NEW YORK - The University of California San Diego had a program-record four standout student-athletes selected on the final day of the 2018 Major League Baseball (MLB) First-Year Player Draft on Wednesday.
Junior first baseman Tyler Durna (Chino Hills/Ruben S. Ayala HS) was the 15th-round selection of the Chicago Cubs, at No. 458 overall. Senior right-handed relief pitcher Cameron Kurz, a local product out of Encinitas and La Costa Canyon High School, was then chosen in the 18th round, No. 532 overall, by the Atlanta Braves. Senior right-handed pitcher Mitch Hickey was the 28th-round pick (No. 830) of the New York Mets. Ted Stuka, a draft-eligible sophomore right-hander, rounded out the Tritons' class, going to the Baltimore Orioles in the 39th round (No. 1165).
Seven Tritons have now been chosen in the MLB Draft since Eric Newman took over the program in 2012, with Kyle Goodbrand, Justin Donatella and Dillon Moyer preceding this year's quartet. Durna is UC San Diego's highest selection since All-American ace Donatella was also a 15th-round choice, of the Arizona Diamondbacks, in 2015 at No. 436 overall. Donatella is now at the Double-A level in the D-backs' organization, in Jackson, Tenn.
Durna, Kurz and Stuka have until Friday, July 6, at 2 p.m. PT, to decide between signing a first professional contract, and returning to UC San Diego to use up their final season of collegiate eligibility. Stuka has two. Kurz was actually not expected to use that last year prior to the draft, as he was listed as a senior by the end of the 2018 campaign and recognized on Senior Day, because he is set to graduate next week, and is looking to pursue medical school for the following year. So on the heels of an incredible season, he will have a slightly different decision to make.
Durna was a unanimous All-West Region selection and All-California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) First Team pick for the second straight year, leading the league with his 68 runs scored and 45 walks (tied), and second on the squad with a .333 batting average. Durna had paced the Tritons in hitting in 2017 at .363, working his way into a 15th-round professional draftee after appearing in just 26 games, half the schedule, as a true freshman in 2016. In addition to his batting prowess, he proved himself to be arguably the best defensive first baseman in all of Division II, fielding at a .993 clip this season, making the spectacular look routine.
Kurz went from being left off the Tritons' 25-man NCAA West Regional and NCAA Championship rosters a year ago, to a lights-out 2018 and subsequent shot at a pro career. As a fourth-year junior, he went 5-1 with a miniscule 0.74 ERA and career-best nine saves, striking out 63 against a mere 11 walks for a 5.73 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and an incredible .135 opponents' batting average with no home runs allowed over 36.1 innings pitched and 22 relief appearances in all. Kurz earned a pair of All-West Region Second Team nods, alongside a spot on the All-CCAA Second Team. He matched the program record with 14 career saves, and struck out 10 consecutive batters over two stints in late April, also likely a new UC San Diego standard.
Hickey (Morgan Hill/Live Oak HS) was a one-year transfer from Division I power Oregon State, and as the Tritons' front-line starting arm for much of the season, went 7-3 with a 3.54 ERA and 83 strikeouts over 76.1 innings. He drew 13 starts among 15 appearances, with one save. UC San Diego won each of his seven starts after returning to the rotation following a pair of lengthy, effective relief outings in the middle of the campaign. That stretch included all three postseason appearances, with a 12-strikeout effort in the West Regional and six three-hit innings in a combined shutout to open the NCAA Championship. Hickey fanned 20 in all during the postseason, and in fact lowered his ERA in each of his final nine outings, from 6.03 down to 3.54. He garnered All-CCAA honorable mention along the way.
Stuka (Newport Beach/Corona del Mar HS) made 15 appearances on the mound, all in relief, and posted a 3.69 ERA with a 1-0 record and three saves of 3.0 innings or longer. The big 6-foot-7 right-hander with a powerful fastball fanned 37 over his 31.2 frames, combining on one of the Tritons' three shutouts on the year. Stuka's season debut featured career bests of 4.1 shutout frames and eight strikeouts.
UC San Diego now has an even 20 all-time MLB draft selections in its program history. The Tritons were tied for the lead nationally among Division II sides in this edition with fellow annual powers Colorado Mesa and Tampa, at four picks each. They led the CCAA, and ranked in a tie for second among their local NCAA foes in San Diego State (five), the University of San Diego (four), Point Loma (zero) and Cal State San Marcos (zero).
Durna is the first-ever Triton drafted by the Cubs, the 2016 world champions. Kurz and Hickey are likewise firsts for UC San Diego by the Braves and Mets, respectively. Stuka is the second Triton to be chosen by the Orioles, joining Randy Miller, who was the first player in program history to have his name called, back in 1974.
This marks just the second time that UC San Diego has had multiple selections in a single draft. The other instance was in 2011 with star right-handed pitchers Guido Knudson and Tim Shibuya. Knudson made it all the way to the major leagues in 2015 with the Detroit Tigers, who drafted him. Shibuya advanced to the Triple-A level in 2015 in the Minnesota Twins organization, which selected him, as well as the Los Angeles Dodgers organization in 2016 and 2017. Both have since retired.
UC San Diego went 43-17 overall in 2018, achieving the third-most wins (tied) in program history, behind only the 54 from 2010 and 44 from 2017, with the Tritons finishing as national runners-up both of those years. UC San Diego earned a second consecutive West Region crown, and fourth for its Division II days, that after a record seventh CCAA Championship banner. The Tritons in fact managed to sweep through their four games at each of those tough tournaments, compiling a program-record nine-game postseason win streak before back-to-back losses at the NCAA Championship in Cary, N.C., last Tuesday night, May 29, and Wednesday night, May 30. They were one of the last five teams left standing in Cary, and ultimately took up the No. 8 spot in the final Collegiate Baseball Newspaper national poll, released on Monday. It marked a second successive top-eight final national ranking.