The Dodgers were the only team Jared Karros was going to sign with this draft cycle.
And it wasn’t just because of his dad.
The son of former Dodgers slugger and current SportsNet LA analyst Eric Karros, Jared was one of the most intriguing selections the Dodgers made during this week’s MLB draft.
The 6-foot-7 right-handed pitcher out of UCLA was picked during the 16th round Tuesday.
He’s a bit of an unknown, having missed all of last season and much of 2021 with a back injury, as well most of the 2020 season because it was canceled by the pandemic.
But the Dodgers are hoping he proves to be a steal, now that he’s finally returning to health and ready to resume his long-delayed playing career.
“It’s definitely pretty awesome, just with them being the local team, always grew up watching them, rooting for them, going to games,” Jared said. “But there’s more than that. With their development and their organization, it’s more than just the local team that I rooted for. It’s an organization that’s going to give me the best opportunity to help further my career.”
Had he not been picked by the Dodgers, Jared likely would have returned to UCLA.
He is only a junior and, because of the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign and his injury this year, would have had three seasons of eligibility left.
He would have had a spot in UCLA’s starting rotation, capable of serving as an important veteran arm on a team that lost this year in an NCAA tournament regional final.
Most of all, he could have improved his draft stock for a year from now.
Before he got hurt, UCLA coach John Savage said Jared “was becoming one of the best pitchers in the Pac-12,” complementing a low-90s mph fastball with a changeup, curveball and slider.
With one more productive and healthy season, Savage was confidant Jared could have climbed into the top six or seven rounds, and maybe even higher.
“I would describe it as an unfulfilled career at UCLA, and he would feel the same way,” Savage said. “But I think you can build a guy there that can be pretty solid. … It’s just a matter of building up and making sure he gets stronger. They might be surprised with how good he is.”
At Manhattan Beach Mira Costa High product, Jared concluded a decorated prep career by enrolling at his dad’s alma mater — albeit at a different position.
“I just like having the ball in my hand and being in control,” Jared said of why he gravitated toward pitching.
Eric joked he had another theory.
“He probably didn’t want to hear me anymore telling him how to hit,” the former first baseman said with a laugh.
Jared made four appearances as a freshman in 2020 before the season was canceled during the early days of the pandemic.
The next year, he was UCLA’s opening-day starter and had a 3.33 ERA in seven appearances, racking up 32 strikeouts in 27 innings.
Following a start against USC on March 28, 2021, however, Jared “started to feel some back fatigue,” Eric said. He was sidelined the rest of the season, made an unsuccessful comeback attempt for the start of this year and entered the draft with only 11 collegiate appearances.
“It’s for sure been a tough couple years, a lot of adversity faced,” Jared said. “But it really showed me my appreciation for baseball, how much I really missed it and love it.”
The injury didn’t stop several MLB clubs from expressing interest in Jared leading up to this week’s draft. But ultimately, he decided if he was going to forgo a chance to return to school and improve his draft stock, he would have to be with the Dodgers.
“The Dodgers are about as complete an organization as I’ve seen as far as developing their minor leaguers,” Eric said. “You’re going to be the best version of yourself.”
It helped that Eric was a former Dodgers great, having spent 12 of his 14 MLB seasons with the team, winning rookie of the year in 1992 and setting the franchise’s Los Angeles club record with 270 home runs.
But Jared had built his own familiarity with the organization.
During his rehab over the last year, the pitcher worked with Brandon McDaniel, the Dodgers vice president of player performance, and Keith Pyne, a medical consultant for the team.
He visited Dodger Stadium on occasion to work out and throw.
And he said he was struck by “how willing to help they are, all the resources they offer and how personable a lot of them are. It made it feel just very welcoming.”
At the start of the draft’s final day Tuesday, Karros was unsure if the Dodgers would roll the dice. Entering the final handful of rounds, his fate was still undecided.
But in the 16th round Jared’s name popped up on the screen, with the Dodgers listed beside it.
“It was just a ton of emotion, super excited,” Jared said. “Just all the hard work really starting to pay off.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.