Baseball: Sparks, Morales drafted

UC Irvine junior third baseman Taylor Sparks was the No. 58 overall pick by the Cincinnati Reds and senior pitcher Andrew Morales was taken No. 71 by the St. Louis Cardinals in the Major League First-Year Player Draft on Thursday.

Sparks, the 2013 Big West Conference Co-Player of the Year who has had a sub-par season in 2014, is batting .297 with five home runs and 34 runs batted in for the Anteaters (38-23), who face Oklahoma State in the best-of-three Super Regional beginning Friday in Stillwater, Okla. His 42 runs scored lead the team.

"I'm so excited and thankful that the Reds believed in me and made the choice to pick me," Sparks said in a statement. "I'm excited to play for them. I wasn't sure what was going to happen, so I was definitely excited when I saw my name show up."

Morales, the Big West Pitcher of the Year this season, is 10-2 with a 1.64 earned-run average, after going 10-0 with a 1.89 ERA as a junior. Including two seasons at Rio Hondo Community College, Morales is 41-3 in his college career.

"I feel very, very blessed and thankful," Morales said. "It's an awesome feeling, unreal, and I wanted to hug my family but they aren't here [in Stillwater] yet."

Sparks, who is tied for the national lead this season with eight triples, hit 10 homers with 50 RBIs and a .360 batting average as a sophomore, when the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder earned third-team All-American recognition, first-team all-conference laurels and won the American Baseball Coaches Assn. Gold Glove Award.

He was named to the all-regional team after helping UCI win three of four games, including two against No. 1 national seed Oregon State, wo win the Corvallis Regional. Sparks' 18 career home runs rank fourth in UCI annals and his 15 career triples are No. 3 on the school's all-time list.

The 6-0, 195-pound Morales, named first-team All-American this season by Collegiate Baseball, earned his 10th win in the regional opener against UNLV on Friday then pitched into the fifth inning after starting the regional-clinching win against Oregon State on Monday. Morales is a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award, as well as Dick Howser Trophy that goes to the top collegiate player. He is also among 18 finalists for the National Pitcher of the Year honor.

Morales is the third Big West Pitcher of the Year from UCI to be drafted by the Cardinals, following former Anteaters standouts Scott Gorgen (2008) and Danny Bibona (2010). Bibona, now the UCI pitching coach, and Gorgen both suffered arm injuries and were released.

UCI pitcher Andrew Thurman was chosen No. 40 by the Houston Astros last June.

— From staff reports

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