The 2021 Major League Baseball (MLB) first-year draft proved to be another successful one for Cal Poly, with pitchers Bryan Woo and Andrew Alvarez being selected in the 20-round draft and catcher Myles Emmerson being signed as an undrafted free agent.
This marks the 22nd straight year that a Cal Poly baseball player has been selected in the draft, a streak going back to 1999 that also spans the 19-year career of head coach Larry Lee.
The three players, who have now all signed contracts with their major league teams, now bring Lee’s total number of players signed to professional contracts to 76 since he began his tenure in 2002.
Woo, the sophomore right-hander, was selected 174th overall by the Seattle Mariners while Alvarez, the junior lefty, was taken 353rd overall by the Washington Nationals. Emmerson signed shortly after the draft with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Also of note from this year’s MLB Draft, Cal Poly baseball recruit Cameron Butler from Big Valley Christian High School in Modesto, California, was taken by the Chicago White Sox in the 15th round of the draft. He signed a contract worth $150,000 with the American League franchise and will not be attending Cal Poly this fall.
The three Mustangs now have to face the ever-competitive minor league system in order to achieve the dream of nearly every collegiate baseball player: a shot to play for the big league club.
Emmerson graduated from Cal Poly with a laundry list of accolades to his name, including the Cal Poly John Orton Golden Glove Award. He was also a member of the All-Big West First Team and shared the Big West Defensive Player of the Year award with Denzel Clarke of CSU Northridge and Taishi Nakawake of UC Irvine.
The redshirt senior from Spring Valley, California said that the day the Angels called him was a day he spent his entire lifetime working towards.
“Words can’t describe the excitement,” Emmerson said.
Emmerson, who started in all 56 games this past season, is part of an interesting class of draftees for Anaheim, with the Angels using all 20 of their picks on pitchers.
Knowing that most of his incoming peers in the organization are pitchers, Emmerson said he is optimistic for what this means for him.
“It’s a great opportunity to work with a great pitching staff and ultimately help them develop while I develop in the process,” Emmerson said. “The Angels have a great history of bringing up solid catchers. After being with the organization for a couple of weeks I think I fit in really well.”
Emmerson put up huge numbers in the 2021 season, boasting a batting average above .300. He also led the Big West Conference in pickoffs with five and had a fielding percentage of .991 behind the plate.
Emmerson, who will be starting with the Angels’ Low-A affiliate, the Inland Empire 66ers, said he believes that his ability to be a leader on defense will be what sets him apart from other prospects.
“I think my leadership on the field and in bullpens is a bonus to my own talent,” Emmerson said. “Catching is a defense-first position and I proved that I can hold my own behind the dish.”
The former history major leaves Cal Poly with a .288 career batting average after being the starter in 148 of the 168 games he played in for the university.
Emmerson said he will miss the atmosphere at Baggett Stadium, and that his favorite part of playing at Cal Poly is the friends he has made as a Mustang.
“My teammates are an outstanding group of guys and we will be friends for a very long time,” Emmerson said. “Sharing the experience with them through the ups and downs is something I will never forget. Those five years were the best years of my life.”
Alvarez is leaving Cal Poly with his own list of accolades, taking home an All-Big West honorable mention this past spring as well as the 2021 Mike Krukow Outstanding Pitcher Award.
Alvarez described the day he was drafted as anti-climatic, and that it didn’t set in that he was now a part of the MLB until he met with the team.
“On the third day of the draft, they don’t show it on TV, so it didn’t really hit me,” Alvarez said. “I celebrated with my family but when I showed up [to team facilities], that’s when it really started sinking in. The Nationals really wanted me.”
Alvarez, who in three full seasons with the Mustangs (plus the shortened 2020 season) posted an 11-8 record, is part of a Nationals draft class that includes nine other pitchers, three of which are southpaws like Alvarez.
Joining the major league team in the nation’s capital seemed “obvious” for Alvarez, who mentioned that the organization was viewing him as a higher value than any other team prior to draft day on July 13.
Alvarez is optimistic about the Nationals, saying, “I know they are a good organization, the type that really cares for their players and their development.”
The redshirt junior from Los Alamitos, California is bringing quite a bit of talent to the Nationals’ rookie team in Florida, with his final season at Cal Poly highlighted with a 7-3 record and 81 strikeouts on 88 ⅓ innings pitched.
