Sam Tuivailala swears his heart stopped beating for a minute.
Daily Journal Sports File
Aragon's Sam Tuivailala was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the third round Tuesday, the 106th pick overall. Though Tuivailala made his mark this season as a pitcher, many Cardinal experts believe he will first get a shot as a position player. When not pitching, Tuivailala played shortstop for the Dons. Offensively, he batted .324 with five homers and 21 RBI.
When the recent Aragon High graduate learned Tuesday morning the St. Louis Cardinals took him in the third round -- pick No. 106 overall -- on the second day of the Major League Baseball Draft, he just about went into a state of shock.
"When I got the news (from Cardinals scout Matt Swanson over the phone), I got really nervous," Tuivailala said. "The feeling is indescribable right now. It's still shocking. Me and my family were at home and we had all of our cell phones plugged into our chargers and set at the loudest volume just waiting for a call. He (Swanson) said the Cardinals really wanted me and asked if I was willing to sign with them. I said 'yes' because I didn't know what else to say. I was really nervous about that, too, because I didn't know if he had talked to my agent (Adam Koron) yet."
Tuivailala had nothing to fear. Koron and Swanson had already talked, and everything was dandy. They were working on the final parameters of Tuivailala's contract. The news obviously means the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Tuivailala is bypassing the college route -- he had a full-ride scholarship from Division I powerhouse Fresno State -- to get a jump-start on his pro career. Tuivailala said that his signing bonus would be "around $300,000," and that the official signing was imminent.
"He (Koron) told me it was a really good deal and that I should take it and I just did," Tuivailala said. "We're finalizing the money numbers right now, and other than that, I know the deal will cover all my college years 100 percent, so I can always go back to that and get my degree."
Tuesday's events capped a whirlwind sequence for Tuivailala, who only 11 months ago wasn't even on the radar of most Division I programs, let alone to anyone associated with the MLB. But everything changed after Tuivailala's stellar showing in a summer baseball showcase in Granite Bay last July. He hit 93 mph on the radar gun and connected for a triple and home run while displaying tremendous athleticism in the field.
Scouts from a number of Major League teams and college programs were in attendance, and from that moment on Tuivailala's life was never the same. Tuivailala started getting calls from pro scouts who wanted Tuivailala to work out for them. Talk about great timing. Turns out the Hard 90 Baseball Showcase was the first -- and only -- showcase event Tuivailala participated in, a rarity for an athlete of his caliber.
Once Tuivailala got on the radar of Major League teams, his stock took a meteoric rise. At first, he was projected to go in the sixth to eighth rounds, then in the four to six range, his agent told him. But a couple of days ago, St. Louis let Koron know they would be taking Tuivailala with its third-round pick. Of course, Koron didn't let Tuivailala know, because teams have a way of changing their minds on a moment's notice.
Tuivailala received plenty of feedback from Swanson and Koron before the draft, so he had a pretty good idea the Cardinals were interested in him. He just didn't think he would be taken so early. Tuivailala thinks he cemented his status after working out for St. Louis and San Diego May 22 at the College of Marin.
"There were a lot of college players there and we took groundballs, fly balls and some batting practice," he said. "That's all they really wanted to see and I'm pretty sure I did good on all of them."
Despite being known around the Peninsula for his supreme accomplishments as a pitcher -- Tuivailala went 6-0 this season, had a 1.28 ERA and struck out 77 in 60 1/3 innings while throwing a no-hitter vs. Half Moon Bay -- he is projected to be an infielder/outfielder in the pros. Tuivailala hit No. 3 in the order for Aragon, finishing with a .324 average, five home runs and 21 RBIs.
"I was kind of surprised (that I'm being projected as a position player), but they were saying if they put me at pitcher, it takes away all my athleticism," he said. "And if things don't work out (as an infielder or outfielder), I'm lucky I have pitching for me. So that's always a Plan B. I love pitching, but at the same time, I definitely want to be a position player in the majors. I guess I wish I could do both, but you have to play what they want you to play."
Aragon manager Lenny Souza has known Tuivailala for a long time, having also coached him for the last couple of summers as the manager of the San Mateo Palomino White Sox. When asked how excited he was for Tuivailala, Souza said, "I'm excited for the Cardinals, to be honest with you. ... This isn't like being drafted in the 10th or 20th round. This is pretty real."
Real indeed, though Tuivailala still has to pinch himself to make sure he's not dreaming. After all, Tuivailala zoomed up the draft boards faster than one of his 93 mph fastballs. To wit: Fresno State's scholarship offer came in November, and right around that same time Karon came on board as an adviser. At first, Tuivailala convinced himself he would play in college, but as the months went by and he started to get feedback on his rising draft status, Tuivailala started to have a change of heart.
Ultimately, he decided if he got drafted in the four to six range, Tuivailala would go directly to the pros. Tuivailala said he doesn't know where he's reporting next, but it will probably be to one of St. Louis' rookie ball affiliates.
"I know I got a week and a half, two weeks tops, before I head out somewhere," Tuivailala said. "Until then, I'm going to cherish every moment I have left in San Mateo. It's crazy with every thing that's happened. Fresno State made me a really good deal, but I couldn't let the MLB pass me by. This is something I've wanted since I was a little kid. It's a dream come true."
Perhaps appropriately enough, one of the teams Tuivailala played on growing up in San Mateo Little League was a team called the Cardinals.
"And hopefully one day I'll be in the big leagues with the Cardinals," he said.