MLB Draft: GrandPre Headed to Los Angeles

Two days ago, Preston GrandPre showered up after his final summer league game for the Orleans Firebirds in the prestigious Cape Cod League. Earlier that day, he’d been picked 730th overall in the 24th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I’m going to forego my last year at Cal,” GrandPre told BearTerritory. “It’s at home. I grew up watching the Dodgers. It’s a special experience, and it was kind of gradual, and then it all hit me at once.”

The junior infielder came to Berkeley from Aliso Viejo (Calif.) Laguna Beach, just south of Anaheim, but not too far from his possible future home in Los Angeles. GrandPre said that he grew up going to more Los Angeles Angels games than he did Dodgers games (his parents had season tickets, and he went to the 2002 World Series), but he’s fully embracing a new shade of blue, now. “It’s a weird feeling,” GrandPre said. “I still don’t know how I feel about it. It’s a special feeling, especially getting drafted by the Dodgers. I’m still feeling it right now. I’m still high from it. Sometimes, you’ve got to just trust it.”

Growing up, GrandPre’s favorite player was former Dodger infielder Nomar Garciaparra, and for good reason.

“He was a big, agile shortstop for the Red Sox, and I thought he was a wizard with the glove,” GrandPre said. “I thought that his little ritual before he hit was a weird thing, and I’m kind of a weird baseball player, so I grew up watching him, and I just thought Nomar Garciaparra was just awesome. For me, he was like [Derek] Jeter.”

GrandPre’s father, Mike, spent his youth at Chavez Ravine, watching the Dodgers. The proximity to his childhood home played a role in GrandPre deciding to sign, but at the end of the day, even after an abbreviated junior season, The 6-foot-4 shortstop felt it was time to spread his ample wings.

“Honestly it came pretty gradually. At first, I was 100-percent coming back to school, but as the draft came closer and closer, I talked with a couple of my good friends who are in pro ball, talked with my parents, and I talked to a bunch of people, and what it really came down to was more, ‘I’m ready to get my career started.'”

As GrandPre warmed to the idea of going pro, he spoke with several of his former teammates.

“I talk with Brett Cumberland very often,” GrandPre said of the 2016 Pac-12 Player of the Year, who left after his sophomore season thanks to an early pick by the Atlanta Braves. ” Alex Schick was my roommate first semester, so I talked to him nearly once or twice a week. I talked to all of those guys. Without their help and support and their advice, they ultimately opened up a new view of professional baseball for me, and talking to them recently, they’ve been nothing but supportive. Don’t get me wrong — every one of them said they miss Cal and school and all that stuff — but they do love being a professional baseball player. At a young age, you grow up and you just want to be a professional baseball player, and it doesn’t stop now. They said it’s going to be the weirdest feeling, but just embrace it, and, ‘Trust me, you’re going to enjoy pro ball.’ They’ve helped me a lot, and Chris Paul, too. They’ve helped me quite a bit. They’ve been nothing but supportive and helped me out. It’s a cool little gig. I’m not complaining at all.”

The Southern California native’s decision came after he had completed his best season at the plate for the Bears, even though he only played in 24 games. He’d grown up a lot over the last year, playing second base and hitting .325 after missing the first half of the year with a broken right hand. He broke that hand the last week of practice before the start of the regular season, when he dove for a ball, missed it, and punched the turf. 

“I dove for a ball to my backhand side, and it was after two balls that I’d already done the same thing,” GrandPre said. “I was very, very mad at the time, and for no reason. It was a grueling experience. In a weird way, I’m happy it happened, because it taught me a lesson, but I dove to my right, the ball tipped off my glove, and I was frustrated and hit the ground. I hit it a little too hard.”… When GrandPre went down, he was replaced by a patchwork of two freshmen — Anthony Walters and eventual Freshman All-American Cameron Eden. Eden effectively Wally Pipp’d GrandPre, making 51 starts at shortstop and finishing the year with a .315 average, six home runs, eight doubles, a triple, 33 runs scored and 24 RBI.

The Yuba City, Calif. native got stronger as the season went along, hitting safely in 10 of his final 11 games and, in the final two series of the year against nationally-ranked TCU and Arizona, went 10-for-21 at the plate with nine runs scored.

