Valaika joins three brothers as Draft selections

Bucs select UCLA infielder in 24th round on Wednesday

June 15th, 2017
Nick Valaika hit .225 in 21 games for UCLA this season before suffering a season-ending wrist injury. (Getty)

PITTSBURGH -- Growing up in Southern California, Nick Valaika knew the best example was always in front of him.

Valaika is the last in a line of four brothers to play shortstop at Hart High School (Santa Clarita, Calif.), go to college and get drafted. The Pirates selected him out of UCLA in the 24th round of the MLB Draft on Wednesday at No. 718 overall. His brothers -- Chris, Matt and Pat -- helped set the standard he hopes to continue.

Chris was drafted by Cincinnati in the third round of the 2006 Draft, and spent parts of four seasons in the Majors with the Reds, Marlins and Cubs. The Cardinals picked Matt in the 34th round in 2010, but his playing career was cut short after he suffered an aneurysm in his aorta. Then came Pat, drafted by the Rockies in the ninth round of the 2013 Draft, who happened to be in Pittsburgh with Colorado on Wednesday night at PNC Park.

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"I'm so blessed with how I was raised. I had three brothers in front of me, and a sister, and they're all perfect examples of being humble and working hard," Nick Valaika said. "I want to be my own person, but honestly, if I'm being compared to my siblings, I think that's a high honor."

Pat checked in on the Draft to see if his younger brother had been picked. Meanwhile, Nick sat alone at home in Valencia, Calif., following on his laptop. He got a call from a Pirates area scout, and within 90 seconds, he heard his name called.

"It was pretty surreal," Nick Valaika said. "To be honest, I didn't even hear the team. I just heard my name. It was awesome. It's been a great day."

And it was years in the making. The Valaikas grew up playing wiffle ball in their backyard -- putting the competition in "friendly competition," Pat joked -- and Nick followed in the family tradition of playing shortstop at Hart High, the same school that produced former Pirates pitcher Bob Walk and current Bucs starter . From 2000-14, a Valaika manned the position every year, except 2007.

Nick Valaika wants to stand on his own, and he's earned the right to begin his career without additional expectations. But you don't have to look far for a potential scouting comparison.

"Each individual stands for themselves," Pirates director of amateur scouting Joe DelliCarri said. "In this case, Nick does have some similar traits to his brothers, each in an individual way."

Valaika, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound infielder, hit .225/.267/.388 in 21 games this spring for UCLA, before suffering a season-ending wrist injury. He didn't play much as a freshman in 2015, in part because he was behind Pirates prospect Kevin Kramer on the depth chart, then redshirted last year.

Valaika's infield defense is well regarded, but he's perhaps most proud of those various obstacles he's overcome. When his mother, Ilona, made her fourth and final call to congratulate a son after being drafted, she shared the same sentiment.

"It came from a lot of family support. They're my rock," Valaika said. "They've gotten me through that. … I knew I was a baseball player. I knew it was going to come soon enough. I'm glad the Pirates saw something to give me an opportunity."

As Valaika begins the next phase of his career, there are three men who can relate better than anyone else.

"We're all pulling for each other -- always have been, always will be," Pat Valaika said. "All my brothers support me. We're all going to support my younger brother."