For a crop of local players on draft day, an invite from the Show
Dennis Torres remembers the doleful look he saw in the eyes of his father, Denesi, four years ago after he had played his final season for the Lawrence Legion Post 15 team.
There had been no high school career: He was cut four times from the baseball team at Central Catholic, and no college scholarships were in the offing.
“I talked to my pops, and he was so upset he couldn’t watch me play anymore,’’ Torres recalled.
Now, the elder Torres will be able to watch his son pitch as a professional after the 6-foot-2, 200-pound righthander was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the 28th round (852d pick overall) of Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft last Wednesday.
“When my name came out, it was awesome,’’ said the 22-year-old Torres, who went from walk-on to number one starter in his third season at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He signed a contract with Baltimore Monday morning, forgoing his final season of eligibility, and will report to the Gulf Coast League for two weeks before moving on to the Aberdeen IronBirds in the short-season New York-Penn League.
“A rush of emotion was going through me. I’ve been working all my life for this day to come.’’
He was not alone.
Medford’s Ben Waldrip, a lefthanded-hitting first baseman at Jacksonville State, was chosen by the Colorado Rockies in the 10th round, and Malden Catholic grad Dario Pizzano parlayed Ivy League Player of the Year honors at Columbia into a 15th round pick by the Seattle Mariners. Former St. John’s Prep standout Michael Yastrzemski was drafted for the second time, taken in the 30th round by the Mariners out of Vanderbilt, while Reading High grad Ben O’Shea, 6-foot-6 southpaw from the University of Tampa, went to the Cardinals in the 35th round.
No one has taken a bigger leap than Torres.
Encouraged by his father to try out at UMass as a sophomore, Torres worked out at third base. Head coach Mike Stone and pitching coach Mike Sweeney marveled at his arm strength. Sweeney began to work with him.
“I pitched an inning or two here and there and my mechanics were off, but they invested in me,’’ Torres said. “Bullpen [session] after bullpen, it started to piece together.’’
In 2011, he started eight games, posting a 2-4 record with a 7.04 earned run average.
This past season, Torres emerged as the top starter, compiling a 4-4 mark with a 3.34 ERA, striking out 54 batters in 89 innings.
“With a guy like [Torres], it’s a great story,’’ said Stone, the UMass coach. “We all helped in the process of making him into a pitcher and he just developed and improved so much. . . . He exceeded expectations by far.’’
Just over a week ago, Waldrip was moving out of his apartment at Jacksonville State, packing his bags for Medford, and planning to spend the summer with his mother, Juanita. His plans changed after receiving a call from Colorado, which selected him 318th overall.
“It’s been an exciting week and things really changed,’’ said the 6-6, 245-pound Waldrip, who hit .330 with 18 home runs and 61 RBIs for the Gamecocks as a senior.
“I went from sitting at school not knowing what my future holds to getting drafted.’’
Previously selected by the Atlanta Braves (42d round, 2010) and the Kansas City Royals (40th round, 2011), he signed with the Rockies and will start this career with short-season Grand Junction, Colo.
“I knew I was getting signed this year so I was excited to get into the draft,’’ said Waldrip, who started his college career at Saint Anselm, also played at Cyprus JC (Calif.), and made the all-star team last summer playing for the Orleans Firebirds in the Cape Cod League.
Pizzano, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound left fielder from Saugus, signed with Seattle after putting together a terrific junior season at Columbia, hitting .360 with four homers and 36 RBIs. He will report to the Mariners’ short-season Class A affiliate in Pulaski, Va., Sunday
“It still hasn’t hit me,” Pizzano said. “I’ve been waiting for this my whole life ever since I started playing at 5 years old.”
As the draft approached, Pizzano knew he would be faced with a tough decision, either sign or return to school for his senior season.
“I wanted to get my degree from an Ivy League school and I loved playing under my coaches and my teammates here,” Pizzano said. “I talked to [Columbia head coach Brett Boretti] and he said, ‘How much can you do here? Bigger and better things await.’ I’m excited to start my career and I couldn’t pass this up.”
Yastrzemski, grandson of Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski, was drafted by Boston in 36th round of the 2009 draft after his senior year at St. John’s Prep, but accepted a scholarship to Vanderbilt. The 6-foot, 180-pound outfielder, who hit .286 with six home runs and 41 RBIs as a junior, has not received an offer from the Mariners.
“I'm glad I made the decision” to attend Vanderbilt, he said, “because these have been the best years of my life.’’
O’Shea, a former Middlesex League MVP at Reading, started his college career in 2010 at Roger Williams (5-1, 1.87 ERA), transferred to Sante Fe College, and went 9-2 while fanning 98 in 65.1 innings, attracting the interest of the Chicago White Sox, who made him a 10th-round pick last June. He moved on to Tampa, where he was 7-2 with a 2.34 ERA, and a 73-13 strikeout-to-walk this spring.
Anthony Gulizia can be reached at email@example.com.