The University of Connecticut, according to Baseball Almanac, has produced the small total of 16 baseball players who have made it to the Major Leagues since Walt Dropo, the first, played for the Red Sox from 1949 to 1952. Dropo hit .322 with 34 homers and 144 RBI’s in 1950 to win the Rookie of the Year Award. He beat out future Hall of Fame Pitcher Ed ‘Whitey’ Ford of the Yankees, who was had won nine games and lost just one, getting 15 first place votes to Ford’s six to win the Award. Chico Carasquel finished third.
Despite the rare occasion when UConn players make the big time, in 2009, the freshman class at the University included five UConn roster players who would make it to the big leagues. One of those, Mike Olt, who signed with the Texas Rangers and played in three seasons with the Rangers, Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox was out of baseball before the 2017 season began. He hit just .168 in 135 games in the Big Leagues but had the distinction of being the first player in history to homer for both the Cubs and White Sox in the same season. UConn Head Coach Jim Penders, who has been in the position for 14 years and has been with the baseball program there for 26 years including playing as an undergraduate, has produced some strong teams and good players but the class entering in 2009 has to be the best.
The other four players in that class, Nick Ahmed, Scott Oberg, George Springer and Matt Barnes all played for Major League teams that made the Playoffs in 2017. In addition, Rajai Davis, picked up by the Red Sox from the Oakland Athletics on August 23, 2017, and who was with the Sox in the Playoffs, graduated from the University of Connecticut’s satellite at Groton, before going on to the Big Leagues.
The University of Arizona and the University of Virginia each had seven players on Playoff Rosters in 2017, with UConn, LSU, Rice and UCLA tied for the second most at five each. If you notice, all the other five schools are from much warmer climates conducive to longer playing seasons and more time for skill development.
Most people who follow the game will be familiar with what George Springer did in the post season and regular season. Drafted by the Astros, 11th in the first round of the 2011 draft, he made his Big League debut on April 16, 2014. Playing in 140 regular season games, the center fielder for the Houston Astros, hit .283 with 34 home runs and 85 RBI’s, made the All Star team and won a Silver Slugger this year. In the first round of the Playoffs he went 7-17, a .412 average, against the Red Sox but, in the ALCS, he was just 3-26 as Astros just got by the Yankees. In the World Series, he was a one man wrecking crew, batting .379 with 11 hits in 29 at bats, five homers and seven RBI’s and was named the Series Most Valuable Player.
Matt Barnes, a right handed reliever was a mainstay in the Red Sox bullpen all year. Like Springer, he was drafted in the first round, 19th pick, in the 2011 draft, by the Red Sox, and made his Big League debut on September 9, 2014. Despite appearing in 70 games during the season, striking out 83 in 70 innings, and compiling a 3.88 ERA, he was left off the active roster for the Playoffs after having back problems and missing much of August.
Nick Ahmed, drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the second round of that same 2011 draft, was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in January of 2013 and made his Major League debut on June 29, 2014. The short stop and utility infielder played in 53 games in 2017, with 42 hits in 167 at bats for a .251 average. He has played in 301 games in his four years with the D’Backs and averaged .226. He did not make the D’Backs NLDS roster.
Scott Oberg, a relief pitcher, was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 15th round of the 2012 draft and made his debut with the Rockies on April 14, 2015. In 2017, he appeared in 66 games in relief and had an ERA of 4.94. The Rockies were eliminated in the Wild Card Game by the Diamondbacks but Oberg came in in relief, in the Wild Card game, with a runner on third and one out, in the second inning and struck out Paul Goldschmidt and J. D. Martinez to get out of the inning. He was then pinch hit for in the third as the Rockies went on to lose 11-8.
Rajai Davis, who made his Major League debut on August 14, 2006, after being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the fifth round of the 2001 draft, had played for Pittsburgh, Oakland, Toronto, Detroit, Cleveland before coming to the Red Sox. He batted .235 between Cleveland and Boston in 2017 with 29 stolen bases and only got into one ALDS game and didn’t get to bat against the Indians.
In 2016, with Cleveland, he went 5-22 in the World Series against the Cubs and forced the Cubs into extra innings in Game 7, with a dramatic, two run, two out homer off Aroldis Chapman in the last of the eighth to tie the score at 6-6. He then came up in the last of the tenth, with two out and
the Indians trailing 8-6, and drove in Brandon Guyer with a single off Carl Edwards to make it 8-7 only to have the rally fall short and the Indians lost the Series.
UConn, like most of the New England State Universities, has not had as many players make it to the Big Leagues as many of the southern and western power programs but in 2017 and also in 2016, the school left its mark on the season, the Playoffs and World Series.