When Cal Poly baseball coach Larry Lee is on the road recruiting some of the top prep players in the state, a big part of his pitch is rooted in the Mustangs ability to develop professional prospects.
It’s not just lip service, either.
Since Lee took over the program 14 years ago, Cal Poly has had at least three players selected in the Major League Baseball draft each season, including a program-record eight players selected in 2008.
That tradition continued this spring when right-handed pitcher Justin Calomeni, utility player Brett Barbier and outfielder John Schuknecht were chosen during the 40-round professional draft over the weekend.
“Some come in as professional prospects,” Lee said. “Others make themselves into professional prospects.
“That’s what we try to sell.”
Calomeni was the first Mustang taken this year, going to the Colorado Rockies in the ninth round with the 260th overall selection. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior became the 36th Cal Poly player chosen in the top 10 rounds and the 27th in Lee’s tenure. Colorado also drafted ex-Mustang Brian Mundell in the seventh round a year ago.
Calomeni showed flashes of brilliance this spring, perhaps reminding Mustang fans of his successful freshman campaign in 2014. The hard-throwing right-hander went 8-2 that year, helping Cal Poly host the San Luis Obispo Regional for the first time in program history.
Just how good was the Mustangs’ 2014 team? Well, 15 players have been drafted from that year’s 47-12 squad, including seven chosen in the top 10 rounds.
Calomeni underwent knee surgery at the end of 2014 and his production dipped as a sophomore the following year. He was moved to the bullpen after a 1-3 start and pitched a career-low 36 innings. Calomeni regrouped as a junior, cementing his status as a MLB prospect with a 5-2 record and a career-best 2.95 ERA and eight saves.
“I would think somebody like him would be put back in a starting role for the first year or two,” Lee said, “until they see what his value is for their organization.”
Barbier, a fourth-year junior and one of three players to start all 57 games this season, was taken in the 16th round by the Philadelphia Phillies. A first-team all-Big West Conference performer and Cal Poly’s most valuable player in 2016, Barbier was the model of consistency for a young team offensively, reaching base safely in 56 of 57 games.
Barbier led the Big West in on-base percentage (.492) and was second in walks (41), hit-by-pitches (17) and plate appearances (262). He also ranked in the top 10 in runs, slugging percentage, hits, total bases and doubles.
Barbier graduated over the weekend with his degree in business administration, and Lee said he was not accepted into Cal Poly’s graduate business program and will have to forgo his final year of eligibility.
“Brett was our best ballplayer from Day 1 this year and has really come a long way,” Lee said.
Schuknecht was the final Mustang drafted, going in the 37th round to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The three-time Big West Player of the Week recipient tied for the team lead with 15 doubles, two triples and six home runs, and he paced the conference with 49 runs driven in.
The question for Schuknecht as he transitions to the next level will be where he fits in defensively. He primarily played first base as freshman and sophomore before moving to the outfield as a junior. Schuknecht, one of two seniors on the 2016 roster, also has some experience at second and third base.
Lee tentatively speculated Schuknecht could move back to second base as he begins his professional career.
“All three have come a long way since their freshmen year and are well deserving of getting drafted,” Lee said. “Hopefully (they) will now have some success in professional baseball.”