By Terry Bernal Daily Journal Staff
It has been a bittersweet season for Lucas Erceg — but Day 1 of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft was rife with ‘sweet.’
A junior transfer at Menlo College, Erceg was selected in the second round Thursday as the 46th overall draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers. The two-way player was tabbed by the Brewers to begin his professional career as a third baseman.
In 2016, his first season at Menlo, Erceg set the program’s all-time, single-season record with 20 home runs, finishing ahead of teammate Garrett Gemgnani, who initially broke the record earlier this year.
The left-handed slugger also worked as right-handed pitcher, though his ticket to the professional ranks is most certainly his bat, according to Oaks manager Jake McKinley. The hit tool impressed McKinley from the first time he saw Erceg take batting practice at Menlo’s Cartan Field.
“I’ll never forget it,” McKinley said. “He walked into the batter’s box and I’m excited to see this guy swing the bat. And first pitch he hit into the neighbor’s back yard and I was like, yeah, this guy is for real.”
Even though Erceg grew up 20 miles from the Menlo campus — a native of Campbell, he played three years of varsity baseball at Westmont High School — playing at the small NAIA college wasn’t on the junior’s radar a year ago. A transfer from Cal, Erceg played his first two collegiate seasons for the Golden Bears, and proved a legitimate offensive presence among the Division I ranks, batting .303 with 11 home runs as a sophomore in 2015.
Last summer, however, prior to his junior year, Erceg was declared academically ineligible by NCAA standards, forcing him to transfer from Cal. The news came just weeks after he signed a lease for a new apartment in Berkeley. But even more devastating was the feeling he let down his team.
“It felt like I hit rock bottom,” Erceg said. “Personally, I felt like I let a lot of people down … especially David Esquer, my head coach at Cal.”
The loss of Erceg cast a long shadow over Cal’s 2016 season. Despite entering the year ranked as the No. 8 team in the nation, the Golden Bears ultimately failed to make the NCAA postseason.
If draft order is an accurate gauge of talent, Erceg stood to be Cal’s best position player in 2016. The only Golden Bears player drafted ahead of the third baseman was coveted right-handed starting pitcher Daulton Jeffries, selected by the Oakland A’s in the Lottery A round with the 37th overall pick. Thirty selections after Erceg, the first Cal position player was selected by the Atlanta Braves with the 76th overall pick in the person of Pac-12 Player of the Year Brett Cumberland.
For Erceg, watching helplessly as Cal fell short of the playoffs was an excruciating ordeal.
“It’s definitely heartbreaking news,” Erceg said. “I definitely wanted to be there and help my team win. I feel like I let down my teammates, let down my coaches and let a lot of other people down.”
Cal’s loss was Menlo’s gain though. And with Erceg manning the hot corner — as well as serving as the team’s closer, notching six saves with a 0.78 ERA — the Oaks advanced to the Golden State Athletic Conference playoffs, only to fall in the championship game to The Master’s College 2-1 in 10 innings on May 11.
With the Oaks playing through the loser’s bracket of the double-elimination tournament, the previous day proved to be a historic one for Erceg. Locked in a race for the GSAC home run crown with teammate Garrett Gemgnani — who, during the regular season, initially broke the previous record — the two entered the GSAC tournament with 17 home runs apiece.
Through two wins on May 10 — 8-4 over Vanguard University; and 9-3 over Westmont College — Erceg blasted three home runs, becoming one of just six NAIA players to reach the 20-home run plateau this season. Gemgnani finished the year with 17.
For Erceg, whose home runs came in bunches this season, it was mighty flourish to his collegiate career in which he totaled 33 homers over three seasons.
“For us, his production came in waves,” McKinley said. “When he was going good he was as hard to get out as anybody I’ve ever seen. You could say he was a bit streaky, I guess. But that three home runs in one day, that’s as good as I’ve ever seen him.”
The home run record was tainted by more bittersweet for Erceg though, who refused to celebrate the achievement as the Oaks were focused on keeping their season alive. That mission ended the following day, when The Master’s College walked off with the GSAC tournament title.
Erceg’s legacy at Menlo extends beyond the home run record though. With his second-round selection Thursday, he became the highest draft pick in Oaks history, topping catcher Daniel Comstock who, last season, was drafted in the 18th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“I’m just really happy and excited that I get to move forward in my baseball career,” Erceg said. “I’m just going to let the new environment play out for me and I’m looking forward to get that chance.”
via San Mateo Daily Journal[/fusion_text]