Cleveland Indians Select Baker in Fifth Round
Right-hand Pitcher Becomes WNC's Highest Pick to Date
Western Nevada College pitcher Dylan Baker made history for his Wildcats team Tuesday while his own dream of becoming a professional baseball player came true. The Cleveland Indians selected Baker in the fifth round of the Major League Baseball draft, making him the highest-ever selection out of WNC.
The unbeaten hurler from Juneau, Alaska, was the 173rd pick of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
"It was a lifelong dream come true for Dylan, going from undrafted (out of high school) to a fifth-rounder this year. That's quite an honor," said WNC Head Coach DJ Whittemore. "Now he gets to be paid to do something he'd probably pay somebody to do."
Baker put together the single-best pitching season in WNC history this spring. The Region 18 Pitcher of the Year was 13-0 with a 1.91 earned run average. He struck out 126 batters in 84 2/3 innings and surrendered a little more than one hit every two innings while holding opposing hitters to a .155 bating average.
Western Nevada's previous highest draft picks were a pair of eighth-rounders. Logan Odom, a 6-foot-6 right-hander, was chosen by the Anaheim Angels with the 255th pick in the eighth round in 2011, and outfielder/first baseman Lance Ray was selected by the Minnesota Twins with the same pick in the 2010 draft.
"That's really exciting," said Baker, who became the fifth Wildcat in the program's seven-year history to be chosen in the 10th round or better. "That makes me proud to be the top pick out of Western Nevada ... I was pretty much a nobody last year."
Baker was the first college player from Nevada selected and the top pick from WNC's Scenic West Athletic Conference. Whittemore expects several more of his players from the Western District championship club to be drafted, including power-hitting Derrick Pitts and right-handed pitchers Tyler Spencer and Anthony Consiglio.
The 40-round draft began Monday and continues through Wednesday. It is being televised by the Major League Baseball Network and can be followed at mlb.com.
Whittemore spent the first night of the draft with Baker and his family in Reno. The day before the draft began, Baker said his understanding was that his draft number could be called anywhere from late in the first round to somewhere in the second.
Whittemore anticipated that Baker would be taken between the 40th and 80th picks, but the draft's unpredictability came into play. The Major League Baseball Network had projected Baker to be the 77th pick.
"Expectations not proven out can be very damaging," Whittemore said. "Dylan met all of my expectations. He worked his tail off every day and led us to the JUCO World Series."
Baker nearly eclipsed the Alaska record for highest draft pick. The highest pick for an Alaskan came in 2000 when right-hander Brian Montalbo was selected in the fourth round by the Atlanta Braves. Montalbo decided to pitch for California-Berkeley instead and was chosen by the Milwaukee Brewers in the seventh round of the 2003 draft.
College basketball fans might remember Alaska's next-highest draft selection, Trajan Langdon. The San Diego Padres took Langdon in the sixth round in the 1994 draft. Langdon signed but still played basketball at Duke, as the Padres assumed the cost of his schooling since he had to forfeit his scholarship. Langdon went on to play in the NBA.
Baker came to WNC after spending his 2011 freshman season at Tacoma Community College in Tacoma, Wash. He compiled a 3-3 record and 3.47 ERA during his single season with Tacoma. After transferring to WNC, Baker increased the velocity on his fastball while working with pitching coach Jeremy Beard. Baker also improved his control, making his slider and curveball more effective pitches.
Baker credits Beard's long-toss program and changes in his pitching mechanics with making his arm stronger.
"I've read that pro players like Dylan Bundy and Trevor Bauer liked working on the long toss, and that really motivated me," Baker said. "Having really good coaches shows you how much better you can become in a year."
Changes in the signing deadline and bonus money disbursements should enable players to join minor league teams sooner. Teams have until mid-July to ink their draft picks, compared with early August deadlines in prior seasons. Also, each team has a bonus cap in which to sign their top-10 choices under baseball's latest collective bargaining deal.
Whittemore said that Baker has a lot of work ahead of him and more levels to climb. "At the end of the day, the draft is a preseason poll," Whittemore said. "What you want to be is ranked at the end of the year."
Escobar Selected By Cubs
RENO, Nev. -University of Nevada catcher Carlos Escobar, Jr. was selected in the 15th round of the 2012 Major League Baseball draft today by the Chicago Cubs as the overall 464th pick. The junior could return for his senior in 2013 if he decides not to sign with the Cubs by the July 13th deadline.
Escobar earned first-team All-Western Athletic Conference honors this past season after helping the Wolf Pack to a 32-25 record and a share of the conference title with an 11-7 mark. He hit .283 with 28 runs scored, 14 doubles, a triple, four home runs and 38 RBI in his junior year starting 51 games behind the plate.
The three-year starter has played in 134 game for the Pack and earned 120 starts. In three seasons he has a .274 batting average with 65 runs scored, 26 doubles, a triple, 14 home runs and 77 RBI.