Cal Baseball Among the Nation's Leaders for Number of Major Leaguers
Aug. 8, 2008
BERKELEY, CALIF. - The California baseball program is among the nation's leaders with six former Golden Bear standouts playing in the Major Leagues. Cal baseball showcases big-league catcher John Baker (2000-02) of the Florida Marlins, utility player Geoff Blum (1992-94) of the Houston Astros, outfielder/first baseman Conor Jackson (2001-03) of the Arizona Diamondbacks, second baseman Jeff Kent (1987-89) of the Los Angeles Dodgers, outfielder Xavier Nady (1998-00) of the New York Yankees and right-handed reliever Tyler Walker (1996-97) of the San Francisco Giants. For the majority of the summer right-hander Brandon Morrow (2006) was also on the list of Cal major leaguers as an effective reliever for the Seattle Mariners, but was recently sent down to AAA to work on becoming a starting pitcher in the big leagues.
According to CollegeBaseballInsider.com in mid-July there were 130 Division I schools that have one or more alum playing in the major leagues. Louisiana State led the list with nine big-leaguers, followed by Long Beach State with eight and Cal with seven. There were six major leaguers from Cal State Fullerton, Florida, Miami (Fla.), Nevada, Stanford, Tennessee and USC. The list has now fluctuated with players being called up and sent down from the minor leagues. The Bears have had eight players in the major leagues over the summer as outfielder Brian Horwitz (2001-04) had a 22-game stint (May 30-June 30) with the San Francisco Giants, hitting .222 with two home runs and four RBI.
Not only does Cal have an impressive number of big-leaguers, these Bear big-leaguers are excelling. Nady, who played for former coach Bob Milano in 1998 and 1999, and current coach David Esquer in 2000, is having an outstanding summer in both the National and American League. Nady played for the Pittsburgh Pirates until being traded to the New York Yankees on July 26. As a Pirate, he batted .330 with 26 doubles, a triple, 13 home runs and 57 RBI. Now with the Yankees, Nady is hitting .357 with four doubles, four home runs and 11 RBI in 12 games. A three-time All-American and the 1998 National Freshman of the Year, Nady is Cal's career home run (57) and RBI (191) leader. He was a second-round draft pick of the San Diego Padres in 2000.
Nady continues to be fifth in the National League with his .330 average as a Pirate, followed by Jackson, who is sixth in the NL in batting with his .316 average.
Jackson plays for the National League West Division leading Diamondbacks under manager Bob Melvin, a former Cal catcher who was a member of the Bears' 1980 College World Series team that placed third in the nation. Jackson currently has 21 doubles, six triples, 12 home runs and 59 RBI to go along with his .316 average. Playing third base as a freshman on Esquer's first NCAA Regional squad in 2001, Jackson went on to be Arizona's first-round draft pick (19th pick overall) in 2003 Major League Amateur Draft.
Another Bear who is in the midst of the pennant race and a former Cal participant in the College World Series is the legendary Kent, the clean-up hitter for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are now 1 ½ games back of the Diamondbacks in the NL West. After going 3-for-4 Thursday (Aug. 7) against the St. Louis Cardinals, Kent is hitting .261 with 19 doubles, a triple, 10 home runs and 46 RBI this season. What is more impressive, however, is his Hall of Fame-type career numbers, amassing a .289 average with 556 doubles, 47 triples, 375 home runs and 1,505 RBI in 17 seasons with the Mets, Blue Jays, Indians, Giants, Astros and Dodgers.
Kent was the starting sophomore shortstop for the Bears when they qualified for the 1988 CWS under Milano, defeating the University of Texas, twice, in the NCAA Regional in Austin, Texas.
Yet another Cal standout with ties to the College World Series is Blum, a valuable utility player for Houston who is hitting .226 with four doubles, 10 home runs and 32 RBI in 74 games this summer. Blum was the Bears' starting shortstop as a freshman when they qualified for the 1992 CWS under Milano. He now has a 10-year career in the big leagues, highlighted by his pinch-hit, game-winning home run in the 14th inning during the Chicago White Sox victory over the Astros in Game Three of the 2005 MLB World Series.
Baker, Walker and Morrow also offer unique stories in their rise through the professional ranks. Baker was teammates with Jackson on Cal's 2001 NCAA Regional squad that traveled to Baton Rouge, La., and was called up to the majors for the first time in his career on July 9 of this year. He is now batting .254 with three doubles, four home runs and 14 RBI in 22 games with the Marlins; getting a hit in all five games he has played in during the month of August.
Walker is a success story as well, coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2006 to become one of the Giants' top relievers in 2007 and 2008. He is currently 3-6 with a 4.57 ERA, and has 35 strikeouts in 41.1 innings for San Francisco. Walker lettered for Milano from 1996-97 after beginning his college career as a catcher. He switched to the mound and became a second round draft pick of the New York Mets in the '97 June draft.
Morrow has the distinction of being the highest draft pick ever in Cal baseball history, despite being diabetic. After an impressive 2005 summer in the Cape Cod League and a 2006 spring with the Bears (7-4, 2.05 ERA, 97 strikeouts in 96.2 innings), the hard-throwing right-hander was selected a first-rounder, and the fifth pick overall, by the Mariners in the 2006 June draft. Morrow has been a top reliever for Seattle the past two summers, and was 1-2 with a 1.47 ERA and 10 saves (47 strikeouts in 36.2 innings) this season before being sent to AAA Tacoma in early August to work on becoming a starting pitcher like he was in his final season at Cal.