USC: Mike Moustakas

Baseball: Trojans keep one signee, lose one

August, 16, 2010
In one week on the job, interim USC baseball coach Frank Cruz has already done what former coach Chad Kreuter often failed to do in four years: get top signees to forgo professional contracts and enroll in school.

Cruz, a volunteer assistant for the Trojans for the last two years, lost one big signee early Monday. But as the 9 p.m. PST deadline neared, Cruz secured the comitment of a top prospect Monday and got another highly-regarded player to return to school.

Junior-college right-hander Austin Wood, a fourth-round selection of the Tampa Bay Rays, did not sign with the organization. He will fly to Los Angeles on Wednesday and begin attending classes on Monday. Redshirt junior Andrew Triggs, who was selected in the 24th round by the Cleveland Indians, also did not sign and will return to school on Wednesday -- where he has two years of eligibility left.

Cruz called Triggs a "hidden gem." Combined with Wood, the two could make for a fairly formidable Friday and Saturday night duo come the start of the season in February.

"We’re not happy about it, we’re elated about it," Cruz said by phone late Monday night, just after the 9 p.m. PST deadline passed. "That’s something the program’s been working on for a long time, getting these kind of high-profile guys to come to school.

"We did it today."

Wood, a hard-throwing 6-foot-4, 220-pounder, was the the surprise of the Cape Cod Baseball League this summer, posting a 0.74 ERA in 36 1/3 innings. Late Monday, the Rays offered him a contract at well-above the major-league recommended level for his selection, only to have the pitcher counter-offer for a significantly higher figure, according to Cruz.

Talks broke off at that point late Monday.

Outfielder Joc Pederson, profiled here, agreed to a deal worth $600,000 earlier in the day with the Dodgers. He had told teams he would require $1 million to forgo his college career at USC, but he seemed to become less enthused about the possibility of going to school when Kreuter was fired last week. Pederson said then that it was "frustrating" to find out about the coaching switch.

"I think he made the best decision for himself," Cruz said. "The Dodgers did a great job getting him to sign."

In four years as the head coach, Kreuter signed perhaps more top prospects than any other coach in the nation, but those players frequently ended up signing with professional teams and never coming to school -- like Mike Moustakas, of the Royals' organization, and Tim Beckham, a Rays' minor-leaguer.

The retention of Wood makes for a fairly big step, although Kreuter had been counting on Pederson to step right into the center field for the Trojans and hit in the top third of the order.

The other four USC signees who were selected -- including Puerto Rican outfielder Omar Cotto-Lozada, a 12th-round selection of the Toronto Blue Jays -- are expected to begin attending classes Monday.

One-on-one with Joc Pederson

August, 2, 2010
Outfielder Joc Pederson, an 11th-round selection of the Los Angeles Dodgers, has a big decision to make.

Pederson, who signed a letter of intent to attend USC in the fall and play baseball there next spring, must decide whether to attend college for at least the next three years and postpone a professional career -- or sign for a hefty amount of money (think high six figures) and immediately head to the not-so-glamorous life of rookie ball, beginning his trek up to the majors.

And he has to decide in the next two weeks. The deadline for draft selections to sign with the teams that drafted them is at 9 p.m. PST on Aug. 16.

In the meantime, Pederson is finishing up a summer spent in Hawaii, playing for the Waimea Waves of the Hawaii Collegiate Baseball League and leading his team in on-base percentage and hits. The Waves (playoff run will end by Thursday, after which Pederson will head home to Palo Alto, Calif., bunker down and make his decision.

Here's a recent phone interview with the highly-touted outfielder, who USC baseball coach Chad Kreuter calls "an impact player in the Pac-10 immediately:"

Pedro Moura: So, to sum it up, what’s this whole decision-making process like? How are you deciding when you’re away from your parents for the summer and all?

