Recruiting always brings a great deal of hope to college sports fans, who believe multiple four- and five-star prospects signing with their school will change everything.
And sometimes it works out — Michigan’s “Fab Five” in college basketball is a classic example of that.
Now, baseball is a little different when it comes to recruiting those four- and five-star recruits because of the MLB draft. But putting the draft aside, UCLA’s signing class this year is loaded.
The Bruins inked the nation’s top right-hander in Lucas Giolito and left-hander in Max Fried, both from Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.), though Giolito recently found out he could be out of action for up 10 weeks after spraining the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
Because of Giolito and Fried, Hunter Virant often gets lost in the shuffle in UCLA’s recruiting class, but the Camarillo (Calif.) senior left-hander has plenty of talent himself.
“It’s as good a pitching class as I’ve seen, and (Virant) is a huge reason why,” said a Pac-12 assistant coach. “The kids at Harvard-Westlake get all the attention with good reason, but you watch this kid pitch and you realize that he’s got just as much talent as anyone in the state. That’s going to be one heck of a weekend rotation.”
Rated the nation’s No. 3 left-hander by ESPNHS, Virant went 6-1 last year with a 1.54 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 50 innings pitched, threw a perfect game against Rio Mesa (Oxnard, Calif.) and was named the Pacific View League pitcher of the year. As a reward for his strong season, he was selected to participate in the 2011 Prospect Classic -- a matchup of USA Baseball’s 18U and collegiate national teams --and this summer’s Area Code Games, where he was selected to the New Balance All-Area Code team.
“Being able to play in the Area Code Games is a great honor for any high school baseball player,” said Virant. “One of the more interesting aspects is being around all these different players and seeing the different types of characters. Whenever a team of new players is able to get along, it strengthens the team’s ability to win and play together better. ”
Virant has looked strong once again this season, fanning eight in a recent win over Oaks Christian (Westlake Village, Calif.). And while he’s looking forward to becoming a Bruin, one thing that could stand in the way of him pitching in Steele Field in 2013 is the MLB Draft. ESPN Insider senior baseball analyst Keith Law saw Virant at the Southern California Invitational this February and graded his changeup as the best at the event. He also rates Virant as the draft's No. 17 overall prospect.
So while he might not get the hype of his potential future teammates, Hunter Virant is proving he’s a name to watch this season.
Christopher Crawford is the founder and executive editor of MLB Draft Insider and a contributor to Prospect Insider. Follow him on Twitter @CrawfordChrisV.