AZUSA, Calif.-- The Azusa Pacific baseball team tied a program-record with three players selected in the 2014 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft. Junior centerfielder Joseph Daris was the first Cougar to have his name called when he was plucked by the Atlanta Braves in the 14th round (433rd overall), and he was followed by Adam McCreery (Los Angeles Angels; 22nd round), and Zach Hedges (Chicago Cubs; 26th round) Saturday afternoon.
“I’m excited for each of the guys. What a tremendous opportunity for them to pursue their dreams. We’re striving to recruit players that have a chance to play at the next level. It’s part of our process. Our hope is to identify those guys, and hopefully we can put them in the best position to develop,” said Svagdis.
The draftees are the latest in Azusa Pacific’s impressive run of placing players in the professional ranks. The program has had 38 players drafted, with 15 coming during current Azusa Pacific head coach Paul Svagdis’ 12-year tenure. This is the third straight season in which at least one Cougar has been selected in the draft, the second-longest streak in program history (1975-81).
Over the last three years Azusa Pacific has seen two alums reach the Majors, with last year’s postseason hero Stephen Vogt delivering a walk off RBI for the Oakland Athletics in the American League Division Series.
“I think one of the things we try to do in growing our program is to make decisions that benefit the players. Dr. Jack Rankin, former Dean of School of Education at Azusa Pacific, said this to me one time. ‘What we ask ourselves consistently is what’s in the best interest of the student.’ That stuck with me. For us, when we make decisions, we really try to figure out what will help the athlete grow as a person and put him in the best position to be successful. We’re proud of these guys because we know it’s a dream of every athlete that comes through the program. The most exciting thing is to see them realize their personal dreams,” said Svagdis.
The three picks are the most in one draft class in Azusa Pacific history, since 2008. That group was highlighted by Kirk Nieuwenhuis (N.Y. Mets: 3rd round, pick No. 100), who became the highest drafted player out of Azusa Pacific since 1983. Nieuwenhuis has since played for the Mets in each of the past three seasons.
Azusa Pacific currently has eight alums playing baseball in the professional ranks. Nieuwenhuis and Brandon Sisk are currently on Triple-A rosters, while Vogt is with the Athletics.
JOSEPH DARIS: Atlanta Braves, 14th Round (No. 433 overall)
Daris broke out in his junior season, earning All-Pacific West Conference honors after batting .377 as the Cougars’ everyday centerfielder. The former football prospect successfully stole 15 bases in 16 opportunities, while flashing his speed with a team-high four triples. The Oceanside native led Azusa Pacific in runs (49), hits (77), triples, steals, and on-base percentage (.439) while registering a .919 OPS out of the leadoff spot. Daris became the second Azusa Pacific outfielder (Nieuwenhuis) in the Svagdis era to be drafted.
“What a great story of perseverance and self-confidence by Joe. He identified himself as a future baseball player and to see him put the time and effort in the weight room and see it payoff is real exciting for us. His speed presented so many problems for opposing infielders and his ability to run the bases was a huge spark for us. I look forward to seeing what he can do at the next level,” said Svagdis.
ADAM MCCREERY: Los Angeles Angels, 22nd Round (No. 659 overall)
After two seasons at Arizona State, McCreery posted a 5-3 record in his first year with the Cougars. The junior, who was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 14th round out of Bonita High School, led the rotation with a .203 opponent’s batting average, while striking out 72 batters, third most on the team. The 6-8 southpaw pitched 67 innings, tabbing a 3.90 ERA. He had two games with 10 or more strikeouts, and in nine of his 14 appearances allowed two earned runs or fewer. McCreery is the 15th pitcher in program history to be drafted.
“Adam has great angles when he pitches. I’ve had the chance to stand behind the plate and watch the ball come out of his hand. At 6-8 from the left side with a three-quarter arm angle it’s difficult to pick up his pitches. I can see why batters don’t hit him well. He presents tough angles and at times he can be dominant,” said Svagdis.
ZACH HEDGES: Chicago Cubs, 26th Round (No. 769 overall)
Hedges continued his strong career as the rotation’s most consistent pitcher all season. The Damien High School product led Azusa Pacific’s starters with a 2.74 ERA, while tossing a team-high 85.1 innings. Hedges’ pinpoint control helped the junior register a 2.8 strikeout to walk ratio and a .232 opponent’s batting average. Hedges finished with a 5-4 record, with two complete games and a save. The Glendora native, who appeared in 13 games, surrendered one earned run or less in 10 appearances.
“Zach’s like Joe in that he’s self-motivated. He has quality character, he’s a hard worker and driven. We’re super excited for his progress as a player. To put himself in this position is exciting for him and speaks volumes about what kind of person he is. We’re happy to see a guy like that get this kind of opportunity,” said Svagdis.