Longoria transforms into top draft pick

Back when he was playing baseball in junior college, Evan Longoria was, in his words, "a mediocre" player. For him, the thought of playing in the major leagues was the same as it was when he was a kid -- simply a dream.

Just two years later, however, Longoria has seen his baseball career go from mediocre to meteoric. And by the end of this week, his life probably will take the same turn.

The 20-year-old third baseman from Long Beach State has seemingly come out of nowhere to become one of the elite players in college baseball and perhaps the first position player selected in Tuesday's MLB first-year player draft.

"Sometimes you look back and wonder how it happened," Longoria said in a recent phone interview. "In junior college, you wonder where you're going to wind up.

"Thankfully, I developed."

Longoria took his game to a different level in 2006. With his team playing one of the nation's toughest schedules, Longoria led the Dirtbags in batting (.353), hits (71), home runs (11), RBI (43), slugging percentage (.602) and on-base percentage (.468).

Unfortunately, his collegiate career ended on a sour note. Needing a big effort against Cal State Fullerton, one of the top teams in the nation, to keep hopes of an NCAA Tournament berth alive, the Dirtbags came up empty, getting swept in the three-game series. The team was outscored 25-3 and hit just .216 in the series. Longoria struggled, as well, going 3-for-13 and failing to drive in a run in the series.

"I don't know how that happened," Longoria said. "We pretty much got it handed to us. We went in expecting big things, but that obviously did not happen. It was a tough situation."

The sweep left Long Beach State at 29-27 for the season and out of the NCAA regionals.

"Obviously, it's a disappointment," Longoria said. "Last year we were hosting a regional, and now we're not in it this year. It hurts, especially with the tradition of this program.

"I know a lot of weight was put on my shoulders, and I take it on my shoulders."

Despite his performance at the end of the season, Longoria's draft stock has never been higher. Baseball America ranks him as the No. 4 overall prospect, and indications are that he will be the first non-pitcher selected Tuesday.

"I'm excited [about the draft]," Longoria said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

The Royals, Rockies, Devil Rays, Pirates and Mariners are among the teams drafting early, but Longoria doesn't have a favorite.

"I thought about the Rockies, because they drafted [former Dirtbags teammate] Troy Tulowitzki last year," Longoria said. "But I can't really worry about it now. I've done my part to be prepared. I've done as much as I can do."

There's little doubt as to the amount of work Longoria put in to get to this point. Going undrafted out of high school, Longoria spent 2004 at Rio Hondo Junior College. He put up outstanding numbers, including a .430 batting average and a Foothill Conference-leading 64 RBI.

The offers from Division I schools should have come pouring in at that point, right?

Try one. One.

"Long Beach was the only Division I school to offer me a scholarship," Longoria said. "I'm so glad they did."

Following a 2005 season that saw him bat .320 and lead the Dirtbags in runs (34) and RBI (30), Longoria caught his biggest break: an invite to play in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League.

Playing for the Chatham A's, Longoria simply tore it up. With its wooden bats, the Cape Cod League is usually known as a pitcher's heaven. All Longoria did was nearly win the Triple Crown, leading the league homers (8) and RBI (35) and finishing with a .299 average after spending much of the summer in the top five of that category.

Fittingly, the kid who received a single Division I scholarship offer wound up capturing the league's Most Valuable Player award.

"It had a huge impact [on my development]," Longoria said. "You don't go out there expecting to be the MVP. It was so much fun to play with the best players in college. It's the best experience a player could have."

Tuesday could actually provide an even more exciting experience for Longoria, considering he is very close to becoming a millionaire.

"It's pretty ridiculous to think about it," Longoria said. "It'll probably hit me after the draft. Or when I see that contract."

Michael Freer is a researcher for ESPNU. E-mail him at michael.freer@espn.com.