Young (No. 129). Both players were drafted after the 30th round, and both elected to honor their commitments to TCU. So did shortstop Paul Hendrix (a 32nd-rounder) and righty Tejay Antone (22nd). The Frogs were concerned the Mets might make a late run at Antone on deadline day, but instead he’ll head to TCU as part of an exciting group of arms.
• Buehler, Virant and Avis are the highest-ranked high school players who went unsigned, but six other players ranked inside BA’s top 100 will head to college campuses (including Kaprielian, who will join Virant at UCLA). Southern California scored big when lefthander Kyle Twomey did not sign as Oakland’s third-round pick. Twomey’s feel for pitching, deception and fastball life should make him a big star in the Pac-12. USC also landed another top-200 prospect in powerful outfielder Timmy Robinson (No. 153), who went unsigned as the Twins’ 31st-rounder.
• Righthanders Alec Rash (No. 72) and Teddy Stankiewicz (No. 137) are the only prep players drafted higher than Twomey who did not sign. Rash was the Phillies’ second-round pick, and Stankiewicz was the Mets’ second-rounder. Rash, who can run his heavy fastball up to 95 mph and his power slider up to 83, figures to be the next great power pitching prospect to come out of Missouri, following in the footsteps of Max Scherzer, Aaron Crow and Kyle Gibson. Stankiewicz was committed to Arkansas but is expected to head to a junior college instead.
• The other high school players in BA’s top 100 who didn’t sign: two-sport star Jameis Winston (No. 59), who will play football and baseball at Florida State; shortstop C.J. Hinojosa (No. 70), who will head to Texas; and powerful third baseman Trey Williams (No. 99), who is going to Pepperdine.
• Deadline day was good to the Big West Conference, as three of the league’s top recruits are all headed to school. Cal State Fullerton hit the jackpot with undersized but electric righthander Justin Garza (No. 130). Long Beach State landed a potential ace of its own in righty David Hill (No. 188), an 18th-round pick. And UC Santa Barbara secured the top position player recruit in the conference: outfielder Andrew Calica (No. 173). The Gauchos also landed a pair of very projectable righthanders in 23rd-rounder Connor Baits (No. 281) and undrafted Dillon Tate (No. 391).
• In the ACC, North Carolina lost just one drafted recruit (lefty Matt Smoral) but shepherded athletic outfielder Skye Bolt (No. 214) and promising catcher Korey Dunbar (No. 258) through the draft. Other key recruits Taylore Cherry (280) and Kayden Porter (449) went undrafted and will head to Chapel Hill. And Clemson landed all three of its drafted recruits, headlined by righty Clate Schmidt (No. 171). Infielders Tyler Krieger and Kevin Bradley also went unsigned. And righty Scott Firth elected to return for his senior year rather than sign as a 32nd-round pick, giving the pitching staff a big boost.
• Kentucky and Auburn also got impact rising seniors to return to campus. The Wildcats welcome back lefty Jerad Grundy, a 27th-rounder, while the Tigers get back outfielder Ryan Tella, an 11th-rounder. UK also landed a pair of drafted recruits in Kyle Cody (No. 267) and Chase Mullins (305), while Auburn secured Sam Gillikin (169), Trey Wingenter (396) and Damek Tomscha (485).
• Since Kevin O’Sullivan became head coach, Florida has gotten used to being in the winners’ column on deadline day. But this time around, the Gators were hit hard.
Six Florida recruits were drafted in the first three rounds, and all six wound up signing pro contracts. The last holdout was infielder Avery Romero, who signed for $700,000 on deadline day as the Marlins’ third-round pick. The Marlins were determined not to pay any tax for exceeding their bonus pool, so they needed to save money by signing first-rounder Andrew Heaney for $200,000 below his $2.8 million pool amount earlier Friday, giving them extra money to throw at Romero. Still, Romero signed for considerably less than his believed asking price of $1 million.
The Gators had already lost marquee recruits McCullers, Lewis Brinson, Jesse Winker, Max White and Jon Sandfort. Florida also must replace nine drafted players (eight of whom already signed, plus departed senior Preston Tucker), so some reinforcements from its recruiting class would have made a big difference. At least Florida landed shortstop Richie Martin, who ranked in BA’s top 100 last fall before his draft stock fell this spring. An unsigned 38th-round pick, Martin could step right into Nolan Fontana’s vacated shortstop job as a freshman.
The Gators have recruited well enough in recent years that they will still field a competitive team despite having their recruiting class ravaged and losing a boatload of mainstays. But now the foundation is a little less secure, and Florida can’t afford to sustain major draft losses again with next year’s class.
• There’s a reason our recruiting class rankings come out after players set foot on campus, rather than during the early signing period. Last November, we highlighted Arizona State and Miami as two of the biggest winners from the early signing period—but both teams had their recruiting classes hit hard by the draft.
ASU had seven signees among BA’s top 100 high school prospects last November, but only two of them—righthanders Ryan Burr and Tony Blanford—went unsigned. The Sun Devils lost righty Willie Ethington as a 17th-round pick for just $200,000. And the most heralded recruits in the class—Clint Coulter, Mitch Nay and Paul Blackburn—all were drafted before the second round, and all signed. The Devils also lost third-rounder Kieran Lovegrove.
Still, the news wasn’t all bad for Arizona State, which did well to land 12th-rounder Ryan Kellogg, who ranked No. 203 on the BA 500—ahead of Burr (No. 205) and Blanford (unranked).
Likewise, the deadline was a mixed bag for Miami. It became apparent well before the draft that the Hurricanes had little chance to land signees Carlos Correa, Walker Weickel, Albert Almora, Nick Travieso and Keon Barnum—all of whom were drafted in the top 55 picks and all of whom signed.
But like ASU, the Hurricanes did land two of their seven recruits who graced BA’s high school top 100 last fall: infielders Brandon Lopez and David Thompson. Lopez is the better prospect, ranking No. 154 on the BA 500, and he elected not to sign with the Blue Jays as a 34th-round pick. Thompson, a prolific power hitter in high school who did not crack the BA 500, will play football as well as baseball for Miami.