LOS BANOS -- It's been a whirlwind year for Merced College freshman -- and Los Banos High graduate -- Derick Velazquez, and it's getting more hectic.
Velazquez signed and sent his national letter of intent to play baseball for Fresno State on Wednesday, just ahead of the Major League Baseball amateur draft (Saturday through Monday). Whether he ever actually sets foot on Beiden Field in Bulldog red depends on how enamored MLB's scouts are with his pitching.
"It gives me some more leverage," Velazquez said about signing. "They would have to pay me a little more to get me out of Fresno State."
He said if a team offered to pay for an education after his playing career, he would have to consider it. But at this point, unless someone reaches for Velazquez in the first two rounds, he says he'll lean toward playing for Fresno State.
"I think I need a few more years to get polished to face those older guys," he said.
Velazquez, ranked No. 74 in Baseball America Magazine's BA 500 prospect list (and the top-ranked junior-college pitcher, with Western Nevada JC's Dylan Baker ranked No. 82), went 11-0 this year with a 1.43 ERA and a team-high 68 strikeouts as Merced came two wins away from the California final four tournament.
He also hit .337 with a home run and 15 RBIs as the team's designated hitter.
"He had an outstanding year -- obviously he was voted most valuable player for northern California junior-college baseball, so that speaks for itself," Merced College coach Chris Pedretti said. "I think he's got a big upside, and he's got lots of room for improvement.
"Depending how things go with the draft -- whether he ends up at Fresno State or in the pros, he'll have success."
A year ago, Velazquez was 6-2 with a 1.83 ERA for Los Banos, helping the Tigers advance to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinals.
Pedretti said it's not often that a junior-college freshman gets scooped up by a four-year university, but added he feels Velazquez is a special player.
"I'm not sure if they like my choice, but I think they want me to be happy and to reach my goals," Velazquez said about his Merced coaches. "I didn't expect to get all this attention after one year. I thought maybe I'd have to perform through two years, then get some attention."
Pedretti took the loss of his fireballer with grace.
"Obviously we'd love to have him back," Pedretti said. "But he felt it was time to move on, and we take a lot of pride in our guys moving on to the next level."
Velazquez said he visited Cal State Northridge, Cal State Fullerton and USC in addition to Fresno State. He looked long and hard at USC before deciding on the Bulldogs.
"I was thinking about it. I would have to pay the rest of the financial, but I signed with Fresno State because it was a full ride," he said. "I think there were other factors too. I prefer staying close to my mom (Maria) and my family, so they can come out and support me, and others who can stay close to me and come watch me play."