When Mitch Haniger was drafted by the New York Mets in the 31st round in 2009 out of San Jose Archbisop Mitty High, it was a day that opened his eyes.
The Cal Poly baseball recruit didn’t sign a pro contract but realized then that if he had a good junior season with the Mustangs years down the road, he could be an early round pick by 2012.
Everything since has been counting down to today.
After a Big West Player of the Year campaign, the Cal Poly junior centerfielder figures to go early in this year’s amateur draft, which gets underway today starting with a preview show at 3 p.m. on the MLB Network and MLB.com.
After three standout seasons in San Luis Obispo, Haniger has one year of college eligibility left, but it’s more than likely he’ll be spending the summer in the minor leagues, where senior teammates Mike Miller and Kyle Anderson hope to join him.
“There’s stuff out online saying supplemental round, second round. That’s where I’m expected to go,” Haniger said. “Hopefully that happens, but we’ll see on Monday. I don’t want to get my hopes up and fall, so I’ve just been enjoying this last week of school and then see what happens.”
After the first 31 picks that comprise the first round, there will be a round of 29 compensatory selections awarded to MLB teams who lost free agents in the offseason that is commonly referred to as the supplemental first round.
In his discussions with scouts, Mustangs head coach Larry Lee said some would be surprised if Haniger lasts beyond those first 60 picks.
“That’s the best-case scenario,” Lee said. “Hopefully, he doesn’t slip to the second round. He’s put himself in a good position, and the majority of teams have sent the brass out here to see him multiple times.
“He’s a had a lot of quality games in front of those types of people, GMs and national cross-checkers, people that are high up in the organization that only go to see the high draft picks.”
Haniger led the Big West with 13 home runs, a .626 slugging percentage, 132 total bases and seven sacrifice flies. His 64 RBI was 20 more than his next closest competitor, teammate Jimmy Allen. Haniger ran away from Cal State Fullerton’s Michael Lorenzen, who was third with 39 RBI.
As a three-year starter, Haniger is fourth on Cal Poly’s all-time career list with 26 home runs. He’s tied for third with 47 doubles and tied for fifth with 137 RBI.
“He has all the tools to climb the ladder in professional baseball,” Lee said. “If he continues to develop, there’s no reason why he can’t play at the Major League level. He’s got a plus arm and some plus power.”
Last summer, there were murmurs that Haniger could be taken as high as former teammate Bobby Crocker who went to the Oakland Athletics in the fourth round with the 136th overall pick last June, maybe higher.
With his standout season, he now has an outside shot to become the highest Mustangs player ever drafted.
That honor currently goes to catcher John Orton, who was taken by the California Angels with the 25th pick in the first round in 1987. Orton had a quick ascent to the Major Leagues, making his debut with the Angels in 1989. Over five Major League seasons, Orton finished his career hitting .200.
Lefty pitcher Garrett Olson is the highest drafted Cal Poly player in the Division I era, going 48th overall to the Baltimore Orioles in the supplemental round in 2005.
Outfielder-turned-priest Grant Desme was taken in the second round by the Oakland A’s, 74th overall in 2007. Third baseman Brent Morel went to the Chicago White Sox in the third round, 86th overall, the following year.
Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith was also the 86th overall pick in 1977, but that was to the San Diego Padres in the fourth round. San Francisco Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow was taken by the Chicago Cubs in the eighth round, 184th overall, in 1973.
Under the new collective bargaining agreement, there will be a maximum of 40 rounds in this year’s draft, down from up to 50 in previous years. With fewer rounds, it could change the dynamics regarding late-round picks.
If they’re selected, Miller and Anderson figure to go in the second half of the draft, but Lee believes each deserves to be drafted.
“There’s always a need for left-handed pitching,” Lee said, “and Miller brings a little bit of everything to the table, solid bat, fundamentally sound defensively, can play both positions up the middle.
“They both had very good senior years.”
A former Cuesta College standout who played three seasons at Baggett Stadium, Miller’s 14-game hitting streak was Cal Poly’s longest of the season, and he also led the Mustangs with a .354 batting average, 87 hits and 56 runs scored — all figures ranking in the top three in the Big West.
After three seasons as a midweek pitcher, Anderson broke out to record a 10-1 record and 3.40 ERA as the Saturday starter. He’s the first Mustang to win double digits since Thomas Eager won 11 in 2007.
He had two complete games, including a six-hit shutout with a career-high 11 strikeouts against Washington in March. It was Cal Poly's first complete-game shutout in five years.
Anderson upped his fastball velocity to range from 87 to 90 mph this season, and it made his change-up and cutter that much better, too.
“Because of the increase in velocity, that means that the secondary pitches are now better and because you’re better, that leads to the confidence level,” Lee said.
“You can just tell he had a different demeanor on the mound this year than he did the previous years.”
Junior staff ace Joey Wagman (9-3, 2.33 ERA) could also be drafted, though Lee is hoping he returns for his senior season. Wagman has indicated he would be happy returning but remained noncommittal, taking a wait-and-see approach.