Jared Oliva had a hunch that he’d be picked by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Arizona Wildcats center fielder had positive interviews with Pirates scouts leading up to this week’s MLB draft. Pittsburgh also had selected one of Oliva’s former teammates, Kevin Newman, with whom he shared a unique connection.
But one never knows how any given draft will go. So as the rounds sailed by Tuesday, and Oliva’s phone didn’t ring, he grew restless.
Finally, in the seventh round, restlessness turned into relief. The Pirates took Oliva with the 208th pick, making him the second of three Wildcats to be selected in the first 10 rounds Monday and Tuesday.
Once Oliva learned that Pittsburgh was sincerely interested in him, his heart started to race.
“Relief, gratitude — everything kind of hits you at once,” Oliva said. “It’s what every kid dreams about, to go play pro baseball.”
Oliva’s father and uncle played in the minor leagues, so that dream felt more realistic for him than many others. But Oliva took a long, indirect route to pro ball, starting his UA career as a walk-on before developing into an All-Pac-12 performer this season.
“It didn’t matter the round, it didn’t matter the money where I came from,” said Oliva, who compared being drafted to finding out he had made the Arizona roster. “That moment, this moment, they’re things I’ll never forget.”
Oliva discussed his path to the pros with UA coach Jay Johnson on Tuesday. Oliva stopped by the coaches’ offices after being picked. The Southern California native returned to Tucson to monitor the draft with family members, teammates/roommates Michael Hoard and Luke Soroko, and girlfriend Mik Ranslem, a member of the UA swim team.
Oliva said his mother and girlfriend found an old picture of him as a youth wearing — you guessed it — Pirates gear.
“You can’t really believe it until it happens,” said Oliva, who hit .321 with 25 doubles, 54 RBIs and 10 stolen bases this season. “I couldn’t be happier to join the Pirates family.”
Pittsburgh took Newman in the first round in 2015. He and Oliva teamed up for a memorable play that briefly went viral that season. In a mid-May game at UCLA, shortstop Newman pursued a popup near the third-base line. The ball bounced off Newman’s head — and Oliva, playing left field, dove to catch it in foul territory.
Now, with more good fortune, the former Wildcats might have a chance to team up again.
Cloney to Kansas City
JC Cloney was at home in Castaic, California, on Tuesday afternoon, watching Attorney General Jeff Sessions testify before Congress. Cloney’s mother sat beside him on the couch. His father was working in his office nearby.
Cloney then received a text message from a Kansas City Royals area scout, who asked if Cloney wanted to talk to the team’s scouting director. Not long after, the Royals picked the Arizona pitcher in the ninth round.
Cloney and his adviser had been told the left-hander had a good chance to be a “senior sign” pick between Rounds 6 and 10. It turned out to be true. But it didn’t alleviate the usually cool Cloney’s anxiety.
“I was definitely nervous,” Cloney said. “Once I got the phone call, I kind of relaxed. Then it was joy and extreme excitement. Now the real work starts.”
Cloney posted a 7-2 record with a 3.11 ERA this season. He went 15-6 in two years at Arizona and played a vital role in the Wildcats’ run to the 2016 College World Series finals.
Afterward, Cloney wasn’t sure he would continue playing baseball. A heart-to-heart with his old travel-ball coach, Sean Thompson, convinced him otherwise. Now Cloney will put plans to follow his father into law enforcement on hold as he chases a pro baseball career.
Cape Cod reunion
Toward the end of last summer’s stint in the Cape Cod League, JJ Matijevic was playing golf with Falmouth Commodores teammate Corbin Martin. The Arizona hitter and Texas A&M pitcher had become close friends, and they talked about playing together again as professionals.
They revisited the subject via text message a few weeks ago. Then their shared dream became a reality.
The Houston Astros drafted Martin in the second round Monday night. Nineteen picks later, they selected Matijevic. The Commodores will be reunited in the Astros’ farm system.
“We always knew it was a possibility,” Matijevic said. “For it to actually happen … it was just a special moment.”
Matijevic described his overall draft experience Monday as “a dream come true.” He had been selected before, in 2014, but knew then that he would go to Arizona. He viewed what transpired Monday as the true start of his pro baseball career.
He monitored the draft from his parents’ home in North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, with about 25 family members and friends, hooking up a laptop to the big screen to watch the MLB.com stream of the second round.
With about four picks left, Matijevic received a phone call from his adviser, Jeff Randazzo. He informed Matijevic that the Astros would be drafting him with the 75th pick, the final selection of Competitive Balance Round B.
A few minutes later, at about 11:38 p.m. Eastern Time, the pick became official.
“Everybody went crazy,” Matijevic said. “Smiles, tears, pure happiness.”
For Matijevic, the moment gave him an opportunity to reflect on the journey that preceded it. He progressed from a 22nd-round pick to a second-rounder over the course of his UA career. He became the fourth member of the 2015 Wildcats infield to be picked in the top four rounds, joining Newman, second baseman Scott Kingery (second) and third baseman Bobby Dalbec (fourth).
“It’s the best decision I’ve ever made,” Matijevic said of choosing to attend Arizona. “It’s something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”
• Former Catalina Foothills High standout Luis Gonzalez didn’t have to wait long to hear his name called Tuesday. The New Mexico center fielder was taken with the 12th pick of the third round, No. 87 overall, by the Chicago White Sox. As a junior for the Lobos, Gonzalez batted .361 with eight home runs, 42 RBIs and a .500 on-base percentage.
• New Mexico State right-hander Marcel Renteria, who’s from Nogales and played at Pima College, was selected in the sixth round by the Mets. Renteria went 7-3 with a 4.78 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 79 innings this season.
• The draft concludes with Rounds 11-40 Wednesday.