Saturday, July 20

Five UCLA baseball draftees conclude their first professional seasons

Eric Filia couldn't have asked for a better transition to pro ball. The outfielder was MVP of his class-A short-season league, and made it all the way up to AAA in his first professional season. (Daniel Alcazar/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Eric Filia couldn't have asked for a better transition to pro ball. The outfielder was MVP of his class-A short-season league, and made it all the way up to AAA in his first professional season. (Daniel Alcazar/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Grant Dyer grew up watching the MLB draft.

As the end of his junior year approached and the draft landscape materialized, it became pretty clear that the righty would make an appearance in the 2016 rendition of the first-year player draft.

“Dyer will go fairly good,” said coach John Savage. “He’ll be (UCLA’s) first pick.”

Sure enough, on the second day of the 2016 draft, Dyer’s name was called. The selection would be the first of five for UCLA. Those players all signed and have just concluded their first professional seasons.

Grant Dyer, RHP, eighth round, 227th overall, Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies flew Dyer and several of his draft classmates to Philadelphia to finalize contracts. From there, they traveled to the team’s spring training complex in Clearwater, Florida, before the Phillies shipped them off to short-season ball in Williamsport, Pennsylvania – a level above rookie ball but lower than A-ball.

Most of his teammates stayed with Williamsport for the whole season, Dyer said, but the right-hander earned a promotion to low A-ball with a 2.25 ERA, 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings and no walks in 16 innings pitched with the short-season squad.

“There were a couple openings in the low-A team, and I had a good outing at a good time – when there were some coordinators there,” Dyer said.
Grant Dyer was the first player off the draft board for the Bruins. The eighth-rounder posted a sub-three ERA at two different levels of A-ball in a relief role, but he could transition to starting – it wouldn't be the first time the righty made the switch. (Mackenzie Possee/Assistant Photo editor)

Dyer replicated his success when he got to the Lakewood Blueclaws, posting a 2.39 ERA and a 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings over 26 1/3 IP in low A-ball.

During his time at UCLA, Dyer set up for closer and 2013 Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year David Berg in his sophomore season before finding a spot in the weekend rotation in 2016. All of Dyer’s pro appearances thus far have been in relief, but that could change.

“I think possibly I’ll be a starter in the future, considering that they’ve stretched out my innings,” Dyer said. “I’ve had a decent amount of experience coming out the bullpen, too. So at this point it’s kind of, wherever they need me that’s where I’ll pitch.”

[Related: Junior pitcher Grant Dyer ready to step up as starting ace]

Dyer said the biggest difference he’s noticed as he’s ascended the minor leagues had to do with keeping himself disciplined.

“You have a lot of freedom, you have a lot of down time,” Dyer said. “There’s no one on top of you making sure you get your (work) done, it’s kind of just you fending for yourself.”

The hurler will spend the offseason at the Phillies instructional league in Clearwater, where coaches are looking for him to get stronger, older and more mature on and off the field, Dyer said.

Luke Persico, 1B/3B/OF, 12th round, 352nd overall, Oakland Athletics

There was only one at bat this summer in which both the pitcher and the batter were 2016 Bruin draftees.

Dyer struck out Luke Persico. Looking.

Persico led UCLA with a .339 batting average in conference play in 2016, but has struggled with the lumber during his pro career, slashing just .201/.266/.287 over 184 plate appearances in short-season ball with the Vermont Lake Monsters.

Before the 2016 NCAA season began, Savage said moving Persico from first base to third base would help him as a prospect. The defensive versatility has already helped Persico, who has played first, third and all outfield positions at the professional level this year.
Luke Persico had a great campaign in his junior season after settling in as the starting third baseman. The 12th-rounder has become a utility man in the pros, playing different positions in order to get more at bats. (Mackenzie Possee/Assistant Photo editor)

“I’ve kind of taken my role that I took from UCLA, honestly; I’ve become sort of a utility guy,” Persico said. “The ability to play different positions has helped me get in the lineup more often and help contribute to the team the best I can.”

Persico said he had to adjust his mindset in order to play every day, as compared to the three or four games per week that the college schedule demands.

