June 6, 2006

Notre Dame junior righthanded pitcher Jeff Samardzija (Valparaiso, Ind.) has been selected by the Chicago Cubs in the early rounds of the 2006 Major League draft while the San Diego Padres picked senior first baseman Craig Cooper (Plainview, N.Y.) two rounds later, marking the fifth time in the Irish baseball program’s history that Notre Dame teammates have been picked in the first seven rounds of the MLB draft (just two pairs of ND teammates ever have been drafted higher than Samardzija and Cooper). Junior righthander Jeff Manship (San Antonio, Texas) then was the 14th-round pick of the Minnesota Twins, as the first day of the two-day draft was nearing its end. The Cubs had a 1st-round pick but did not have a selection again until the 5th round, when they opted to select the two-sport standout from Notre Dame with the 149th overall pick. Cooper then went to the Padres in the 7th round to become one of the highest-drafted seniors in Notre Dame baseball history (players with remaining eligibility typically comprise the picks in the first 10 rounds).

This marks the seventh time in the 12-year tenure of Notre Dame head coach Paul Mianieri that multiple Irish players have been selected in the first 10 rounds of the MLB draft (also 1996, ’97, ’98, 2001, ’02 and ’04).

(Note: some basic draft facts are included below – check back later for more, including full press-conference transcripts with post-draft comments, an updated bio. capsule of Cooper, etc. … also see the pre-draft release on und.com that includes several items, including updated Samardzija and Manship bio. capsules: http://und.cstv.com/sports/m-basebl/spec-rel/060606aag.html).

Samardzija becomes one of the top draft picks in Notre Dame history and likely would have been selected a few rounds higher, if not for his dual commitment to the Notre Dame football program. Baseball America was on record earlier this week in ranking Samardzija as the No. 20 overall prospect (13th among college players) based on talent and projectability – with the magazine’s comments from that June 5th release including the following: “Scouts covet [Samardzija’s] power arm and atheltic body, but scouts must deal with his commitment to play both football and baseball at a high level. He’s unlikely to go this high [20th overall] but would be a first-rounder if not for football.”

Just four previous Notre Dame pitchers have been drafted in a higher round than Samamrdzija – most notably current big-leaguers Brad Lidge (1st round, ’98, Astros) and Aaron Heilman (1st round, ’01, Mets; after supplemental pick between 1st and 2nd round in ’00, Twins), plus Grant Johnson (2nd round, ’02, Cubs) and Christian Parker (4th round, ’96, Expos). Five Notre Dame position players have been drafted in the 1st-4th rounds: catcher Ken Plesha (1st round, ’65, White Sox), centerfielders Steve Stanley (2nd round, ’02, A’s) and Dan Peltier (3rd round, ’89, Rangers), shortstop Paul Failla (3rd round, ’94, Angels) and outfielder Ryan Topham (4th round, ’95, White Sox).

Notre Dame baseball players now have been selected in the 5th round or sooner 13 times, with four of those picks coming from teams in the “windy city” (two Cubs, two White Sox).

Samardzija – an all-state centerfielder as a senior in the spring of 2003, at Valparaiso High School – was far from being a professional baseball prospect (particularly on the mound) as he ended his prep career. But his current draft status continues an impressive trend during the 12-year tenure of head coach Paul Mainieri, as one of several players who went undrafted (or drafted after the 40th round) as high school seniors but then developed into high-round draft picks during their college careers with the Irish. Lidge – a 42nd-round pick of the Giants in 1995, after graduating from Cherry Creek High School in Englewood, Colo. – is one of the most prominent on that list of players whose professional stock skyrocketed during their time at Notre Dame. Heilman also is of note, after being just a 54th-round pick of the Yankees following his senior year in 1997 at Logansport (Ind.) High School.

Other Mainieri-era players who have improved their draft status noticeably during their Notre Dame careers include: Parker (22nd round as prep senior in ’94; 4th round as draft-eligible sophomore in ’96); centerfielder Scott Sollmann (undrafted as prep; 7th round in ’96); catcher Mike Amrhein (undrafted in HS; 10th round as senior in ’97); outfielder Allen Greene (52nd round as a prep; 9th round in ’98); lefthander Tim Kalita (undrafted in HS; 7th round in ’99); RHP Danny Tamayo (not drafted as a prep; 10th round as senior in ’01); Stanley (undrafted in HS; 2nd round in ’02); and second baseman Steve Sollmann (undrafted as prep; 10th round as senior in ’04). The above list does not include players such as Johnson and Manship, who were projected as high-round picks coming out of high school but dropped because of their strong commitments to attend Notre Dame.

Cooper becomes the ninth Notre Dame senior ever to be selected in the first 10 rounds of the MLB draft, with Heilman, Stanley and pitcher Steve Whitmyer (6th round, ’83, Indians) being the only seniors in the program’s history to be picked before the 7th round. Other high-round senior picks have included players mentioned above such as Amrhein, Tamayo and Steve Sollmann, plus OF/1B Frank Jacobs (7th round, ’91, Mets) and LHP Ed Lupton (8th round, ’65, Senators).

The only Notre Dame teammates that have been drafted higher than Samardzija and Cooper include Johnson (2nd round) and 3B Matt Macri (5th round, Rockies) in 2004 and Stanley (2nd) and outfielder Brian Stavisky (6th round, A’s) in 2002. Two other previous pairs of ND teammates match the 2006 duo by each being picked in the first seven rounds: Parker (4th) and Sollmann (7th) in 1996; and infielder Brant Ust (6th round, Tigers and Kalita in 1999. Two other pairs of Notre Dame teamamtes have been selected in the first 10 rounds: Lidge (1st) and Greene (9th) in 1998; and Heilman (1st) and Tamayo (10th) in 2001. Notre Dame’s 2004 team actually had four total players selected in the first 10 rounds (also RHP Chris Niesel, by the Indians in the 9th, and Sollmann in the 10th).

** Keep checking back to und.com througout the week for continuing draft coverage. **