The MLB Draft is seldom a senior moment for college baseball players.
Your chance of getting picked doesn’t get better with time.
It’s why seniors Tevin Mitchell and Thomas Rowan, two of only three holdovers from UCSB’s College World Series team of 2016, couldn’t bear to watch this week as Major League Baseball’s draft ticker spewed out name after name.
They didn’t want the best season of their life to also become their last one.
“I went to class during the draft,” said Mitchell, a 22-year-old political science major who will walk graduation next week. “Keeping an eye on the ticker was my brother’s job.”
Rowan, a 23-year-old catcher who finished work on his poli sci degree during the winter quarter, went to the apartment of teammate Eric Yang – preoccupying himself with everything but the draft.
“Last year, I watched every round and wound up super-anxious about it,” said Rowan, who went undrafted as a junior despite his .312 batting average. “This year, I figured, ‘If it happens, it happens.'”
It happened for both. The Miami Marlins picked Mitchell in Tuesday’s eighth round and then went for Rowan in the 20th a day later. They were among 10 Gauchos drafted during the first 24 rounds.
“It happened for me around 2 o’clock in the afternoon, but it still felt like a dream that night,” Mitchell said. “I asked my brother Trey, ‘Did this really happen? Is this really happening?'”
Rowan’s parents, Pat and Mary, learned about his selection before he did.
“I got a call from my mom first – right when I was trying to talk on the phone to the Marlins scout,” he said.
There’s a good chance that Mitchell and Rowan will be teammates again in a few weeks with the Batavia Muckdogs, the Marlins’ Class A farm team in the short-season New York-Penn League.
“T-Row’s such a good friend, to go together in pro ball would be really cool – especially since we’ve taken similar paths,” Mitchell said. “We’ve both had to grind it out.”
They both earned first-team All-Big West Conference honors this season after having made several position changes the last few years.
Mitchell, a utility infielder during his first three years, hit .333 as a junior despite playing most of the season with a broken hand. He batted .277 this year with five home runs, 37 RBIs, and 20 stolen bases as the Gauchos’ every-day left fielder.
“I used to joke about it when people asked what position I played: ‘The right-handed batter’s box’ I’d tell them,” he said.
Rowan didn’t play for two years after tearing an elbow ligament at the start of his senior season at Santa Ynez High School.
He finally caught on last year, earning All-Big West honorable mention as a catcher after having also tried his hand at first base and left field. He even made two appearances as a relief pitcher during his sophomore year.
“Tevin and I have talked with each other a bunch the last few years about trying to just keep going,” said Rowan, who hit .327 this year with a team-best 13 home runs. “There were times when neither one of us were getting to play much.
“But we helped each other out … and we both helped the team become as successful as it was this year.”
The Gauchos won their first league championship since 1986, and their overall record of 45-11 set a school record for winning percentage (.804).
It led to a real senior moment in their final game at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium when they clinched the title with a 7-0 victory over arch-rival Cal Poly. Mitchell added the final touch with a prodigious home run over the left-field fence.
“To get it done on Senior Day, and in that environment, was really, really special,” he said. “It’s a game we’ll remember forever.”
Their wealth of experience, meanwhile, turned out to be a main attraction for the Miami Marlins.
“They like what my bat and speed bring, but they also want the versatility tool,” Mitchell said. “They like the fact that I can play both infield and outfield.”
The Marlins also value Rowan’s experience in handling pitchers, which dates back to his senior year at Santa Ynez. After injuring his elbow in the season opener, he called the pitches for the Pirates all the way to the CIF finals.
“Miami wants some older guys in their system, especially with the big, high school prospects they’ve been bringing in,” Rowan said. “I’m just looking to come in and help in any way I can.”
He now laughs about how he nearly quit baseball after last year’s draft-week disappointment.
“I’ve been thinking about that lately – about how I would’ve been in an office somewhere, doing some kind of work, instead of on the field and in the locker room with 35 guys that I’m super-close with,” Rowan said. “Ultimately, what you end up missing are all the laughs and good times you have.
“That’s one of the biggest reasons I came back, to have one more chance to experience those happy times.”
And now he gets one more chance … again.