Baseball

Three Trojans selected in 2021 MLB Draft

A couple pitchers and an infielder bring USC to 344 all-time draft picks.

sports, baseball

USC’s rich history in the MLB Draft got a little bit richer this week, as three Trojans heard their names called by Major League clubs over the course of the 20-round, three-day event from Sunday through Tuesday.

First off the board was right-handed pitcher Chandler Champlain, who goes from the school with the most College World Series championships to the MLB team with the most World Series championships in the New York Yankees. Selected in the ninth round, Champlain was pick No. 273 in the draft.

Champlain had somewhat of an up-and-down college career. He pitched to a 5.06 ERA as a junior in 2021, but 12 of his 15 starts saw him surrender three runs or fewer. A few of those came in relatively short outings, however, he completed at least six innings eight times, including each of his last three performances. He capped off his season with a masterful seven-inning, 10-strikeout gem against Utah, allowing just one run on four hits. In 2020, Champlain compiled a 1.23 ERA in six bullpen appearances before the coronavirus pandemic brought the season to a halt.

The 6-foot-5 Champlain’s calling card is his velocity. The righty sits in the 94-to-96 range and can top out in the high 90s. He had trouble with his control at times in college, walking 5.7 batters per nine innings in his first two seasons, but he lowered that number to a solid 2.7 in his final campaign.

Champlain was a Top 100 prospect in his 2018 high school class, earning him a 38th-round selection by the Los Angeles Angels before he opted to play college ball for the Trojans. The Yankees are betting on that talent to pay dividends.

Next up for USC was infielder Ben Ramirez, who went to the Seattle Mariners in the 13th round as the No. 384 overall pick. Ramirez’s draft stock was unquestionably bolstered by a sudden power surge in his 2021 redshirt junior season; he blasted 10 home runs in 51 games after hitting five in 96 games his first three years. He earned a spot on the All-Pac-12 team in 2021.

As hinted by the power spike, Ramirez steadily improved throughout his USC tenure, elevating his slugging percentage from .340 his first two years to .534 across his final two. He also flashed promising bat-to-ball skills all four years, striking out at below a 20% clip each year and hitting above .300 in each of his last two years.

Ramirez has earned a reputation among scouts as a player with average-to-decent but unspectacular tools across the board. His athleticism that comes with a 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame, plus his infield versatility and solid defense could serve him well as a utility infielder in pro ball.

The third and final Trojan selected in the MLB Draft was Alex Cornwell, the 451st overall pick, by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 15th round.

It’s been a long journey to this point for Cornwell. The left-handed pitcher sat out both the 2018 and 2019 seasons with unspecified injuries, returning in 2020 to make only four starts with a promising 3.66 ERA before the season was shut down.

Cornwell pitched to a 5.35 ERA across 15 starts in 2021, his only full season, but showed impressive command, walking just 21 batters in 79 innings to go along with 65 strikeouts. Perhaps most importantly, Cornwell stayed healthy throughout the entire season, breaking into the 90s with his pitch count six different times, including four consecutive starts from April 11 to May 2. Cardinals scouting director Randy Flores said that “the team is hopeful [the injury problems are] in the rearview mirror.”

“We do think there is some exciting stuff in there,” Flores said of the lefty. “We’re excited to get him to our player development group and advance to the next steps in his career.”

The southpaw was initially drafted out of high school by the Chicago Cubs in the 37th round of the 2017 draft.

USC’s three selections bring the Trojans to 344 all-time MLB Draft picks. The program has been represented in each installment of the event since the draft’s inception in 1965.