Since spring 2003, hundreds of baseball players have donned a varsity uniform for one of the five Orange County-based Trinity League teams.
Only five were wearing an MLB jersey on Opening Day of 2016.
The newest member of this mini-fraternity is Trayce Thompson of the Los Angeles Dodgers, a 2009 graduate of Santa Margarita High. Thompson survived one of the deepest competitions of spring training to earn one of the five outfield roster spots for the Dodgers, who will be aiming for their fourth consecutive NL West title.
Thompson, the younger brother of NBA All Star shooting guard Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors, seemed to be a longshot to make the major league club when spring training began, but then last season’s primary left-fielder, veteran Andre Ethier, suffered a fractured right tibia after fouling a pitch off his shin late last month and likely won’t return until June or July.
That opened the door for Thompson, who made his major league debut Aug. 3 for the Chicago White Sox, hit his first big league home run eight days later against the Los Angeles Angels and was sent to the Dodgers in December in a three-way trade with the Cincinnati Reds.
Thompson had a solid debut with the Dodgers on April 4 against the San Diego Padres, producing an RBI double in his first at-bat and drawing a walk in his second. He scored both times in the eventual 15-0 victory.
One of the two pitchers Thompson homered off of during his junior year at Santa Margarita was Orange Lutheran pitcher Gerrit Cole, who made his third straight Opening Day roster for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Cole, a 2008 graduate of Orange Lutheran, is currently the pride of the Trinity League, as the right-hander finished 19-8 last season with a 2.60 ERA, earning NL All Star honors and finishing fourth in the Cy Young voting.
Brandon Maurer was mostly overshadowed by Cole during their senior years at Orange Lutheran, but Maurer also made an Opening Day roster as a relief pitcher for the San Diego Padres.
The other two players from the Trinity League on MLB Opening Day rosters were veterans Marc Rzepczynski of the Oakland A’s and Danny Espinosa of the Washington Nationals.
Rzepczynski, a left-handed relief pitcher and 2003 graduate of Servite, is beginning his eighth MLB season with his fifth different team. Espinosa, a second baseman and 2005 graduate of Mater Dei, is beginning his seventh MLB season, all with the Nationals.
Jared Hughes, a 2003 graduate of Santa Margarita, just missed being part of that group. The right-handed reliever for the Pittsburgh Pirates opened the season on the 15-day disabled list with a left latissimus strain and will likely miss the first week.
Austin Hedges played 56 games as a rookie catcher for the Padres last season, but the 2011 graduate of JSerra was sent to the minors just before the start of the season, despite hitting .375 in 39 at-bats during spring training.
Andrew Thurman, who graduated from Orange Lutheran in 2010 and was later drafted in the second round out of UC Irvine in 2013, saw his development slowed after he was injured in a bus crash while traveling with his minor-league team last May. The right-handed pitcher was 4-2 with a 2.51 ERA before the accident, but struggled upon his return and opened the season with the Mississippi Braves, the Double-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves.