UCLA hasn’t been back to Omaha, Nebraska, since the Bruins went all the way in 2013. Many of the players that helped UCLA secure a College World Series victory four years ago are playing in professional baseball now.
Pat Valaika, Colorado Rockies
Pat Valaika has been able to stick on a big-league roster all season long.
The infielder sits behind All-Star infielder Nolan Arenado on the Colorado Rockies’ depth chart. Valaika has put up a .233/.259/.745 slash line at the major-league level.
“I don’t want to be unrealistic; I’m not gonna start over Nolan Arenado,” Valaika told MLB.com. “I understand what role I’m in and try to do the best at that, be it pinch-hitting, defensive replacement, whatever they ask of me.”
The highlight of Valaika’s season came when the UCLA alumnus slugged a two-run homer as part of a three-hit day in a game against the Cincinnati Reds. The Rockies would go on to win by a score of 5-3, making Valaika’s homer the decisive run of the game.
Valaika was drafted in the ninth round of the 2013 draft, which took place in the midst of the Bruins’ 2013 championship run. His brother, Nick Valaika, was taken in the 24th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates in this year’s draft.
Nick Valaika will forego the rest of his college eligibility and begin his professional career with the rookie-level Bristol Pirates in the Appalachian League.
Eric Filia, Seattle Mariners
Eric Filia’s journey to professional baseball wasn’t typical.
The outfielder spent one year away from college baseball due to injury, and then another year away from the NCAA because of academic ineligibility before getting drafted in the 20th round in the 2016 draft.
Filia made it as high as the AAA level last season, but has spent much of 2017 with the Modesto Nuts: a Class A – Advanced team in the California League.
In 85 games this season, Filia has slugged just three home runs, but is hitting .313 with a .391 on base percentage. He’s struck out just 23 times compared to 37 walks.
He has the second-lowest strikeout rate in all of Minor League Baseball this year.
“I really don’t like getting beat,” Filia told The Bruin in 2016. “I understand this is a game of failure, but if I’m going to fail I want to fail on my own and not let some pitcher beat me. I really take pride in not striking out because I like putting pressure on the defense. Battling with two strikes on me, I just love the competitive nature.”
Darrell Miller Jr., Kansas City Royals
Usually, players make it to professional baseball because they get drafted.
This wasn’t the case for Darrell Miller. Jr.
Miller Jr. was slated to be the Bruins’ starting catcher as a redshirt junior in 2016, but a labrum surgery put an end to his collegiate career. The son of five-year MLB catcher/outfielder Darrell Miller signed with the Kansas City Royals as a free agent in February 2017, and has been performing well.
The catcher has since been assigned to the Idaho Falls Chukars, a short-season Royals affiliate. In 32 at-bats, the Fullerton, California, native is hitting .563 with five doubles.
James Kaprielian, New York Yankees
When James Kaprielian left Westwood, he represented the closest thing to instant gratification a Bruin fan could ask for.
He still hasn’t pitched in the MLB.
Plans of fast-tracking the right-hander to the majors dematerialized when he underwent Tommy John surgery in April.
He posted a 1.55 ERA as a reliever in the Bruins’ championship season, but his current plans entail a return to live action at the 2018 All-Star break.
“It’s not what I wanted, but it’s the card I’ve drawn,” Kaprielian said to NJ.com. “I ultimately do believe … this is going to help me somewhere down the line.”
Adam Plutko, Cleveland Indians
Right-handed pitcher Adam Plutko threw six innings and allowed one run in Game 1 of the College World Series in 2013. His performance would end up winning him the Most Outstanding Player award for the series.
He got drafted before that performance took place, in the 11th round of the 2013 draft.
During his time with the Indians, he has pitched at many different levels, including two appearances in the big leagues. This year, he has made 14 starts for the Columbus Clippers – the Indians’ AAA affiliate – posting a 6.56 ERA over 81 innings.