By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Major League Baseball’s draft ended Wednesday, and only one ACC school had more players selected than UVa this year.
Georgia Tech had 10 draft choices, including two in the first five rounds. Virginia had a school-record nine players picked, with three — juniors Jarrett Parker, Phil Gosselin and Robert Morey — going in the first five rounds.
“I’m proud of all my teammates,” said Parker, a center-fielder whom the San Francisco Giants drafted in the second round Tuesday, with the 74th overall pick.
“We’ve been together for so long, and we’ve all worked so hard together, and it’s pretty cool to see how all our work paid off. It’s really been something special, and I’m so happy for everybody.”
That MLB teams liked what they saw in Charlottesville should surprise no one. Brian O’Connor has built a program that wins big with talented players.
Virginia (50-12), the No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament, hosts Oklahoma (47-15) in a best-of-three super regional that starts Saturday at Davenport Field.
In each of O’Connor’s seven seasons as coach, the Cavaliers have reached the NCAAs, and they’re two wins from a second straight trip to the College World Series.
Six players from UVa were drafted in 2007, six in ’08 and five in ’09. When O’Connor and his staff tell high school recruits that they can groom them for the pros, that’s not an empty sales pitch.
“Like I said earlier, I’ve always wanted to play pro baseball,” Parker told reporters on a teleconference Tuesday night. “It’s always been one of my dreams. And I think, when I was looking at UVa, I definitely knew that this was going to be a program that would help me to achieve my goals.
“Our coaches are unbelievable. A lot of players since I’ve been here have gotten drafted. I think that says so much about our coaches and what a great job they’ve done. They really get the best out of us.”
When O’Connor arrived at UVa after the 2003 season, he inherited from his predecessor, Dennis Womack, a core of pro prospects that included Andrew Dobies, Ryan Zimmerman, Joe Koshansky and Mark Reynolds.
Since then, O’Connor has steadily expanded the talent pool in his program. That he can point to players such as Zimmerman, Sean Doolittle, Brandon Guyer, David Adams, Greg Miclat, Jacob Thompson and, now, Parker, Gosselin and Morey — all high draft picks in recent years — makes it easier for O’Connor to continue luring big-time prospects to Charlottesville.
“Every player that we bring into this program has aspirations of playing at the next level,” O’Connor said, “and you need to show high school players that they can come here and they can develop and have an opportunity to move on to the next level of baseball.
“So it’s a very important part. The guys aspire and have the dream some day of doing that, and it’s important that we show everybody that you can come to the University of Virginia and develop your talents to the fullest.”
When a team is stocked with talented juniors, as UVa is this season, the draft can sometimes be a distraction as it approaches. That hasn’t been a problem for the Wahoos, who have not lost back-to-back games this spring.
“I was concerned about it coming into the year, because every individual player handles this draft-eligible year differently,” O’Connor said. “Because we had so many draft-eligible juniors that were such good players, you’re concerned about how they’re going to handle it.
“Not that they would be selfish. Every player on this team is a very unselfish individual, and they’re playing for their team first, because I think know what we can accomplish. But just so they don’t put added pressure on themselves, and just so they don’t try to do too much to impress somebody.
“When a player takes the approach that they’re always trying to impress somebody and do more than what they’re capable of, that’s typically when they go on a downward spiral.”
HOT TICKET: Capacity crowds are expected for what will be UVa’s final home series of 2010. The super regional will be a fitting end to a season in which attendance records were smashed at Davenport.
“It’s very, very impressive,” O’Connor said. “It’s very gratifying, because you know that your players and coaches, and everybody involved with our program, have worked so hard to build this thing, and to see it come to where it is now, where two hours before the game they open up the gates and people are sprinting with their lawn chairs and fighting for the best seats, and they’re into every pitch in the game.
“This is what you try to get to when you try to build a great college baseball program. Those fans and their involvement and their love of our team and our program are vital to our success. And it’s fun.”
INTERESTED OBSERVER: O’Connor was among the hundreds of thousands of viewers who tuned in to watch pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg’s major-league debut.
O’Connor, of course, saw Strasburg in person last year in California. In their first game at the NCAA regional in Irvine, the ‘Hoos stunned Strasburg and San Diego State 5-1.
Strasburg is now a Washington National, and the 6-4, 220-pound right-hander dazzled Tuesday in a win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“The only part I got to see was his last two innings, where I think he struck out the side twice,” O’Connor said. “It doesn’t surprise me. The kid’s got unbelievable ability. The only thing that you didn’t know was how was he going to handle that stage. How is he going to handle all the pressure of, ‘Here’s Stephen Strasburg’s first start,’ and the guy handled it like a winner. It was remarkable to watch.”
DECISION LOOMING: Right-fielder Dan Grovatt, who hit .324 as a freshman and .356 as a sophomore, is batting .289 heading into the super regional. The Pirates selected him in the 11th round Tuesday, but it’s too early to say if Grovatt will turn pro.
“Right now we have a lot more important things to worry about as a team,” Grovatt said Wednesday at Davenport. “We have to win this super regional, we have to play well. It’s an honor, and I feel very privileged to have been selected, but right now I kind of have to focus on the task at hand, and later on down the road see what happens.”
He’s not ruling anything out, Grovatt said, including a return to UVa for his senior year.
“I’ll wait and see what happens [in negotiations with Pittsburgh],” he said. “If it works out, it works out. If not, you can do worse than coming back to the No. 1 team in the nation and having a shot to win the title.”
HIGH PRAISE: Tyler Wilson was picked in the 35th round by Cincinnati on Wednesday, and it won’t be a shock if the right-handed reliever returns to UVa for his senior season.
Rest assured, O’Connor would welcome him back.
“Let me tell you, he’s a coach’s dream,” O’Connor said. “He is as unselfish as they come. He is all about the team.
“You don’t have to tell this kid to do anything, and he’s an unbelievable teammate. He just does all the little things that a lot people don’t recognize, but when you coach a player, and you’re around a player every day, you see those things.
“He does everything that he can do to be successful: his conditioning, his weight-training, his throwing, his watching of film. He’s just consumed with being the most prepared that he can be, when he goes out there, to have success.”