UCLA baseball wasn’t able to hold on to its two top recruits this year, but coach John Savage saw that coming.
“It was completely predictable,” Savage said. “You’ve got to know what other people are thinking about those players when it comes to the draft.”
Those two players were Hunter Greene and Hagen Danner, a pair of high school baseball’s most intriguing prospects due to their talent both at the plate and on the mound. Savage called them the two best two-way guys in the country when they signed their national letters of intent.
Greene was taken No. 2 overall in the MLB Draft by the Cincinnati Reds, and his signing bonus is expected to come close to $7 million. The Toronto Blue Jays have already signed Danner – a second-round pick – for $1.5 million.
“Danner and Greene, we expect certainly to move on,” Savage said. “You stay in touch with them, but you don’t get too deep because you know what’s coming around the corner. You’re realistic.”
Although those two high-profile players won’t be joining the Bruins as freshmen next season, UCLA was able to hold on to one of its rising seniors: Jake Bird.
Injuries put a stop to the right-hander’s impressive start to the 2017 season. Bird was ultimately able to regain his form and take back his spot as the No. 2 starter, but not until the tail end of the season.
Generally, college prospects are drafted at the conclusion of their third year of school, when they become draft-eligible. Savage said he expected Bird to get picked in rounds six through 10, where slot values range from $283,300 to $131,300.
As the 10th round ended, though, no team had taken Bird. Savage said he thinks teams wanted to sign Bird with picks from the 11th through 15th rounds, but being picked that late could have capped his signing bonus at a maximum of $125,000.
“I think he just felt that it was in his best interest for him to come back to school,” Savage said. “Make another run at a national championship and finish his degree and get better.”
Savage said it was huge that his team was able to hold on to Bird. He’ll be able to slot the sinkerballer into what figures to be a deep, experienced rotation, alongside Jon Olsen, Kyle Molnar and Justin Hooper.
Olsen flourished as the Sunday starter during his sophomore season in 2017 – posting a 2.86 ERA in 15 starts – and Molnar pitched to a 3.32 ERA in 13 starts during an impressive freshman year in 2016 before Tommy John surgery kept him off the mound for a year.
Hooper made nine Tuesday starts and finished with a 3.69 ERA, and has been considered a high-profile prospect since before he came to UCLA.
The draft has left a few loose ends in terms of UCLA’s recruiting class, as four other NLI signees were selected.
The Cubs used their sixth-round pick – with a slot value of $222,600 – on pitcher Jeremiah Estrada. Outfielder Garrett Mitchell, lefty Sam Glick and righty Chase Farrell were snagged in the 14th, 39th and 40th rounds, respectively.
The four will have to decide between coming to Westwood or playing professionally by the July 7 signing deadline.