Following an uncharacteristic year in which zero Cal players were taken in a shortened 2020 draft, four Bears heard their names called during MLB’s 2021 selection show in another successful draft showing for the program. Grant Holman, Sean Sullivan, Ian Villars and Darren Baker represent the 2021 crop of Bears heading to the MLB, solidifying Cal’s reputation as one the best MLB talent-producing programs in the nation.
Holman, the first of the Bear teammates to be taken, was drafted 188th overall (sixth round) by the Oakland A’s. His selection continues the storied pipeline between Cal and Oakland, which has produced numerous MLB players over the past decade, including Marcus Semien, who, though no longer an A, represented the East Bay in this year’s All-Star Game.
Though he had to battle through injuries in his junior year, Holman remained Cal’s best professional prospect, given his strong 6’6” frame and his combination of a mid 90s fastball and a wipeout slider. The power righty commanded a 3.83 ERA over his 10 starts during the 2021 season.
Quite the opposite from Holman’s overpowering playstyle, second baseman Baker made a name for himself in Berkeley through his grittiness at the plate and on the field, his tenacity on the basepaths and his leadership abilities. Baker, who leaves as one of the most decorated Bears both on and off the field, was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 10th round, a club his father Dusty used to coach.
Though he was incredibly productive in all four years at Berkeley, Baker had a career year in 2021, posting a .327 batting average, which included him reaching base in 54 of 55 games, and earning a spot on the All-Pac 12 first team and defensive team. His 28 stolen bases and .988 fielding percentage (just three errors in 249 attempts) only further highlighted his ability to affect all facets of the game.
Baker also received recognition for his work in the community, receiving the Tom Hansen Pac-12 Conference Medal as a student-athlete who exhibited “the greatest combination of performance and achievement in scholarship, athletics and leadership,” as well as being a finalist for the national Senior CLASS Award. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the senior helped raise $11,000 for local Sacramento businesses while donating 1,000 meals to families in need.
Sullivan and Villers were selected in the eighth round by the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants, respectively, to round out the Cal draftees. Sullivan was a reliable contributor in both the bullpen and the starting rotation during his time at Cal, saving four games as a freshman before posting a 3.68 ERA in 15 starts in 2021 as a junior.
Fellow junior Villers was a staple in head coach Mike Neu’s pen. The tall righty had a career year in 2021, boasting a 4-1 record and 2.84 ERA in 29 appearances. Both Villers and Sullivan were named as All-Pac-12 honorable mentions.
Cal’s four future professional players add to an impressive total of 16 Bears drafted under Neu’s leadership since 2018. The long list includes Golden Spikes winner Andrew Vaughn, who is currently in the running for AL Rookie of the Year in his first year on the Chicago White Sox.
A Cal 2021 commit, Carson Williams, was also selected in the first round — 28th overall — by the Rays. Williams was ranked as the 47th best high schooler in the country and was the Bears’ highest-ranked recruit since 2016. Williams is expected to sign, a big hit to Cal’s recruiting class.
Nevertheless, the Bears will return the majority of their lineup, including the star-studded rising junior class featuring Dylan Beavers and Steven Zobac. With the departure of Baker, Holman and Quentin Selma, the stage is set for a new crop of players to take the helm of Cal Baseball.
Noah Parker covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].