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Swanson: Jacob Wilson, Roc Riggio give MLB draft a distinct Thousand Oaks vibe

California is ripe with almonds and pistachios, strawberries and ballplayers – 2,439 major leaguers among them, more than have been plucked from anywhere else on the planet, according to baseball-almanac.com.

So let’s savor the unmistakable Southern California flavor in these recent MLB amateur drafts, including this week’s. Oakland picked Jacob Wilson No. 6 overall (a bargain) Sunday and Roc Riggio was selected a day later, in the fourth round by the New York Yankees (they probably liked that he won’t wilt in high heat).

Up and down recent draft boards, area guys pepper the list. Including a couple more now growing on the A’s farm: Max Muncy (that’s Maxwell Price Muncy, from California, not the Dodgers’ Maxwell Steven Muncy, from Texas) went in the first round in 2021, and right-handed pitcher Vince Reilly in the 18th round last year.

If you’re detecting a strong, oaky note in this particular bushel of prospects, you’re 1,000% right: That’s just Thousand Oaks High’s recent bounty.

Those guys all are products of the Lancers’ championship program, which produced one of the best teams Southern California News Group sportswriter Tarek Fattal has covered in his eight years on the prep beat. They’re teammates who grew and thrived together, with their community’s support as sustenance.

Riggio – the 5-foot-9 second baseman whose big hits and big personality made him a favorite of Oklahoma State fans – grew up “in a cage,” dad Jayme Riggio said, waiting not even a beat to clarify: “A batting cage!”

Specifically, the batting cage Jayme built for himself before Roc was born. The cage that Jayme opened up to the neighborhood – “just pick up the balls and don’t let the dogs get out!” – bringing around bigger kids who helped show Roc how to hit it on a rope.

Wilson – the athletic, can’t-miss 21-year-old Grand Canyon infielder who struck out just 12 times in 492 plate appearances in the past two collegiate seasons – had his former major league All-Star dad to lean on. But then so did Roc and so many other local ballplayers for whom Jack Wilson was Coach Jack.

A long-tenured Pittsburgh Pirate, Jack learned a lot in his 12-year career as a major league infielder. He’s been generous in sharing that intel as a coach, including on the travel ball circuit, at Thousand Oaks High – and at his home, too.

In his yard one summer, he set up Roc in front of a FungoMan machine and left the kid out there fielding ground balls alone for hours at a time, wondering all the while if Coach Jack was ever going to come outside and do some coaching. He did, eventually. But not until Roc could say he’d fielded 10,000 grounders out there – which feels like a twist on the 10,000-hour rule that says you need to dedicate that much time to master a skill.

Maybe for ballplayers, it’s more like a million-swing rule? Because that’s probably how many Roc had made by the time he was 10, by Jayme’s estimation.

From listening to Jack and Jayme reminisce this week, their sons’ dedication wasn’t because of any pressure they put on, but because of how much those kids loved the game.

Yankees 4th round pick Roc Riggio is kind of a WHOLE vibe tbh pic.twitter.com/cLIJUeZ3ne

— Fireside Yankees (@FiresideYankees) July 10, 2023

“The first place he learned to walk around was in my batting cage, dragging a bat,” Jayme said of Roc, a .335 hitter last season who plays with joy that can border on irreverence. He’s a combination, Dad said, of a grinder like Pete Rose and a let-the-kids-play entertainer like Ken Griffey Jr.

“Baseball was in his blood,” said Jack of Jacob, who spent time as a little kid at his dad’s office, sometimes taking batting practice at those big-league ballparks and even hitting some home runs – from the outfield, 5 feet from the fence. “It’s what he was always doing, always hitting, always throwing, his entire life.”

Coach-player, father-son!@TheMayorsOffice sits down with @GCU_Baseball coach Jack Wilson and son Jacob Wilson, one of the top prospects in the upcoming @MLBDraft. #FathersDay pic.twitter.com/iFKGLj7RIW

— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) June 18, 2023

They brought that energy and effort to Thousand Oaks.

Riggio rewrote school records, with 12 home runs, 45 walks and 52 runs as a senior. And although Jacob had graduated by 2021, when the Lancers won the Southern Section Division 2 championship, he was part of the 2020 team that won all eight of its games before COVID interrupted. That was a jumping off point for what would become a Ventura County-record 31-game winning streak (covering a 744-day span!).

Impressive tallies, but the mindset within that group – which also featured catcher Charlie Saum, who plays for Stanford – also stuck with Grant Rodriguez, a younger infielder who’ll play at Westmont College next year.

As a sophomore, Rodriguez got to play a couple of tournaments with the varsity squad and spent his time picking the stars’ brains. He remembers those future professionals – who pushed each other then and remain in touch now, comparing notes and cheering each other on – were always game to answer.

But what’s more: “They didn’t care about the final score,” Rodriguez said. “They just wanted to work hard and play their best.”

Exactly, said Coach Jack: “Our practices were tough. Probably the hardest-working group I had … there was always another box to be checked. Flush whatever happened the day before – and it was usually wins – and focus on what we had to do to get better.

“I got a glimpse of what they could be when they were in high school,” Jack added. “And now everybody else is seeing what we had too.”



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