Each of the past four men to regularly man first base for the California baseball program are currently playing professional baseball. Three of those four – Chris Paul, Mark Canha and David Cooper – were drafted in the top seven rounds of the Major League Draft.
It remains to be seen what projected 2016 starter Nick Halamandaris does with his opportunity this coming spring, but if he can manage to stay healthy this offseason, he's shown that he can absolutely punish the baseball. Beyond next season, though, the Bears didn't have a clear successor to that first base legacy. Until Friday.
While on an unofficial visit to campus, powerful Newport Beach (Calif.) Sage Hill slugger Conner Bock committed, giving the 2016 class its eighth member.
“Taking baseball aside, I wanted to find a place I’d be comfortable at, at school, because you never know what can happen with playing time or whatever,” Bock said. “If I’m not playing on the field for whatever reason, I still want to be comfortable at the school. I like the campus. The facilities were amazing, and the town surrounding it was pretty cool.”
Bock has followed Paul – who grew up in nearby Aliso Viejo – and current starting shortstop Preston GrandPre, who grew up in Laguna Beach, Calif. -- just over seven miles away from Bock – during their careers at Cal.
“It’s good to see what they’ve done, and what players who go to that program can do,” Bock said.
Bock sports a 3.5 GPA headed into his senior year, during which he and the rest of the Sage Hill Lightning will try to repeat as league champs, following a 12-0 league season and a 20-7 overall record in 2015.
As a junior, the big-hitting lefty earned first-team all-league honors, hitting .333 with 34 RBIs, four doubles, four triples and six home runs, reaching base via error five times, taking five HBPs and walking 20 times to 23 strikeouts and posting a 1.199 OPS.
Over the past two seasons, Bock has hit .390, with nine home runs and 63 RBIs over a span of 49 games, and at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, he already fits the mold of the college first baseman. He shows good strength through contact and the ability to drive the ball to all fields, and could very well be a standout defender at first. While he hasn’t played any other sports since the age of 12, Bock is very athletic, particularly considering his size.
Bock played primarily the corner outfield positions this past season, and runs a 7.0-second 60-yard dash (the same kind of baseline speed test that the 40-yard dash is for football), which is above average for a player of his size at his positions (corner outfield and first base). While that’s not blazing speed, it was good enough for him to swipe 16 bases this past season in 19 chances.
“We had a freshman and a sophomore at first base, so a lot of versatility over there, this year, and my coach wanted me in the outfield because I can cover some ground,” Bock said. “I played a lot of outfield, and once we had an injury over at first, I manned the corner for the rest of the season.”
Bock also pitches – he went 4-3 with a 2.37 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 38.1 innings as a bullpen lefty, with one save in 10 appearances – but he’s going to be a position player in college to keep that big bat in the lineup.
“They like my versatility,” Bock said. “My primary is first base, but I can play outfield, too. Freshman year, I’ll be fighting for that spot over at first, but the versatility opens up a corner outfield spot, if I need to.”
When pitching coach and recruiting coordinator Mike Neu first saw Bock, in fact, he was playing the outfield during the Junior Olympics at the end of June.
Neu was impressed enough to offered him after watching a game, and during that phone call, Bock also got to speak with other members of the coaching staff. With the Bears’ legacy of pro first basemen, it sounded like a good fit. Still, though, he wanted to see them – and the campus – in person.
“I wanted to visit and meet the coaches, before I made up my mind,” Bock said. “I had some other schools to talk to, and I wanted to meet the coaches and get a feel for it.”
Bock held an offer from UC-Santa Barbara, who offered right before he visited Berkeley, with interest from USC, Cal Poly-SLO and Arizona State.
“Those were schools I was talking to earlier, and when I got the Cal offer, those were heading into that [offer] direction, I felt like,” Bock said.
For two years in high school, Bock got to play with his older brother, Colby, who just finished his freshman year at USC, but just because his big brother’s a Trojan didn’t mean that he wanted to play his college ball at Dedeaux Field.
“After talking to the coaches, and looking at the class that USC has, their 2016 class is a full class, and, with Cal, I would have the opportunity to start as a freshman, whereas that might not be as possible going to USC,” Bock said.
After seeing Bock work the outfield at the Junior Olympics showcase on Father’s Day weekend, Cal saw Bock at first during Area Code Games tryouts last Tuesday.
“They saw me at the Area Code tryouts over at first base, and liked my work at first. They were impressed with that, and said that I have a chance to fight for a spot over there,” Bock said.
Three days later, Bock came up to visit Berkeley, and knew on the spot that he wanted to be a Bear.
“Once I went up there and met the coaches, it just felt like that was the right fit,” Bock said. “I first talked to Neu, and we stayed in touch the whole time, up until we came up, and once I met with him and Brad Sanfilipo, he was the one who took us around campus, and then I met with coach [David] Esquer, and that’s when we sealed the deal.”
Bock's addition to the 2016 class gives the Bears power bats on both sides of the plate, with outfielder/pitcher Max Flower swinging a big stick from the right side. Cal led the Pac-12 in home runs this season, and it's looking like, with every position player other than Paul returning for 2016, and the addition of outfield signee Lorenzo Hampton, Cal is far from done playing long ball.