(Photo via Azusa Pacific Baseball’s website, seen here)
In the 2017 Major League Baseball (MLB) Draft 73 players from Division II schools were picked by the end of the final round. The University of Tampa led the way with seven picks, Mount Olive came next with five, and three schools – Florida Southern, Nova Southeastern, and Azusa Pacific – all had three players picked. These schools all have a history of getting players drafted in the past few years. Why is there such a large concentration of picks from the same programs? And what leads to success for DII teams in the draft?
According to Azusa Head Coach Paul Svagdis, location plays a part in what teams get looked at by MLB scouts. Azusa is in Southern California near big Division I schools like USC and UCLA as well as other schools like Cal State Fullerton and Cal Poly Pomona. This proximity is an advantage because a scout can watch all these schools and others in the surrounding area in one day. Azusa can compete with those teams.
“I like the think we can do a good job like every other school in our area,” said Coach Svagdis.
The 2015 draft was a memorable year for their region because both Cal Poly and Azusa had competitive pitchers entering the draft. The two played against each other in front of scouts all season and in the regional championship. Eventually, Cody Poms went from Cal Poly as the 64th overall pick and Josh Stromany went from Azusa 69th.
“When the DIIs in our area, and across the country, start putting that product out there scouts wanna find them and wanna come back,” said Coach Svagdis.
Another contributing factor for Azusa is that they’ve had players get drafted and work their way up to playing in MLB games. In 2007 Stephen Vogt, current Brewers catcher and 2016 All-Star was drafted from Azusa, and in 2008 Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mariners outfielder was drafted from the same school. Coach Svagdis believes that their success encourages MLB programs to look at Azusa players because it’s proven that they will work to reach their potential.
Azusa’s play style helps players make the transition from the college level to the pros. They encourage physicality and taking big swings rather than bunting in a tough situation.
“When we’re out recruiting, we’re looking for that athlete that has the bat speed and the skills to develop into that,” said Coach Svagdis. “Our guys are gonna be a little more physical and swing as if we’re at the professional level.” Because the Coaching staff has a focus on development, they aren’t worried about if the players are helping them win, but rather that they are helping their players succeed.
Azusa doesn’t have to recruit players who are immediately ready to help the school win a championship like some competitive schools. Rather, their administration allows them to find players who have tools, but need work and build the team from there. Coach Svagdis expresses that because he doesn’t have to win 40 games a year to keep his job, he can work with players to bring out their best, instead of expecting them to be there to win games for him
“Competitiveness can come out rather than pressure,” said Coach Svagdis.
This attitude is one reason players might choose Azusa. The culture at each school is different, and players sometimes base their choice on program success rather than coaching philosophy. Coach Svagdis wants to encourage players to see things differently.
“My advice for high school kids is to create options for yourself at the DI, DII, and DIII levels,” said Coach Svagdis. “Find a place where you fit socially, academically, and where you fit into the game plan.” What’s more important than playing for a historically successful team is playing for a team where you fit, and where opportunities for you exist. To get drafted you have to play so you can show off your talents, and sometimes a DII school is a better place for that showcase.
Look for Isaiah Carranza, a right-handed pitcher and transfer from the University of Oregon, and left-fielder Pablo O’Connor, last year’s DII West Player of the Year, to come out of Azusa in the 2018 draft.