Michael Theofanopoulos doesn't know exactly where he's headed, unlike Derek Campbell, who is leaving to start his pro baseball career for the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday. Thoefanopoulos just knows that he's going to be a professional baseball player.
The former California left-handed pitcher was picked up on Saturday by the Minnesota Twins in the 30th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, with the 890th overall pick, concluding a career that began with a bang – a walk-off double against Oregon and a late-inning three-run home run at Stanford during the storied 2011 College World Series season.
"That's going to be something that's stuck in my head for the rest of my life, especially playing Stanford," Theofanopoulos reflected on Sunday, when he was finally able to shake free from the whirlwind that accompanies recently-drafted players. "That was just one of the coolest experiences I've ever been a part of. I know we were down like 8-0 when that happened, but the moment, I'll never forget that moment. That was a cool experience to be able to hit a homer at Stanford."
Theofanopoulos had only thrown for one scout in the run-up to the draft, and had no idea that the Twins would be taking him before he saw his name flash on his computer screen.
"It was kind of a weird deal, well, not a weird deal, but I was anticipating actually the Padres taking me, originally, because I'd talked to them a couple of times before and we struck up a deal, so I was thinking I was going to get drafted by them," said Theofanopoulos. "All of the sudden, I heard my name get called from the Twins. They didn't call me before, like a lot of the other teams. They kind of just picked me, and then I got the phone call after."
Instead of joining fellow former Bears hurler Tyson Ross in San Diego, Theofanopoulos will join former teammate Trevor Hildenberger, who was taken by Minnesota in the 22nd round.
"I'm super excited," Theofanopoulos said. "It makes a world of difference to be able to go into a new environment, a new team, everything, a new culture. To have someone that you know, it definitely eases the process and everything. I'm super excited, and I'm glad that me and him get to continue on being on the same team, and even Derek, too, he gets to play with Knapp."
Theofanopoulos and Hildenberger mark the second pair of former Cal teammates to be taken in the same draft by the same team, with fellow 2011 teammates Marcus Semien and Erik Johnson being taken by the Chicago White Sox in the 2011 draft. Johnson and Semien, as it happens, made their Major League debuts on the same day against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium last season.
"That was one of the coolest things I've ever gotten to see, was seeing those two, I was on the same team with them, and both of them getting picked by the same team, and then also making their debut together, I don't think there's another pair like that," Theofanopoulos said. "It's one of those things where we all get together, one night, maybe we're playing poker, doing something like that, and it's a conversation that sparks, like, ‘Man, I want to keep playing with you guys. We're close. I love you guys, and it would be really cool if some of us could get that opportunity to be on the same team,' and it happened, which is just an unbelievable feeling."
Theofanopoulos went 1-4 in 2014, with 21 strikeouts in 23.1 innings, including recording a career-high nine strikeouts in 6.0 innings on Feb. 23 versus Arkansas Pine Bluff at the Tiger Classic in Auburn, Ala., in a season marked by a two-month sabbatical from the team, in order to get his academics in order.
The lefty from Pleasanton (Calif.) Foothill finished his career with a 4-10 record on the mound and a 5.02 ERA, with 77 strikeouts and 58 walks in 104.0 innings. His tenure on the mound was marked by plus stuff – like his low-90s fastball and devastating curve – but lots of inconsistency, something Theofanopoulos readily acknowledges.
"Just talking to [pitching coach] Mike [Neu] and talking to a few people, even players – I try to learn from players; even a guy like Daulton Jefferies, who's a freshman, I try to learn from him because he's very mature in the game and I tend to look quite a ways into the game," Theofanopoulos said. "If I go out there and strike out the side the first inning, I'm worrying about throwing a no-hitter that day, instead of taking it one pitch at a time, one out a time, and I think that's what gets me into trouble a little bit."
Theofanopoulos came in as a two-way player, but didn't start pitching collegiately until his sophomore season. He finished his Cal career with a .283 batting average in 27 games, with nine RBIs, three doubles and two home runs. It was hitting, in fact, that caused him to miss the majority of the 2013 season, when, diving back to first while getting picked off against Utah, he broke his left hand.
"I had to take that shameful walk back [to the dugout], too," Theofanopoulos said. "It wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. I came back in the summer right after and had a really good summer. I was feeling healthy, feeling strong. If anything, I don't want to say that the broken hand was a good thing, but in a way, it let me kind of step back. I was getting into my own head a little bit, during that time. It was a blessing in disguise."
Before his final season, Theofanopoulos decided to give up hitting and focus on pitching, which paid off early, as scouts were able to see some of his best work against stalwarts Texas and Arkansas.
"It was a really difficult decision," Theofanopoulos said. "I still, to this day, love hitting, and if there's ever that opportunity, I'd still love to do that. I just made that decision this year, because I knew my career was coming to a point where I had to move in with it professionally. If that was going to be the case, I knew that pitching was ultimately going to be the thing that I had to do."
His five shutout innings against the College World Series-bound Longhorns and his seven strikeouts against the Razorbacks showed enough for scouts to take notice of his projectability as a professional pitcher.
"From what I've heard, I think a lot of them, off the reports, were just really taking me for what I showed early on this season, because I had pretty good starts against a couple top-25 teams, so I think that definitely helped a lot," Theofanopoulos said. "I think over my career, they got to see some flashes, some good flashes. The consistency wasn't always there, so that's one thing I hope to work on in pro ball, but they definitely got to see flashes of what I think they like, and that was enough to ultimately pick me."
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