Just as Caleb Ricca grabbed hold of the starting shortstop position at Northwestern State in 2017, the Seattle Mariners latched on to Ricca.
Seattle chose Ricca with its 23rd-round selection in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft on Wednesday, marking the first time the Mariners have selected a Demon.
“Caleb got better every single year,” head coach Bobby Barbier said. “He came in and earned the starting shortstop spot as a freshman and never let it go. He really loves the game. He’s somebody who played each summer to get better. He really, really loves the game and loves to work at it. I’m happy for Caleb and for his family. He deserves it.”
Ricca was the Demons’ iron man, starting the final 150 games of his career at shortstop dating to March 25, 2017, at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. He manned the position in all 62 games in 2018, helping lead Northwestern State to its first Southland Conference Tournament championship in program history and its first NCAA Regional appearance in 13 years.
That appearance came at Oregon State, which is located approximately four and a half hours south of Seattle and five hours south of Everett, home of the Mariners’ Short-Season Class A team.
A third-team All-Southland Conference selection as a junior, Ricca led Northwestern State in hits (67), doubles (17), walks (31) and stolen bases (24). He shared the team lead with three triples and ranked second in batting average (.309) and RBIs (35).
Ricca’s 24 stolen bases led the Southland Conference in the regular season and were tied for the 10th most in NSU single-season history. His 47 career stolen bases place him 10th on NSU’s career list.
Ricca finished his three-year Demons career with 38 doubles, the ninth-highest total in school history.
“Even when you know the call is coming, it’s a shock,” Ricca said from North Carolina where he is playing for the Morehead City Marlins in the Coastal Plain League.
“I was ready to come back to school, set some records and win another conference championship, but the Mariners called and gave me the number I asked for. I talked about it with my dad. He kept me in check.”
Ricca joins senior pitcher Nathan Jones (5th round, New York Mets) as Demons selected in the 2019 draft. It marks the second straight year the Demons have had multiple players selected as David Fry (7th round, Milwaukee) and Kwan Adkins (30th round, San Francisco) were chosen in the 2018 draft.
It marks the first time since the 2011-12 drafts that Northwestern State has had multiple draft picks in consecutive seasons.
Photos: Head shot and action shot of Caleb Ricca. Action shot credit to Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services