At 6:30 a.m. on Thursday morning, Campbell (Calif.) Westmont two-way star Lucas Erceg faxed in his letter of intent to the basement of Haas Pavilion. It's been two years since Erceg first knew he wanted to be a member of the California baseball program, and nearly a year of working hard on his academics to get him to that point, and he's not about to stop working.
"It definitely excites me," says the 6-foot-3, 180-pound shortstop/right-handed pitcher. "I've always liked to challenge myself and play older guys, so I know, coming in, as a freshman, I'm going to get to play, so it's going to be a challenge for me, and I'm going to accept that challenge. I'm just going to go right after them."
Erceg came into this academic year with an admittedly poor 2.8 GPA, but finished strong and posted a 3.2 mark as a senior – a mark he's arguably more proud of than his 0.59 ERA.
"I'm not going to lie: I had a 2.7, 2.8. It wasn't really that good. I knew I could do better," says Erceg. "I guess there was a lot of family stuff going on at home, and I could say it distracted me, but I don't want to make excuses. A couple of things that they did to help me out was, they talked to admissions for me, and I also had to change a couple of my classes around in the second semester of this year. As soon as I changed that, I knew that the reality of it was starting to kick in. I had to upgrade my status, academically, and now I'm sitting at a 3.2."
His grades were a primary reason why the only program to come with a full offer other than the Bears was Utah, though he "talked with Stanford for a while," and had interest from Arizona, Long Beach State, Arizona State, UCLA, UC Davis, Santa Clara and San Jose State.
Erceg committed to the Bears before his senior season, but was unable to sign until all of his final numbers were in, including a 1520 SAT and a 22 on the ACT, not to mention his senior-year .437 batting average, .523 on-base percentage and eight stolen bases.
The primary reason Erceg committed to Cal was pitching coach Mike Neu, the former Miami closer and Oakland Athletics reliever, who just finished his second season as the Bears pitching coach.
"The moment I wanted to be a Bear was pretty much the first time I talked to Mike Neu," says Erceg. "I've actually known him for a while. I used to play on one of his travel ball teams. He was my coach then, and I liked the way he coached, and when he told me he was going to be a pitching coach at Cal, I was like, ‘Wow, that's a good program to start off with.'"
That relationship was key for Erceg, who will compete for innings right away as a true freshman, with recruiting classmates Trevin Haseltine, Daulton Jefferies and Alex Martinez, along with Andrew Buckley and Alex Schick.
"The experience I know Mike Neu has, as a pitching coach, he could really help me out. When he told me he was going to be an assistant coach there, it brought me into the program," says Erceg, who posted a 9-3 record in 15 appearances, including 14 starts, with six complete games in a total of 83.2 innings of work -- nearly 20 more than 6-foot-7 righty Ryan Mason worked in his final season at Auburn (Calif.) Placer, before taking over the Friday-night role as a true freshman in 2013.
"You know what, I'd have to say that I'm better at pitching," says Erceg, who also tallied 22 RBIs, 25 runs, eight doubles, one triple and one home run at the dish as a senior, walking 16 times and striking out just twice. "I enjoy playing the field and getting to play every game, but I realize that I'm a pitcher, and I think that's what's going to get me further in my baseball career. If I end up doing better as a pitcher, I'd be more than happy to pitch and get better as a pitcher."
Opposing hitters only tallied 55 hits in 305 at-bats against Erceg in 2013, as he notched 106 strikeouts to just 19 walks, with just nine extra-base hits allowed.
Erceg is a versatile hurler, sporting a low-to-mid 90s fastball, a slider, change up and even a show-me knuckleball.
"I can go to it regularly. It's more of a specific pitch that I should throw 0-2, somewhere down in the zone. I like to stick to my change up and my slider more," says Erceg. "The knuckleball is just there to throw to see another type of pitch that they weren't realizing was going to be there ... I always used to throw the knuckleball in games, and I have pretty good control of it; I'm not going to lie. It's gotten to the point where it's just a specialty pitch, and I only throw it on a few occasions."
Erceg is known for having a perpetual grin across his mug on the field, and is a self-described baseball junkie, which will fit in well with the work ethic of the likes of Haseltine, Max Dutto, Mitchell Kranson and Robbie Tenerowicz.
"In my offseason, when I'm not playing high school ball, I'm playing every single weekend with my travel ball team, trying to get a few extra hacks in," says Erceg. "It's not really the practice, but the games that count as my practice in my offseason. That's what really helps me, because I think that's the best form of practice ... I'm going to be playing as much as I can and getting my work in and getting ready for Cal."
Erceg profiles as a top-level pitcher and left-handed hitter, much like lefty Michael Theofanopoulos, who missed much of his junior season with a broken hand, as the Bears were wracked with injuries, including the broken leg of Derek Campbell, the hip surgery of College World Series veteran Vince Bruno, the injured shoulder of slugger Devon Rodriguez and the late-season broken finger of infielder Mike Reuvekamp.
With only Mason, lefty Kyle Porter and righty Trevor Hildenberger returning with any significant starting experience, it's expected that Erceg will be in the mix for midweek starts, with Haseltine, Jefferies, Jake Schulz and Collin Monsour also gunning for starting slots.
Erceg joins a very strong recruiting class that includes likely top draft pick John Riley, Cal legacy outfielder Aaron Knapp (who's brother Andrew was named first-team all-conference and is projected as a top-three-round draft pick), top-rated pitchers Haseltine and Jefferies, Schick, Martinez, Buckley and Tenerowicz -- one of the best pure hitters in the class.
Erceg Inks LOI
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