“You have to grind it out every day no matter how your body feels – or how you feel in general,” Persico said. “You’ve got long bus rides, and you’re staying in not-so-great hotels. … But once you can figure out the mindset change on that, it definitely helps.”

This offseason, Persico will take part in the Oakland A’s instructional league, but the rising fourth-year will also be working toward graduation.

The political science major is enrolled in exclusively Tuesday and Thursday classes for fall quarter, and he’ll be making trips back and forth from Arizona to Westwood in order to improve as a player and make progress on his degree at the same time.

Eric Filia, OF, 20th round, 597th overall, Seattle Mariners

After the numbers Eric Filia has put up, all 29 non-Seattle based front offices must be kicking themselves for letting the outfielder slip all the way to the 20th round.

Filia was named MVP of short-season Class A Northwest League after leading the league with a .362 batting average and .450 on base percentage with the Everett AquaSox.

“I mean it’s not really surprising, him having success,” Dyer said. “He’s been around baseball a lot, he’s been playing for a while, had a lot of success at UCLA for a lot of years.”

A crucial member of the 2013 national championship team, Filia posted a .295 batting average and .415 OBP in his redshirt senior season, walking more than twice as many times as he struck out.

[Related: Bruin hitting star Eric Filia gets second chance after two seasons away]

Filia was among the first players in the 2016 draft class to make it to AAA. The Tacoma Rainers had space for Filia after their major league ready players went to Seattle as part of MLB’s September roster expansions.

Filia only spent about a week in AAA before going back down to the AquaSox to play in the Northwest League championship. Everett lost the win-or-go-home game in that series Tuesday night.

Kort Peterson, OF, 23rd round, 703rd overall, Kansas City Royals

Kort Peterson tore it up in rookie ball this season.

The outfielder finished in the top three in the Appalachian League in batting average, OBP and slugging percentage while starting in right field for the Burlington Royals.
Kort Peterson has done UCLA proud in his stint with the Burlington Royals. The outfielder is near the top of the leaderboards in several major offensive categories. (Michael Zshornack/Assistant Photo editor)

Peterson was the designated hitter throughout the 2016 season for UCLA, seeing occasional time in the outfield. During that time, Savage predicted he would eventually become a pro outfielder, noting his ability to throw. Peterson registered four outfield assists in 43 games this summer.

Christoph Bono, OF, 37th round, 1115th overall, San Francisco Giants

Savage didn’t mention Bono as a player he thought would be picked when he spoke about the draft in May.

“I knew it was going to kind of come down to the end there and it was pretty close,” Bono said. “I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen.”

Bono always offered what Savage called elite defense in center field, but his career college batting average sits at .219, just a few notches higher than the .194 mark he posted during his time for the rookie-level Arizona League Giants.

[Related: Christoph Bono shares athletic success with father at UCLA]

Like Persico, Bono was able to draw on experiences he had earlier in his UCLA career during his adjustment to his role in pro ball.

“It was kind of similar to going back to what I did my freshman year at UCLA where I might get a start here, once every five days, six days,” Bono said. “I hadn’t done that in a few years, but I had done it before. So it was just kind of getting back to that mindset and routine.”

Bono has played all three outfield positions without recording an error this summer.

The outfielder spent five years in the UCLA baseball program, so he won’t need to worry about finishing his degree like many college players, who typically get drafted after their junior year. Bono said he will take some time off in September before trying to find a job in October, keeping some baseball in mind as he prepares for spring training.

“(Coaches) want me to continue to work on the adjustments that we made and spend some more time on that this offseason,” Bono said. “More consistency with things at the plate. I was kind of changing my swing towards the end of the summer.”

One key difference that several of the newly minted pros mentioned was how the team-first approach of NCAA ball differed from the individual nature of the minor leagues.

“College is all about the team,” Bono said. “In pro ball, it’s a little bit more about proving what you’re capable of doing.”
Most college players with Major League talent are drafted after their junior years, but Christoph Bono wouldn't be drafted until the end of his redshirt senior season. The outfielder has struggled offensively, but he's been solid with the leather in his first minor league season. (Austin Yu/Daily Bruin senior staff)

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Sports editor

Gottlieb is the Sports editor. He was previously an assistant Sports editor in 2016-2017, and has covered baseball, softball, women's volleyball and golf during his time with the Bruin.

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