Spanish Springs High outfielder Jace Avina tries to get at least one hitting session in every day. But he didn't expect the surprise he got after one of his most recent trips to the field.
"I just got done hitting at the baseball field with my dad at Golden Eagle," Avina said. "And my dad said, 'You just got an email that said you've been invited to the MLB draft combine.' I said, 'There's an MLB draft combine? No way!' I was so excited and just so happy to get this invite. It was a surreal moment."
Jace Avina wasn't familiar with the MLB draft combine because this is the first of its kind. The NFL and NBA have long had draft combines, but MLB instituted its own version as part of a draft overhaul this season, which included shortening the number of rounds in the draft and moving back the date of the selections.
Avina is one of only 88 high school players invited to the combine, which begins Monday and runs through June 20 at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C. Avina will fly out of Reno on Monday and take part in a series of games and drills. The tournament will feature eight games, including “bronze medal” and “gold medal” contests, as well as PDP Performance Assessments and a pro-style showcase workout. Medical and performance assessments as well as team interviews also are part of the combine.
"I'm hoping to show all the tools that I have to being a major-league player," Avina said. "I have the speed for it, arm strength, power to all fields, contact, all the big things that major-league teams look for as well as the character aspect of it. I know all these scouts are looking for a great person who is good talking to people, especially during interviews and stuff. I just feel like I'm a really good candidate for that."
It's been a quick ascension for Avina, who committed to play for Nevada as a walk-on last July. But his stock has exploded since then. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound outfielder has since been offered a scholarship by the Wolf Pack and is now considered a top-400 prospect in this year's draft, which will take place July 11-13 as part of the MLB All-Star Week festivities. The draft has been shrunk from its typical 40 rounds to just 20, so there's no guarantee Avina will be selected, but his invite to the combine shows how keen teams are on him.
"I get texts every week, maybe every couple days just to see where I'm at," Avina said of his correspondence with scouts. "I do get texts from all those teams, seeing what I'm doing, if they want to invite me to a pre-draft workout and see if I'm going to the combine. Just to see what I'm doing over the summer just so they can come out and watch."
Avina credited his baseball development to working with former big-leaguer Chris Aguila, a 1997 McQueen High alum who played pro ball for almost two decades, including four years in the big leagues (2004-06, 2008). Aguila opened the Northern Nevada Baseball Club several years ago, and Avina has improved his game through his work with Aguila's team of ex-pros.
"My mom went to high school with him and was really good friends with him," Avina said. "She found out he had a baseball facility in Reno. It was around middle school when I first started going to him, and he's improved my game so much with the strength aspect, being at that pro level, knowing what it's like and getting me ready for it as I go into this draft and potentially sign. Hitting and fielding, he's helped me with everything in baseball as well as being a good person."
With a spot on the Wolf Pack's roster available to him next season, Avina said his ultimate goal is to be drafted and sign with a pro team in the coming months. It's a dream that has only come into focus as a potential reality in recent months. With the pandemic shortening Avina's high school junior and senior seasons, it was a Prep Baseball Report Procase in California that put Avina on the map and earned him an invitation to the prestigious Area Code Games.
"Going to that one event rose my stock a lot and told them, 'This kid from Reno can play and make it to the next level,'" Avina.
For as good as he is on the field, Avina gets rave reviews off it as well. The 2021 Northern 5A Region offensive player of the year said he plays baseball for his autistic older brother, Austin, with whom he shares a special bond. Additionally, when Avina's grandmother got sick a year ago, he would visit her every week to take our her trash cans and give her somebody to talk to. Avina said his caring personality is derived from his parents, including mother, Jenny, and father, Armando, a former Nevada kicker/punter who signed an NFL deal with the Buffalo Bills.
"It comes from my parents," Avina said. "My parents are wonderful people. They always strive for me to be a great person as well as my brother, too. Seeing him always have a smile on his face brings me join, and it makes me want to help him out and help other people. It's a joy to be with my family, and I want to make them happy."
Avina said next month's draft is a win-win because he could still attend college next season and be draft eligible again in 2024 if he decides to pass on pro ball for now.
"It's exactly where I want to be," Avina said. "I do want to be a draft pick and play onto the major-league level. And if it doesn't happen, I'll be upset. But I know I do have a backup plan to play college baseball and eventually in three years be a pick after my junior year of college."
As for the first MLB draft combine, Avina said it will be special to be one of the 88 high school players invited to the event. While his father will fly out to North Carolina to see him participate in it, Avina will be secluded from family at the MLB hotel and will fly on a plane for the first time by himself Monday.
"It's sunk in a little bit," Avina said of the magnitude of this opportunity. "It's hard to think this is the first combine they've ever had. Once I hit North Carolina, it's going to hit really hard and I'll feel those nerves and the butterflies in the stomach, but once I get on the field, it's just going to be an exciting moment and I'm just going to cherish it."
Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.