UCLA baseball sees 10 players drafted in shortened 2021 MLB Draft
First baseman JT Schwartz was drafted No. 111 overall by the New York Mets in the fourth round of the 2021 MLB Draft and was the second of 10 total players to be selected from UCLA baseball. (David Rimer/Assistant Photo editor)
July 14, 2021 2:01 p.m.
This post was updated July 18 at 9:05 p.m.
In the program’s third consecutive year with a first-round pick, the Bruins also saw nine more players drafted to the professional level.
After shortstop Matt McLain was selected with the No. 17 overall pick by the Cincinnati Reds, the final two days of the 2021 MLB Draft saw nine UCLA baseball players drafted to teams across the country. Among those nine were four position players and five pitchers.
While the 2021 draft was half its usual length, the 10 total players drafted were the most from an NCAA school, as well as the most picks in the first 20 rounds of a draft in UCLA history. The figure is also a marked increase from the two players selected last year in the condensed five-round 2020 draft.
Drafted Position Players
First baseman JT Schwartz was the first Bruin to hear his name called Monday, with a fourth-round pick from the New York Mets.
The 6-foot-4 left-handed hitter redshirted his freshman year, but started at first base in all 15 of UCLA’s games in 2020 and had a breakout season in his redshirt sophomore year. A 2021 All-American, Schwartz ranked highest on the team in batting average, on-base plus slugging percentage, RBIs and slugging, slashing .396/.514/.628 and putting together the second-highest OBP in a single season in program history while also earning the Pac-12 batting title.
Kevin Kendall, who spent time at center field, shortstop and second base for the blue and gold but was drafted as a shortstop, was the next position player to be drafted from UCLA. The recently graduated Bruin will join Schwartz in Queens after being selected in the seventh round by the Mets.
Kendall was the Bruins’ leadoff hitter in 2021, a position he grew into quickly, especially as he improved his batting average from .270 through his first two active years to .356 in his redshirt junior campaign. He led the blue and gold with 88 hits in 2021, totaling 23 more than the second-highest number on the team.
The Bruins’ backstop, Noah Cardenas, was an eighth-round pick by the Minnesota Twins, meaning UCLA will lose its three-year starter behind the dish. His success at the plate has faltered in his past two years in Westwood, as his batting average dropped from .375 in 2019 to .237 in 2020 and .268 in 2021. The Twins, however, are adding a catcher with plus blocking and receiving skills who threw out 36% of runners attempting to steal a bag on him throughout his career.
Like Schwartz and Kendall, Cardenas will also move to the big leagues with a buddy, as Mikey Perez also got a phone call from the Twins, this time in the 15th round.
Drafted as a shortstop, Perez manned second base for the majority of the 2021 season but made starts at short and third and was the only Bruin to start in every game of the season. While he did not record a long ball in his freshman or sophomore years, Perez launched 11 home runs during his junior season, the most on the team.
Bruins Drafted Off the Mound
First on the list of UCLA pitchers drafted was right-hander Nick Nastrini, who was taken with a fourth-round pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Nastrini was a three-year starter for the Bruins and also made appearances out of the bullpen in his junior season, where in many instances he recorded more walks than he did outs.
While Nastrini never managed to return to form by the end of the year, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound hurler can throw up to 98 mph with his fastball and has a change-up to keep hitters honest. The Dodgers will have the opportunity to take advantage of his offerings and velocity while working on refining his command.
Right-hander Jesse Bergin was the first Bruin to hear his name called on day three of the draft after being selected in the 11th round by the Miami Marlins. Bergin started games and came out of the bullpen in his freshman season before solidifying his role as the Sunday starter during his sophomore and junior years.
Bergin is projected to slot into a bullpen role in the majors as he relies mostly on a two-pitch mix of his fastball and slider while occasionally using his change-up to throw hitters off balance.
Following Bergin and also headed to the Sunshine State is right-hander Sean Mullen, who grew into a starter at UCLA in his junior season and was selected in the 11th round by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Mullen pitched only 16 innings in his freshman and sophomore seasons in a mix of starts and relief appearances. In his junior year, however, Mullen impressed in his initial role as both a reliever and a Tuesday starter and eventually grabbed Nastrini’s Saturday spot. The right-hander recorded an 8-0 record in starts with a 2.48 ERA, but projects to be a reliever in the majors because of his less-defined breaking ball offerings and issues with command.
Right-hander Adrian Chaidez, the only consistent bullpen member to be drafted from UCLA, was selected in the 15th round by the Houston Astros. Chaidez transferred to UCLA after his sophomore year and improved his 8.10 ERA over four appearances in 2020 to a 2.20 mark in 30 appearances in his senior season. The South Gate, California, native recorded a 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings ratio in 2021 and was also named to the 2021 Pac-12 All-Conference team.
The last UCLA athlete to be drafted was right-hander Zach Pettway, the Bruins’ ace and a four-year starter for the blue and gold. Should Bergin and Mullen sign with their respective clubs, Pettway – who was drafted in the 16th round to the Cleveland Indians – will be the final member of UCLA’s starting rotation to leave the program and give coach John Savage a blank slate from which to build his weekend pitching lineup.
Pettway was a 2021 preseason All-American, but was set back by an injury and struggled to maintain his velocity at the helm of the Bruins’ pitching staff. The right-hander turned in one of his best outings against North Carolina in his final appearance of the season, however, upping his draft stock just weeks before teams made their final decisions.