On the heels of what he called one of his most rewarding seasons, UC Irvine baseball coach Mike Gillespie is understandably excited to be remaining at the Anteaters helm.
UCI Athletic Director Mike Izzi has said a contract extension will be signed soon and it is believed that the contract will keep the 74-year-old Hall of Fame coach in charge through the 2018 campaign.
"Nothing is signed yet, but I think there is reason to believe it is going to happen," said Gillespie, who was named 2014 National Coach of the Year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Assn. "I feel lucky to tell you the truth. We'll keep the faith that it works out and that nobody regrets it in a year."
Gillespie said the 2014 team's surprising run to the College World Series, where the Anteaters went 1-2 and finished fifth, was "on the short list of the most gratifying experiences I've ever had in coaching.
"I really felt going into the playoffs that in spite of what had happened those last three weeks [of the regular-season], that we got about as much out of this group as we could. I thought these players gave as much and, for the most part, performed up to the level they were capable of, about as well as any team I've ever had, maybe better than any team I've had."
•Among the brightest stars on that 41-25 UCI team, who were drafted and have signed with major league organizations, were All-American pitcher Andrew Morales, third baseman Taylor Sparks, first baseman Connor Spencer and shortstop Chris Rabago.
Gillespie estimated that Morales, the Big West Pitcher or the Year who owns UCI career records for winning percentage (.913 after going 21-2 in his two seasons, following a 21-1 run at Rio Hondo Community College), and earned-run average (1.68), earned $500,000 as a second-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Gillespie said that as a college pitcher, Morales compares favorably to fellow "short right-handers" and first-round picks Ian Kennedy and Seth Etherton, whom he coached at USC, as well as Tim Lincecum, whom Gillespie coached against when Lincecum was at Washington.
"In my experience, Morales [5-11, 195 pounds, unrecruited out of high school and undrafted after a 10-0 junior season], is really one of the best stories of all-time," Gillespie said. "When [MLB] people would ask, at the end, I talked about those three other short right-handers I had seen go in the first round and eventually pitch in the big leagues. I had Etherton and Kennedy and, in the [Pac-10] at the same time as Kennedy was Lincecum.
"Etherton was Sporting News Player of the Year, a first-team All-American and the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year, who was drafted as a senior in the first round by the Angels, after being a ninth-round pick by the Cardinals the previous year," Gillespie said. "And Etherton, whose career ended due to injury after he reached the big leagues, basically has the same body as Morales.
"Kennedy, who was up to 6-1, has had up-and-down success but he was [fourth in Cy Young Award voting in 2011], and Lincecum won two Cy Young Awards [2008 and 2009]," Gillespie said. "And Morales is what they were as college pitchers, which is high praise. There is reason to believe that [Morales] will pitch in the big leagues."
•Gillespie said Rabago, a 13th-round pick of the Colorado Rockies, signed for around $100,000. Gillespie said he was mildly surprised to lose Rabago, whom he did not think would be drafted as high, not because of his ability, but because of a balky right throwing shoulder that hindered him the last two months of the UCI season.
•Sam Moore, an All-American whose 23 saves in a breakout junior season set UCI and Big West Conference single-season records, is expected to return after being drafted in the 40th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Moore, along with catcher Jerry McCLanahan, a junior in 2014, are currently playing in the Cape Cod League, while second baseman-outfielder Grant Palmer and pitcher Kyle Davis are toiling this summer in the Alaska summer league.
•Also among the Anteaters taking summer jobs on the diamond are incoming freshmen Shaun Vetrovec, a product of Newport Harbor High, and Cole Kreuter, Gillespie's grandson. Vetrovec, playing for Wenatchee, Wash., and Kreuter, playing for Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, are both in the West Coast League. Gillespie said they are the first incoming freshman at UCI to be placed with summer league teams before officially stepping on campus in the fall.
•Gillespie said none of the members of the strong recruiting class were poached by the Major League Draft, yet another contributing factor to his excitement about the program's potential in 2015.
Gillespie noted that Cameron Bishop (a two-way prospect out of Brea Olinda High) , Vetrovec and Cypress College transfer Matt Esparza, a pitcher, likely would have been drafted, had they not been open with scouts about their desire to attend college.