More specifically, with a 12-strikeout game against UC Riverside, and a complete-game showing against UC Davis in which he only allowed one run, Alvarez showed scouts this season that he doesn’t only have potential, but that he has progressed in his four years on the central coast.
On his potential within the Nationals’ system, Alvarez went into the specifics on why the team selected a player like himself.
“They’re not necessarily looking for the most successful guys in college,” Alvarez said. “I’m six foot three, lefty, and have four different pitches I have command over. My breaking ball is my best pitch. They can see all that potential.”
Alvarez also improved immensely in the 2021 season after starting 3-2 with an ERA of 6.75, putting up a 4-1 record and a 2.75 ERA in his final eight starts on the bump.
The factors that made the difference in Alvarez’s turnaround and overall success at Cal Poly are attributed to how head coach Lee runs the baseball program. Alvarez described it as a “huge combination of things” that add together to make Cal Poly a school “that gets guys drafted.”
Looking back on his time with the Mustangs, Alvarez’s highlight was a game from 2018 when Cal Poly played then-No. 4 ranked Arkansas. As a freshman near the bottom of the depth chart, he came in as a closer in the eighth inning with runners in scoring position, looking to keep the game tied.
Alvarez achieved the crucial out that gave Cal Poly the opportunity to take the lead in the top of the ninth and then got the side out in order in the ninth to secure the upset over the ranked Razorbacks.
Alvarez said that game highlighted his time at the university because “that showed me I belong [at Cal Poly]. I belong in Division 1 baseball.”
As for what he’ll miss, Alvarez agreed with Emmerson that it is the people in college baseball.
“Cal Poly is my home,” Alvarez said. “It’s the greatest city in California and it was the best four years of my life.”
While his time at Cal Poly was short, Woo showed enough promise as a right-handed pitcher to be drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the sixth round.
Being taken in the first 10 rounds is a major accomplishment for any player, as it is a heavy indicator that a team believes you have a real ability to play in the majors sooner rather than later.
“I feel very blessed and thankful to be in this position,” Woo said. “There is no way that I would be in this position without God and the great people around me.”
Woo’s story on how he found out he was drafted by the Mariners is a unique one, finding out the news while on vacation in Hawai’i.
“Fortunately my teammate Cole Cabrera lives on O’ahu so he was nice enough to let me and my family hang out at his house for the day,” Woo said on the draft day festivities. “It was really nice to have family and friends around for that day and during that moment.”
Draft day is something Woo has been waiting for for a long time.
“That day and that moment are something that you dream of as a kid so there’s really no way to describe it, but it was an unforgettable experience and I am so glad to have had them there with me,” Woo said.
A look at Woo’s statline won’t tell you much, with a career win-loss record of 4-7 and an ERA above 3.5 in all three of his seasons at Cal Poly. But the devil is in the details with a player like Woo, especially since two of his three seasons with the green and gold have been shortened due to the pandemic in 2020 and an unfortunate elbow injury in April’s series against Long Beach State that sidelined the righty for the rest of the 2021 season.
However, despite multiple shortened seasons, Seattle felt confident in Woo and signed him to a contract worth over $300,000 according to Cal Poly Athletics.
“I’m excited to play for the Mariners,” Woo said. “The biggest reason for that is their ability to map out a detailed process on how I can improve and develop.”
And that’s what Woo believes made him unique to those taken around him in the draft – his ability to improve.
“My make-up as a pitcher with my size, strength, mobility, and ability, combined with my potential to improve is what made me a unique prospect compared to other players,” Woo said.
Some of that ability was seen before his premature exit in the 2021 season, when he was a strikeout machine with 42 K’s in only 28 innings.
Woo is rehabbing with the team in their spring training facilities in Arizona as of now, while SB Nation’s Kate Preusser reports that the former Business Administration major is set to have Tommy John surgery in the near future.
When he is back on the mound for Seattle, Woo will look to repeat performances like his brilliant showings in wins against CSU Northridge and Long Beach State this past season, where he struck out seven and eight batters, respectively, without allowing a single run.
Despite only being on the central coast for three years, Woo says that the bonds he created in that amount of time are going to be what he’ll miss the most.
“I will definitely miss the guys on the team the most and those relationships that we built over the last few years,” Woo said. “I will be friends with some of those guys for the rest of my life.”