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Bulls in the Pros: 2017 MLB Draft Edition

It’s been nearly a month since the MLB Entry Draft — let’s see how some of our favorite Bulls are doing with their first taste of pro ball.

USF Baseball

SS Kevin Merrell, Vermont Lake Monsters (Oakland A’s) - 1st round, signed for $1.8 million

The former Bulls shortstop and spark atop of the order has continued doing what he did at USF in professional baseball: hit. Merrell is slashing .355/.344/.452 through Wednesday night.

In his first game for the Lake Monsters, he went 2-for-5, and he’s recorded a hit in all seven games he has played in. He celebrated Independence Day with his best game to date: 3-for-4, two runs, a double and a stolen base.

The one thing lacking so far for Merrell in the pros is drawing walks. He has yet to walk, but has struck out seven times. He had a nearly even K:BB ratio for the Bulls.

RHP Phoenix Sanders, Princeton Rays (Tampa Bay Rays) - 10th round, signed for $7,500

Being a “senior sign” has its drawbacks in terms of signing bonus, especially when the slot value was around $136k. But if signing for less means you’ll get drafted, then you do it.

Sanders got off to a rocky start in his pro debut on June 25, giving up two runs and four hits in two innings, including a home run. He did manage three strikeouts in the outing, so he can still rack up the K’s at the next level.

He fared much better in his second outing on June 29, giving up just two hits in three innings while striking out three.

It will be interesting to see how he fares the more he progresses through the minors. He doesn’t have an overpowering fastball (89-91 MPH) so he has to rely on great pitch selection and command of his curveball and slider to get outs. He’ll need to outwork everyone, and we all know he will not give up when he’s on the mound.

Just think about it: Brandon Lawson and Phoenix Sanders in the Rays rotation one day. Ya never know.

RHP Joe Cavallaro, Kingsport Mets (New York Mets) - 24th round, signed for $100,000

Former head coach Mark Kingston said before the 2017 season that Cavallaro’s stuff plays better in the bullpen than in the rotation, where he spent most of the previous two seasons. Kingston was right. Cavallaro saw his fastball gain a few MPH from the high-80s to the low-90s, and his breaking pitches were much sharper.

Cavallaro was lights out from the bullpen for the Bulls this past season, and the Mets rewarded him by drafting him in the 24th round and giving him a $100,000 signing bonus.

He had a great debut on June 29, throwing a perfect inning and recording a strikeout on just eight pitches (six for strikes). Last night was not so smooth. He was touched for two runs in an inning of work last night while walking two and only throwing 10 of his 19 pitches for strikes.

Cavallaro walked just 18 batters in 2017 for the Bulls, so being wild is not in his nature. He has a chance to be an effective middle reliever going forward.

RHP Ryan Valdes, GCL Pirates (Pittsburgh Pirates) - 33rd round, signed for $2,000

Coming off Tommy John surgery, Valdes didn’t quite regain his 2015 form, when he had a 3.47 ERA for the Bulls. But he showed enough flashes to get drafted. He did lead the team in wins this past season with nine, if wins are meaningful to you.

Valdes has gotten off to a great start with the Gulf Coast League Pirates, giving up just one hit in 3 23 innings with five strikeouts. Today Ryan had a two-inning, two-strikeout performance against the Phillies’ GCL team.

You can catch him play around the Bay Area during the GCL season because of the close proximity to the New York Yankees, Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays facilities. The Yankees have two (2) GCL teams, which should probably tell you everything you need to know about them. Most of the time, you can just walk in and watch the games for free. I covered the Tampa Yankees for two seasons and saw some great talent and competitive matchups in those GCL games.