There are currently six former Cougar baseball players who are part of Major League Baseball, two of whom have a legitimate chance at making it to the big show on a full-time basis this year.
New York Mets center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis, class of ’08, and Tampa Bay Rays catcher Stephen Vogt, class of ’07, both continue on the success they found last season by breaking into the big leagues last year; both made the 25-man roster and are starting off the season with their respective teams.
Nieuwenhuis has been the most successful current Cougar by far in the big leagues. Last season the Mets’ number nine played in 91 games hitting for a .252 average with seven homers and 28 runs batted in. After starting off hot in his first shot at the show, Nieuwenhuis found himself in a slump.
In April he had a .325 average, but by July he was having his worst month ever with a batting average of only .108. He was optioned to the AAA Buffalo Bisons, played only five games and then suffered plantar fasciitis. Nieuwenhuis was slotted to be the opening day starter at center field for the Mets again this season — though he was facing competition from other players for the spot — but now, the Cougar all-star has taken on a deep knee bruise and still hasn’t returned to action from his injury earlier this month. He could miss out on a roster spot this season.
Vogt played in 18 games for the Rays last season but did not record a single hit in his 25 at-bats. He started one game behind the dish for Tampa Bay last season against the Toronto Blue Jays. In spring training on March 15 versus the Philadelphia Phillies, Vogt hit a two-run walk-off homerun to give the Rays the win. He faces tough competition for a final roster spot but is still trying.
It looked like there could be three APU alumni in the big league when the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim offered relief pitcher Brandon Sisk, class of ’06, an invite to spring training, but the former Cougar has already been reassigned to the club’s AAA affiliate. Sisk had a very successful 2012 minor league campaign going 3-2, posting a 2.54 Earned Run Average in 67-Innings Pitched and fanning 73 batters for the Omaha Storm Chasers.
Also in the ranks, hailing from Azusa Pacific, are relief pitcher Jason Ray, class of ’05, first baseman Jordan Leyland, class of ’12 and relief pitcher Alan Garcia, class of ’12.
Ray is in the San Diego Padres organization pitching for the Tucson Padres, an AAA level affiliate. Last season at Tucson, Ray went 1-3 with a 3.57 ERA in 45.1 innings pitched with 48 strikeouts. Ray also had an invite to spring training this year and achieved a 6.75 ERA in 2.2 innings pitched before being reassigned back to Tucson.
Leyland and Garcia were just drafted this past season by the Blue Jays and the Los Angeles Dodgers, respectively.
So far this minor league season, Leyland has a .235 batting average with two homeruns and 17 RBIs in 39 games.
Garcia has pitched 23.1 innings of relief work and has a 5.79 ERA with 28 strikeouts and four saves so far this minor league season.
While there may not be a Cougar in a major league uniform this season, there is a chance there may be three or even four at the same time–pretty good for a little former NAIA program nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains.