Four Toreros drafted to MLB teams this summer
NOAH HILTON | CONTRIBUTOR
The University of San Diego has a reputation for producing top-end baseball talent.
The program’s baseball legacy likely begins with crown jewel Kris Bryant, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year and a centerpiece of the Chicago Cubs’ budding championship aspirations. But it’s more than just a one-man show.
USD alumnus, Brian Matusz, a long time Baltimore Oriole, and more recently a Chicago Cub, pitched in 280 major league games before recently being sent to the minor leagues. Right handed pitcher A.J. Griffin of the Texas Rangers is a former Torero.
Kyle Holder, a 2015 first round pick of the New York Yankees, and Connor Joe, a 2014 first rounder nabbed by the Pittsburgh Pirates, also spent their college days at Alcalá Park.
This summer, USD added four more ballplayers to the professional ranks. Infielder, Bryson Brigman, was drafted in the third round by the Seattle Mariners, and first baseman, Ryan Kirby, was picked up in the 12th round by the San Francisco Giants.
Following closely behind them were two pitchers: Gary Cornish, a 19th round pick of the New York Mets, and Taylor Kaczmarek, a 40th round selection of the Kansas City Royals.
Brigman, a two-time All-West Coast Conference first team selection as a Torero, overcame early injury struggles last spring to hit a team-leading .372 in 2015, scoring 31 runs and chipping in 22 RBI.
An athletic player who thrives on putting the ball in play and using his speed to put pressure on the defense, Brigman’s skill set and elite production at the college level caught the eye of the Mariners, who made him the 87th overall pick in the 2016 Major League Baseball draft.
In a recent interview with The USD Vista, Brigman shared a funny anecdote about the moment he learned the Mariners had taken him.
“When I got the call that I had been picked, I was actually still in bed,” Brigman said. “I was super stoked when I heard though; it was an awesome feeling.”
The 5-foot-11-inch, 180-pound infielder now plays for the Mariners’ Low-A team, the Everett Aquasox, in the short-season Northwest League. He may only be batting .252, but a .371 on-base percentage and a strikeout-to-walk rate of nearly 1:1 is certainly nothing to scoff at.
Combine that with 15 stolen bases and 44 runs in his brief 56-game stint so far, and Brigman is quickly establishing himself as a potential top-of-the-lineup piece of the Mariners’ future. Already, Brigman says he has turned double plays with Mariners’ rookie shortstop Ketel Marte. He has also played defense behind 2010 Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez when they came to Everett for rehab assignments.
Of course big leaguers dropping by the clubhouse also adds an air of luxury.
“They also buy great food for the postgame spreads,” Brigman said. “Which is definitely a plus.”
Taken nine rounds after Brigman was another former Torero, left-handed hitting first baseman Ryan Kirby. Kirby’s powerful production at the plate in college allowed him to bounce back from a midseason knee injury in 2016.
The 21-year-old Kirby batted .344 on the year with six homers and 32 RBI despite missing 21 games with the injury.
That performance ended up being enough for the Giants, the same team that picked him as a graduating high-schooler in 2013, to draft him again this year. Kirby’s athletic ability and smooth, easy swing from the left side led scouts to feel confident about his future potential at the plate.
While he says that playing daily games has been a big change from his USD days, the adjustments haven’t managed to slow his performance in any way against the tougher competition of professional baseball.
Kirby also says that he has a familiarity with the Pacific Northwest.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve lived in the Northwest for an extended period of time,” Kirby said. “I played summer baseball in Bellingham, Washington, a few years back so I felt comfortable coming here. The biggest difference is I’m playing games every single day compared to only a few times a week back in San Diego.”
Kirby played just two games with the Giants’ Arizona League team before being promoted to the organization’s Low-A team, the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. He has continued hitting with the Volcanoes, batting a respectable .257 with a .335 on-base percentage and 25 RBI in 47 games with the team.
Despite being moved up baseball’s proverbial ladder, Kirby has not lost the joy that made him fall in love with the game as a kid.
“The best part of playing professional baseball is that I get paid to play a kid’s game,” Kirby said. “It’s something I always dreamed of as a kid, to play baseball for a living really is a dream come true.”
Playing in the same league as former teammate Brigman has even led to a few match-ups between the two.
“I’ve gotten to play Brigman on two separate occasions so far,” Kirby said. “It’s always fun to play against former teammates and friends. The friendships I’ve made through baseball are very strong.”
Cornish and Kaczmarek have also already shone in their admittedly brief professional careers. Cornish, playing for the Brooklyn Cyclones of the short-season New York-Penn League, has racked up an impressive 20 strikeouts in just 13 innings to go along with a measly 2.08 ERA.
Meanwhile, Kaczmarek, whose inspirational victory over a 2012 leukemia diagnosis has continued to spur his ascent through the baseball ranks, has yet to give up a run in 10.2 innings while pitching for the Royals’ Arizona League team.
As for recommendations for the incoming class of 2020, a few took the chance to offer noteworthy advice to help the newest generation of Toreros find success in and around the Linda Vista neighborhood.
“Matador is a great place to grab a quick bite to eat when you’re tired of food on campus,” Brigman said. “I would also try to avoid 8 a.m. classes as much as possible.”
Kirby also shared his advice for the incoming class, imploring them to explore their interests and run with them.
“My advice to any freshman is to enjoy it because it does go by extremely fast,” Kirby said. “Use the four years at USD to find something you are passionate about. Do everything you possibly can because you never know what your true passion may be.”
If their ascents through the baseball ranks continue, soon it may be Brigman and Kirby’s turn to take advice. This time, they hope the advice will be coming from Major League baseball coaches and players.