In one week on the job, interim USC baseball coach Frank Cruz has already done what former coach Chad Kreuter often failed to do in four years: get top signees to forgo professional contracts and enroll in school.
Cruz, a volunteer assistant for the Trojans for the last two years, lost one big signee early Monday. But as the 9 p.m. PST deadline neared, Cruz secured the comitment of a top prospect Monday and got another highly-regarded player to return to school.
Junior-college right-hander Austin Wood, a fourth-round selection of the Tampa Bay Rays, did not sign with the organization. He will fly to Los Angeles on Wednesday and begin attending classes on Monday. Redshirt junior Andrew Triggs, who was selected in the 24th round by the Cleveland Indians, also did not sign and will return to school on Wednesday -- where he has two years of eligibility left.
Cruz called Triggs a "hidden gem." Combined with Wood, the two could make for a fairly formidable Friday and Saturday night duo come the start of the season in February.
"We’re not happy about it, we’re elated about it," Cruz said by phone late Monday night, just after the 9 p.m. PST deadline passed. "That’s something the program’s been working on for a long time, getting these kind of high-profile guys to come to school.
"We did it today."
Wood, a hard-throwing 6-foot-4, 220-pounder, was the the surprise of the Cape Cod Baseball League this summer, posting a 0.74 ERA in 36 1/3 innings. Late Monday, the Rays offered him a contract at well-above the major-league recommended level for his selection, only to have the pitcher counter-offer for a significantly higher figure, according to Cruz.
Talks broke off at that point late Monday.
Outfielder Joc Pederson, profiled here, agreed to a deal worth $600,000 earlier in the day with the Dodgers. He had told teams he would require $1 million to forgo his college career at USC, but he seemed to become less enthused about the possibility of going to school when Kreuter was fired last week. Pederson said then that it was "frustrating" to find out about the coaching switch.
"I think he made the best decision for himself," Cruz said. "The Dodgers did a great job getting him to sign."
In four years as the head coach, Kreuter signed perhaps more top prospects than any other coach in the nation, but those players frequently ended up signing with professional teams and never coming to school -- like Mike Moustakas, of the Royals' organization, and Tim Beckham, a Rays' minor-leaguer.
The retention of Wood makes for a fairly big step, although Kreuter had been counting on Pederson to step right into the center field for the Trojans and hit in the top third of the order.
The other four USC signees who were selected -- including Puerto Rican outfielder Omar Cotto-Lozada, a 12th-round selection of the Toronto Blue Jays -- are expected to begin attending classes Monday.