Joc Pederson: Well, we talked about it before I came out, a lot before the draft even happened, and we made up a number that we thought was enough – like life-changing money, you know – and if they gave us the number then I was gonna sign and if they didn’t give us the number then I was just gonna go to USC. Either they were gonna give me the money or they weren’t.

PM: Is it nerve-wracking at all, to know that in a couple weeks you’re going to have to make a decision that will determine a lot of your future in baseball?

JP: I’m not really nervous. I’m excited for both things. If I go to pro ball I’d be really happy but if I go to USC I’d still be really excited to go to college.

PM: Have you gone back and forth at all? Are there some days when you wake up and say ‘I’m going to college,’ and some days you say, ‘I’m taking the money?’

JP: Yeah, definitely. Some days I think, ‘OK, I want to go meet a lot of new people and hang out and have a good time, but then some days it’s like ‘I don’t want to go through all the homework and write essays and I just want to play baseball every day. They both have their pros and cons.

PM: What about your parents’ stances on the topic? Obviously your dad, Stu Pederson, who went to USC and went on the majors for a season, is qualified to advise you on this.

JC: My dad is more pro ball, my mom is more college. And yeah, he wants me to do what makes me happy. He says that either way it’s going to be a grind. At SC, you’re gonna be there late, training and hating stuff in the fall, before the season starts. But he says that, yeah, pro ball is hard, but if your dream is to play in the major leagues then percentages say that the majority of position players in the major leagues signed out of high school.

PM: Does the fact that the USC baseball program – historically one of the top programs in the nation – has struggled in recent years under Chad Kreuter play any role in your decision?

JP: A little bit. But I really like Coach Kreuter and the style that he coaches. One of the reasons that I like it there is it’s more about pro ball. Coach Kreuter was in the majors for so long and he knows exactly how it is. It’s hard making the decision because I want to go play for this coach but I also know that if we don’t win this next year that he could be gone.

PM: Quick question -- is there a thought that the baseball system is a lot harder for the players than other sports, making them choose between going straight to the pros or spending three years in college?

JP: Yeah, if it was like college basketball where you could go for one year and then sign, it’d make the decisions a lot easier.

PM: Now, some expected Kreuter to lose his job after USC finished under .500 in 2010, but he was kept on and has since said he has very high expectations for the 2011 squad. Have you talked to Kreuter about whether he feels he has long-term security in his job?

JP: I called him and I talked to him and he said that he had a meeting with the athletic director like a day before I called and he didn’t say anything about it, but then they just got a new athletic director. That could also be good because I don’t think a new athletic director (Pat Haden) is going to come in firing people.

PM: So, how’s Hawaii? What’s it like? Do you feel like you're getting better?

JP: I like it a lot here. It’s relaxing, and I’m not around the people at home that ask me for updates like every day. It’s nice to be out here, and it’s also nice because I’m playing on my own and I have to make my own adjustments. Usually my dad’s at the games and he tells me but now I have to remember what he used to tell me and make my own adjustments.

PM: Going back to USC quickly – what do you think are some realistic expectations for the baseball team next year? Assuming everything goes right, could the Trojans make the postseason? Is Omaha a possibility?

JP: Yeah, I think so. I mean, they talk about this Austin Wood guy like he’s the real deal, so if I go to school, I hope he goes to school. It’d be exciting. And if Andrew Triggs comes back, that’s basically two Friday-quality guys on Friday and Saturday, giving you a great chance to win series.

PM: Kreuter, in the last couple of years, has signed guys like Tim Beckham, Mike Moustakas -- quite a few big-time players, eventual first- or second-rounders, that would’ve had a big impact on the squad had they come to school. Was that something he alluded to when he was recruiting you? Do you feel like the USC coaching staff understands that a certain amount of money may be too much to pass up for some people?

JP: Yeah, they asked me what it would take me to sign before I signed with ‘SC. They don’t want you to sign for less than your number. They said that if they pay your number, we’re happy for you, but if you sign for something less, then that’s messed up.



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