— UCLA Baseball (@UCLABaseball) July 18, 2014
UCLA ended the week on a great note.
Closer David Berg, named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year and a first-team All-American in 2013, elected to return to the Bruins for his senior season — turning down a chance to go pro after being selected by the Texas Rangers in the 17th round.
Shortly after his announcement, even bigger news dropped: the Houston Astros failed to sign a pair of high schoolers in No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken and fifth-round selection Jacob Nix. Both pitchers originally signed with UCLA in November, but could elect to enroll at a junior college or join an independent league, making themselves available to reenter the draft next year.
If they decide to go to UCLA, they will need to stay at least three years before going pro.
Regardless, Berg’s decision is a tremendous boon to a team that is coming off a 25-30-1 season, its worst mark since head coach John Savage first arrived on campus in 2005. He set the NCAA single-season record for saves (24) and appearances (51) during the UCLA’s 2013 title run.
Slightly limited by injury this past spring, he notched 11 saves in 31 appearances, logging a 1.50 ERA.
“We are excited to have David back for his senior year,” Savage said in a statement. “He is one of the premier closers in all of college baseball and was a key ingredient to our National Championship run in 2013. To have him back for one more season is special.
“His presence, work ethic and leadership will be a continued staple in our program. We believe he will have a long successful professional playing career after he graduates from UCLA.”
Three other Bruins drafted all agreed to terms with their teams: junior catcher Shane Zeile (5th round, Tigers); junior reliever Max Schuh (7th round, Orioles); and sophomore reliever Jake Ehret (14th round, Reds).
As for Aiken and Nix, the UCLA coaching staff will need to wait. In addition to choosing between UCLA or junior college, both could file a grievance with the league and potentially become free agents. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow also told the Houston Chronicle that he tried to negotiate with Aiken’s agent Casey Close, which could compromise his NCAA eligibility.
Aiken — who is the first top overall pick not to sign since 1983 — and Nix had agreed to $6.5 million and $1.5 million deals, respectively, but a medical examination revealed that Aiken had a smaller than usual ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow. When the Astros tried to lower their offer to Aiken, Nix’s deal was held up due in part to how MLB bonus pools work. (Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal has a good summary of the dispute.)
Nix may be the more likely bet to end up in Westwood. The Los Alamitos High product was rated the No. 104 prospect in this year’s draft by Baseball America, but also held a strong commitment to UCLA — something that likely dropped his stock a bit.