AZUSA, Calif.-- Azusa Pacific continues to be one of the NAIA’s top breeding grounds for professional baseball players, as evidenced by two more Cougars being selected in the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. Jordan Leyland, the Golden State Athletic Conference Player of the Year, was the first Azusa Pacific player plucked, going to the Toronto Blue Jays in the ninth round (295th overall). He was followed by all-GSAC closer Alan Garcia, who was picked by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 22nd round (686th overall).
The two selections bumped the program’s all-time draft total to 34, including 11 since head coach Paul Svagdis took over in 2002. The two picks also marked the first time that the Dodgers and the Blue Jays chose an Azusa Pacific player in the draft.
“We’re certainly really happy for Jordan and Alan. They’re both great guys and were great to coach. We feel like they’re going to do great things in professional baseball. We’re excited for them,” said Svagdis. “The best part about seeing these guys have an opportunity to play at the next level is that most college athletes have the dream to play professionally, and over the last six years we’ve had a lot of guys have that dream realized.”
Leyland, who became the highest drafted Cougar since Kirk Nieuwenhuis was taken by the New York Mets in the third round back in 2008, was a dominating power-hitter for one of the nation’s top offenses. The first baseman belted a team-leading 22 home runs and recorded a conference-best 74 RBIs.
His .802 slugging percentage was the NAIA’s second best mark, while his .419 batting average was the second highest in the GSAC. His 10-game RBI streak from February 25th to March 9th, in which he drove in 29 runs, helped Azusa Pacific to an early GSAC edge after the Cougars went 5-1 against early conference favorites Biola and Fresno Pacific.
“He really developed as a power guy and I think that was real exciting to watch happen for him. Everyone probably thought he had it in him, but it was nice to see him exhibit it out on the field,” said Svagdis.
Leyland also flashed a strong glove, finishing the year with just three errors in 570 chances. His 525 putouts ranked 4th in the NAIA, while the senior maintained a .995 fielding percentage.
“He played first base really well and carried himself at a high level defensively to go what he did at the plate. He’s very athletic for a big guy and hopefully that’s something that appealed to the scouts,” said Svagdis.
The former UC Irvine Anteater was drafted in the 44th round of the 2011 draft (1,350th overall) by the Tampa Bay Rays, but opted to transfer to Azusa Pacific for his senior season; one that saw him jump up over 1,000 spots in the draft.
Garcia was one of the NAIA’s top relievers, ranking third in the nation with an Azusa Pacific record 15 saves. The 6-4 closer finished the year with a 3.86 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 25.2 innings of work to earn all-GSAC honors. He posted a 2.45 ERA in save opportunities and held batters to a .100 average with runners on and two outs. Garcia didn’t give up a home run all year long and was dominant against right handed hitters, holding them to a .165 batting average.
“For him they had an opportunity to confirm his velocity. It was good to see him pitch in critical conditions and command the strike zone with that velocity. He really improved during the season, from day one until the last game. His off-speed developed and that really helped him,” said Svagdis. “We have a great history of pitchers moving on, and now with Garcia that’s seven pitchers drafted since 2003.”
This year’s draft class marked the fourth time since 2007 that two or more Cougars were selected by a Major League organization. In 2010 Ryan Delgado and Peter Gehle were taken by the Chicago White Sox and the Atlanta Braves respectively, while the trio of Andrew Shive, Jonny Bravo, and Nieuwenhuis was taken in the 2008 draft. One year earlier Stephen Vogt was taken in the 12th round by the Tampa Bay Rays, while Scott Hodson was nabbed by the Oakland Athletics in the sixth round.
“I think our program presents a unique opportunity for young student-athletes to come into an environment where they know in the classroom they’re going to be surrounded and supported academically because of the nature of our class size, yet they have an opportunity athletically to play at the next level. And we’ve seen that over the years,” said Svagdis.
This year two Azusa Pacific alums have reached the big leagues, with Vogt earning a spot on the Rays' opening day roster, while Nieuwenhuis continues to post a strong rookie campaign, batting .294 through 55 games.