Luke Yoder was perplexed. Larry Lee didn’t get it either.
When Yoder, a Cal Poly outfielder, was not selected in any of the 50 rounds of the 2009 Major League Baseball first-year player draft after his junior season last summer, it made little sense.
“I definitely didn’t know what happened,” said Yoder, who watched junior teammates Adam Buschini and Kyle Smith go within the first 15 rounds. “I was really confused, and coach Lee scrambled to get me on a summer team so I could play over summer.
“A lot of (summer) teams don’t take juniors that have a good shot of being drafted, and I fit in that category.”
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Yoder was picked in the 33rd round the prior year as a draft-eligible sophomore, after he hit .345 with eight home runs and 33 RBI. At the time, he said, the Cleveland Indians indicated that they would have taken him before the 10th round if he would have committed to leaving school early.
Lee said Yoder would be “one of the best players on the West Coast and a high draft pick” the next year.
“And he might not have been here in the first place,” Lee said Thursday as the team readied for its season-ending three-game series against visiting Cal State Bakersfield, which begins today at 6 p.m. at Baggett Stadium. “There was talk out of high school that he could be a top-10-round pick.”
As a junior, his average dropped to .301 and his strikeouts increased, but Yoder did hit one more home run and had seven more RBI.
No reason, he thought, for him to fall all the way out.
“But that’s the game of baseball,” Yoder said. “It’s very unpredictable, and it crosses over into the business side of things.”
Sticking around San Luis Obispo has been more than just a consolation prize for Yoder this season, which has seen him ascend many of the team’s all-time career statistical records lists.
He already holds Cal Poly records for runs scored and doubles, and he’s tied for second on the career home run list. He’s having a solid season at the plate and has been a regular fixture in left field, which hasn’t always been the case.
He’s also just one quarter away from earning his business degree, which he’d be a lot further from earning if he left school two years ago.And, he said, he’s a better prospect now than he was as a sophomore — even if the laws of supply and demand don’t favor seniors in negotiations of professional contracts.
“Just being able to play the outfield helps out a lot,” said Yoder, whose shoulder troubles early in his Cal Poly career often kept him relegated to designated hitter, “and also, being here for four years, scouting reports, they get around a lot. Still being able to be successful this year says a lot.”
This season, Yoder has upped his average to .334, and his career average to .324. He stands to become the first Mustangs player to hit .300 or better all four seasons at the Division I level.
Jon Macalutas and Rob Neal each did it in their four-year careers at Cal Poly in the 1990s, but Neal only played one season in Division I and Macalutas two.
This season, Yoder ranks third in the Big West Conference with 19 doubles and third with 13 home runs — both career bests.
One knock: He also leads the conference with 54 strikeouts, evidence that he has room for improvement hitting offspeed pitches, Lee said.
However, just like the Mustangs — who have won 11 of their past 15 games to help forge a silver lining on a season that was lost with a major 4-21 midseason slump — Yoder has been extra hot lately.
He was 7 for 13 in last weekend’s series win over Pacific, and six of those hits went for extra bases. Four were doubles and two cleared the wall.
“The last couple weeks, it seems like every time he swings the bat, it’s a double or home run,” Lee said. “He’s really been productive. “He adds the element of speed and power. He has some things that are pretty unique to an offensive player.”
Yoder has 181 career runs scored. He broke that program record five weeks ago and the next closest player, Bryan Gant, has 23 fewer. Yoder’s 49 career doubles put him one ahead of Macalutas.
Yoder and Monty Waltz are tied with 30 home runs. Both are 11 behind program leader Steve Wood.
“So, with three games, I’d have to go, what, 4 for 4 with four bombs every game and then I’d have the record?” Yoder said. “That definitely won’t happen. But it would be nice to get one. That way there’s a separation, not a tie for second.”
Yoder is also tied for third in career walks (103), fifth in triples (12), fourth in at-bats (689), second in games (198), fourth in hits (223) and sixth in RBI (129).
He’s also in the top 10 in steals (43).
Yoder is the latest in what has been a productive pipeline of Mustangs players from Bakersfield.
A gymnast until he was 15 years old, Yoder starred at Liberty High and followed the footsteps of Brandon Roberts, Grant Desme and Brent Morel from the Bakersfield area to Cal Poly.
All had standout Mustangs careers, and Roberts and Morel are both playing in the minor leagues. Desme was a top prospect before he abruptly left baseball to join a seminary prior to spring training.
Yoder said he doesn’t regret the decision of coming back to school as a sophomore, one that could end up costing him contract money. It still may all work out in the end.
“I’m not sure why he didn’t get drafted, but I think he’s benefited from it,” Lee said, “and it think what you really want to do when you enter professional baseball is be ready to be successful. I know he’s much more prepared.”