By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The fun started Monday night when, 13 minutes into the Major League Baseball draft, Danny Hultzen went to the Seattle Mariners with the second pick.
A day later, five of his teammates were selected, and two more went Wednesday on the draft’s final day.
For the University of Virginia baseball program, this is becoming a rite of spring. UVa has had 34 players selected in the past five drafts, including a school-record nine in 2010.
“Hopefully it says that the coaches are good recruiters, but more importantly that they’re great developers of talent,” senior pitcher Tyler Wilson, one of those draft picks, said Wednesday at Davenport Field.
“We recruit talented players to come here to UVa,” O’Connor said. “No. 1, they come here because they want to get a great education, but they all aspire to play at the next level of baseball. And when we talk to them through the recruiting process, we spend a lot of time on talking to them about what we do with regards to their development, from a position-player side and a pitching side, and what the University of Virginia can do to help enhance their opportunities for professional baseball and prepare them to have success in pro ball when they enter it.
“I know how hard our players work. And then when you see [them drafted], you feel good about it, because you know those kids have worked so hard for those opportunities. And now some of them will just need to decide: Is this year the right opportunity for them, or do they want to come back and have another year in this uniform?”
The Cavaliers drafted this week were Hultzen, catcher John Hicks (fourth round to Seattle), pitcher Will Roberts (fifth round to Cleveland), third baseman Steven Proscia (seventh round to Seattle), Wilson (10th round to Baltimore), outfielder Kenny Swab (21st round to Kansas City), pitcher Cody Winiarski (36th round to Chicago White Sox) and outfielder John Barr (39th round to Cleveland).
Wilson, Swab, Winiarski and Barr are seniors. Each of the others will have a year of eligibility left after this season, but it won’t be surprising if all four sign pro contracts this summer. Roberts, who came to college with 33 credit hours, graduated last month.
On Monday night, the team was together in the locker room when Seattle selected Hultzen, the highest draft pick in UVa history. On Tuesday, O’Connor followed the draft on-line while working in his office at Davenport. Like others in the program, he was delighted to see that Hultzen, Hicks and Proscia may be teammates after this season as well.
The Mariners “must like something we do,” O’Connor said with a smile.
“It’s interesting that Seattle takes three of our players. If for some reason they don’t want me around here anymore at some point, I’ve talked to the Seattle Mariners about having a minor-league team here in Charlottesville, and maybe I could manage it.”
The Mariners had a representative at every game Hultzen pitched this season, as did many other major-league teams. That meant more exposure for the two-time ACC pitcher of the year’s teammates.
“In some ways, it’s nice for other players when you’re surrounded by great talent, because they get a lot of looks,” O’Connor said.
Proscia said he knew the Mariners were interested in him, and “after I saw Hicks go, I thought it would be pretty cool if they picked me as well, and they did.
“It’s something cool to think about, and afterward we talked about it and joked about it. But we’re not looking at that right now. We’ll handle that when our season’s over.”
Hicks said much the same thing during his turn in front of the microphone Wednesday at Davenport.
“It’s exciting,” Hicks said. “When you go out there, you’re going to have two friends with you. We’ve all talked about it a little bit, but we’re not worried about it too much right now. We’ve got some games ahead of us before we worry about our future.”
The Wahoos, seeded No. 1 in the NCAA tournament, hope to be playing until the College World Series ends late this month in Omaha, Neb. They took the first step last weekend, going 3-0 to win the NCAA tourney’s Charlottesville Regional.
Now comes a best-of-three NCAA super regional whose winner will advance to Omaha. In a series that begins Saturday at 1 p.m., UVa (52-9) will face UC Irvine (42-16) at Davenport Field, where all the games are sold out.
Hultzen, not surprisingly, is expected to start the opener for the ‘Hoos. Game 2 is scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m. A third game, if necessary, would be played Monday at a time to be determined.
“I try not to get the players consumed with talking about getting to Omaha,” O’Connor said. “They know that’s what happens if you win this thing. I don’t want them to be consumed with that. I want them to be consumed with competing, being tough like we were last weekend, playing good fundamental baseball. And if we do that, we’ll have a shot to advance.”
The ‘Hoos, who in 2009 advanced to the College World Series for the first time, have reached the round of 16 for the third straight season. Virginia is hosting a super regional for the second consecutive year.
“This is what you work for,” O’Connor said. “This is what you play for. The fact that we’ve already sold our stadium out is just really incredible. It’s a testament to our fans and the baseball environment that’s been developed.
“It’s going to be a great weekend of baseball. What a tremendous reward for the players, for the coaches, for the people in this community, to come out and have a great weekend of college baseball.”