“The beginning of the season, I went into the [coaches’] office and I didn’t know where I was going to play,” GrandPre said. “I went in after my injury, and I said, ‘Hey, when I get back, put me wherever you want. I’ll go out and play. I’ll do my best.’ Getting hurt was very humbling, and it was a crappy situation. Looking back on it, I’m not saying I enjoyed it, but it was something that very much humbled me, and it taught me how to be a really good team guy. I think it really got me to understand that there’s more to baseball than getting frustrated.

“I came back and I was fine playing second. I was in the lineup. I was playing OK. It wasn’t a big deal. Cameron absolutely killed it. I’ve never been more proud of a person. After the last game, I gave him the biggest hug, and said, ‘I’ve never been more proud of anybody.’ He’s come such a long way and developed into an amazing baseball player. It’s special to watch. I was there, my freshman year. I beat out a junior (Max Dutto). I just related to him. I felt like he deserved it. I was completely fine playing second. I’ll do anything for coach [David] Esquer. He’s the man. I can’t thank him enough for all the opportunities he’s given me.”

GrandPre was drafted as a shortstop by the Dodgers, who have their own jumbo-sized shortstop at the Major League level in Rookie of the Year Corey Seager.

“I’m going to try and stay there as long as I can, but you never know with pro ball,” GrandPre said. “You saw [former shortstop and first baseman] Chris Paul. He was a shortstop coming into Cal, he grew up, put some weight on. I might get moved to third. I’ll try to stay at short as long as I can. I’ve got two good guys in front of me in Seager and Drew Jackson. It’s probably not the best, but I’ll play anywhere. It doesn’t matter to me. They like me based on my actions and my size. They know I’m going to fill out. Projectability is huge for me.”

The thinly-built GrandPre has added 20 pounds since he got to Cal, and with a professional training program, could add more.

“I’m fortunate to have the genetics that I have,” GrandPre laughed. “I have to thank my mom and dad for that one. They have a history of bigger shortstops like Seager, and Drew Jackson’s pretty big, too.”

GrandPre is currently less than two semesters away from graduating with a double major in sociology and legal studies. He has two more major classes, and then more units. He’s currently taking a summer school class right now. “I will be finishing it,” he said with confidence. His parents drilled academics into him at a young age, and, he said, there will be a time when baseball is going to stop, so he has his future in mind. “That’s always been in the back of my mind, and that’s the reason I chose Cal,” he said.

For now, though, it’s time to suit up for a living.

“I feel like I’ve played college baseball; I’ve done it, I’ve had fun, and I would not be where I am today without coach Esquer and Brad [Sanfilippo]Mike Reuvekamp,” said GrandPre, before news broke that Esquer was leaving for Stanford, and that Reuvekamp may return to Berkeley alongside Mike Neu, should the latter be named the Bears’ next head coach. “Everyone who coached me in college has gotten me to this point, where I’m at right now. Reflecting on the season and past seasons, it all came to me at once: I was ready to play pro ball.”

GrandPre had a feeling that it would be the Dodgers who drafted him. A week and a half before the draft, he had a workout at Dodger Stadium, but he hadn’t been there for quite some time beforehand.

“I went to their workout and played pretty well, and did what I needed to,” GrandPre said. “I’m lucky. I’m lucky. I’m stoked to be a Dodger.”

During his summer in the Cape Cod League, he got a chance to play at Fenway Park, so now, he’s played in the same dirt — at two stadiums — as his childhood hero (and now Dodgers broadcaster) Garciaparra. He didn’t let his 55-year old father come to the workout because he needed to concentrate over the five-hour workout.

“It was weird,” GrandPre said. “I’ve been so fortunate. I’ve been spoiled as a kid with baseball. On Wednesdays in high school, I got to play at Angels Stadium when they were away, and I’ve got to play at Fenway twice. Dodger Stadium is just so cool. There’s nothing like it. My dad used to tell me stories when he was younger, and you go there, and it’s a very, very cool, cool atmosphere. It’s an MLB park. There’s nothing that is more beautiful than that. It’s cool that I could call that my home one day, if I’m lucky.”

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