The Cal Poly baseball team’s top seniors had their names called -— even one who finished his career at the other Cal Poly —- and the junior reliever head coach Larry Lee was hoping to keep did not.
Taylor Chris went undrafted on the final day of the Major League Baseball Draft, lasting through Saturday’s final 30 rounds after the first two rounds claimed Matt Imhof on Thursday and rounds three through 10 saw Nick Torres, Zack Zehner and Reed Reilly go off the board Friday.
Chris will return to play an integral role for Cal Poly next season, the follow-up to this past year’s historic season.
As Jimmy Allen and Chris Hoo found out, it doesn’t mean he won’t go pro.
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Allen, a senior third baseman, was picked in the 24th round, 729th overall, by the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Hoo went to the Miami Marlins in the 27th round, 797th overall. Former Mustangs outfielder David Armendariz, who transferred to Cal Poly Pomona for his senior season, went to Cleveland in the 23rd round, 698th overall.
It marks the third time Allen has been drafted. He was taken in the 23rd round by the Boston Red Sox last season but elected to return to the Mustangs for a hallmark season in which they set a program record with 47 victories, won their first Big West Conference title and hosted an NCAA Regional for the first time. Allen was also drafted in the 39th round coming out of Rancho Buena Vista High in 2010.
“This time it was a lot more exciting because I know I’m actually going to sign this time and I’m actually going to start my pro career,” Allen said. “In high school, it was a good honor, but I was coming to Cal Poly, and last year, there was a sense in my heart that I needed to come back.
“It was the best decision I’ve probably ever made. Just to experience the season we had, winning the Big West, hosting a regional and the whole experience with the community support, it’s something I’ll never forget.”
Allen hit .289 this season and tied for the team lead in triples (3) and home runs (6). The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Allen was selected as a second baseman, a position he’s never played, but it gives him a better chance to advance.
“I’m not a big guy who’s going to hit a lot of home runs and power numbers,” Allen said. “I have quick hands and (I’m) scrappy.”
Hoo was waiting anxiously as he and his family watched the draft picks rattle off. Unlike Allen, Hoo had never been selected, and he approached this draft as his one shot to start a professional baseball career.
“It didn’t matter if I was the last pick in the 40th round,” Hoo said. “I would be totally OK with it. I just want to go play.
“I want to make it all the way. It’s always been my dream since I was little. I’ve always wanted play in the pros. It’s always been my dream to play at the Major League level.”
A four-year starter, Hoo hit a career-best .301 with 13 doubles and 37 RBI, and he only struck out 20 times in 228 plate appearances.
The breakout came after he hit .194 last season and entered the year with a .232 career average.
Hoo has elite defensive skills. He was named Big West Defensive Player of the Year after throwing out 21 of 47 runners trying to steal and picking off seven others. He allowed just one passed ball and committed one error in 516 fielding chances.
“You’re not going to find a better receiver and blocker,” Lee said, “and the knowledge that he holds is invaluable to a pitching staff. He understands pitching mechanics, hitters’ weaknesses, adjustments hitters are making in the box. ... He’s absorbed that knowledge, and he’s become a coach on the field.”
Armendariz hit .324 for the Broncos and had team highs with 17 doubles, nine home runs, 53 RBI and a .584 slugging percentage.
Chris was an integral member of the bullpen this past season, finishing 4-1 with a 1.61 ERA in 24 appearances. He struck out 53 in 56 innings, and batters hit just .193 against him.
He’s the natural choice to succeed Reilly as the closer and even earned five saves this season, some while Reilly was resting with soreness.
But as Chris also showed in a 62⁄3-inning relief appearance against Pepperdine in the San Luis Obispo Regional finale, he can also be effective multiple times through a lineup.
“He’s more than capable of being our starter,” Lee said. “It just depends on who else is able to step up as a starter and who’d be better suited for the bullpen.”