Notre Dame baseball is not typically seen as an elite program. A Midwest school competing in the ACC is a tough task for anyone, but Notre Dame holds its own and lands quality players on a yearly basis. Head Coach, Mik Aoki, has done a good job in 7 seasons producing 21 draft picks (50 total at all his stops) and reaching the NCAA Regionals twice. Golden Domer Daily takes a closer look at the Notre Dame players currently in the MLB.
The Big Names
Jeff Samardzija, RHP
Samardzija is the biggest name among Notre Dame faithful due to his work on the football field, but he has carved out a nice career on the baseball diamond as well. After his junior season, Samardzija elected to sign with the Chicago Cubs and forego the NFL Draft. This came as a surprise to many people. Although, Samardzija was an accomplished collegiate pitcher, many felt football would be his career choice. He spent the next 8+ seasons in the Cubs organization and made his major league debut in 2008.
Before the 2016 season, Samardzija signed a 5 year / 90 million contract with the San Francisco Giants. In 2017, he posted a 9-15 record and 4.42 ERA for a bad Giants team, but his peripherals were much better than his stats. Throughout his career, he has been a reliable innings eater, posting six straight seasons of over 200 innings. His stuff has always been better than his numbers, but he has been an effective starting pitcher nonetheless.
A.J. Pollack, OF
Pollack was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 1st Round (Pick 17) of the 2009 MLB Draft. After a breakout 2015 season that saw him become an all-star and gold glove winner, Pollack missed most of the 2016 season with a fractured elbow. He played in 112 games last season, but wasn’t the same player he was in 2015. Pollack finished the season with 14 home runs and a .266 batting average. Pollack is a high contact guy, but doesn’t walk much. Therefore, replicating his 2014 and 2015 seasons will be important for his future in baseball. He’s set to become a free agent at the end of the 2018 season.
Trey Mancini, OF/1B
Mancini was drafted in the 8th round of the 2013 draft by the Baltimore Orioles and made his MLB debut in 2016 as a September call-up. He did well in his limited action with a .357 batting average and 3 home runs in only 14 at bats. Mancini kept his rookie eligibility, and turned that into a terrific 2017 rookie season. He was the primary left fielder for the Orioles and finished the season with a clip of .293/.338/.488 to go with 24 home runs and 78 RBIs. That was good for 3rd place in the AL rookie of the year voting. Mancini will have a chance to further establish himself as an offensive force in 2018.
The Next Best
David Phelps, RHP
Phelps probably deserves mention higher up on this list, but as a relief pitcher he is a lesser known quantity. Regardless, for the last several seasons, Phelps has been one of the better relief pitchers in baseball. Phelps was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 14th round of the 2008 MLB Draft and made his debut as a swing man in 2012. After several seasons of doing both, Phelps has settled into his role as a reliever and is pitching great. In his age 30 season, Phelps finished the year with 55.2 innings pitched and a 3.40 ERA pitching for both the Miami Marlins and Seattle Mariners. Like Pollock, Phelps will be a free agent at the end of the 2018 season.
John Axford, RHP
The oldest player on this list (34), Axford has been a good reliever throughout his major league career, most notably with the Milwaukee Brewers. Axford has proven to be a dominant closer at times with his best season coming in 2011 (1.95 ERA and 45 saves). He has entered the tail end of his career and is coming off his worst statistical season to date. Axford finished last season with a 6.43 ERA in only 21 innings with the Oakland Athletics. He is currently a free agent.
Dan Slania, RHP
Slania appeared in 1 game for the San Francisco Giants last season, which just so happened to be his major league debut. He was drafted in the 5th round of the 2013 draft, but at age 26 he will look to become a regular in the Giants pen this coming season.
Can’t Forget about Craig
Craig Counsell enjoyed a productive MLB career bouncing around between several teams and winning 2 World Series rings in the process. He retired after the 2011 season and immediately took a front office position with the Milwaukee Brewers. Counsell became the Brewers manager in 2015, and after a surprise 2017 season that saw the Brewers finish 86-76 (2nd in the NL Central), Counsell was awarded with the Manager of the Year award. He hopes to lead the Brewers to the playoffs next season for the first time since 2011.
We have now covered former Notre Dame athletes in the NFL, NBA and MLB. Stay locked in to Golden Domer Daily in the coming days as we take a look at the Irish in the NHL.