One year after choosing to go to college rather than turning pro with the Toronto Blue Jays, Ryan Kellogg of Arizona State found himself in a duel with Justin Garza of Cal State Fullerton last Saturday, two of the best pitchers in the Pac-12 Conference representing a pair of colleges with wealthy baseball traditions.
Kellogg of Whitby, Ont., would give up a run in the seventh inning of the U.S. NCAA tournament regional game, and that’s all Garza needed for a 1-0 victory. ASU was eliminated last Sunday, leaving Kellogg looking to next year, and his teammate and fellow Canadian, right-hander Zak Miller of White Rock, B.C., anxiously awaiting this year’s first-year player draft.
Last year at this time, Kellogg faced the decision that will be confronting dozens upon dozens of other graduating high-school players this week, while simultaneously causing major-league scouts and general managers much fret as they ponder whether to choose players from high school or college. The draft is used to shape their rosters for the future, either by bringing the players up through their systems to the majors, or developing them to be used as trade pawns.
By choosing not to turn pro after the Jays selected him in the 12th round, Kellogg committed himself to three years of collegiate baseball before he can again become eligible for the first-year player draft.
Miller is in a different situation. Undrafted out of high school, he is once again eligible in his junior year of college. A pre-law student with academic honours, he graduated this past spring with a bachelor of science in political science and a 3.38 grade-point average. A half-dozen major-league teams have shown interest, he says, and if drafted he would have the choice of turning pro or returning for his senior year.
Together, their stories represent the risks and rewards for individuals and teams in the draft.
If a drafted high-school player signs to go pro, he gives up the chance for a fully- or partially-paid education and campus life. By enrolling in school, he risks both injury and devaluation based on performance, and gives up negotiating leverage.
From the teams’ perspective, they risk losing a valuable draft choice should a player elect to pursue an education rather than accept their bonus money.
The higher the round, the younger the player, the greater the risks.
Baseball assigns values for each draft choice and establishes a bonus pool for each team. They are given a budget to spend in the first 10 rounds, and another assigned amount for rounds 11 to 30. The cost for exceeding the designations can include fines and loss of future draft picks.
This year, the Blue Jays have $6.4-million (all currency U.S.) to spend on their first 10 picks.
The 2013 MLB first-year player draft is a three-day event, starting Thursday, stretching 40 rounds.
In 2011, the Blue Jays reportedly offered $2.5-million to their No. 1 pick, high-school pitcher Tyler Beede of Auburn, Mass.
Though the bonus would have been significantly over scale for the slot, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-hander became the only first-rounder not to sign, instead enrolling at Vanderbilt University of the Southeastern Conference.
Beede again will be eligible for the draft next year as a junior.
In 2012, only Stanford University pitcher Mark Appel, the projected No.1 pick, went unsigned out of the first round. When the Houston Astros couldn’t work out a deal, he dropped to No.8, and rejected a $3.8-million offer to return for his senior year. As a senior, he’s expected to go No.1 or No.2, but will have no leverage in negotiations.
Kellogg, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound left-hander and member of Canada’s national junior team, had the talent to go between the third and sixth rounds in the same 2012 draft, according to scouts. Instead, he slipped to the 12th round, 385th overall, when teams feared their pick would be wasted given his expressed intent to attend ASU.
Kellogg, though, was ready and willing to listen. “I wanted the college experience, but the money was definitely a factor to consider,” Kellogg said last week, as both players met with The Globe and Mail at a Southern California hotel.
Kellogg gave the Jays a bonus figure that would sway him to reject the scholarship, and didn’t get it. Regarding the experience reflectively last week, the 19-year-old expressed “no regrets” about the decision to enroll in the mechanical-engineering program. He deemed an education and life on the sunny Phoenix campus worth the risk of injury or devaluation.
He also believes he’ll continue to develop his skills in college roughly on pace with pro ball, and ultimately will need to spend less time in the minors. As a true freshman, he went 11-0 in the regular season with a 2.20 ERA, including a no-hitter against No. 5 Oregon and a stretch of 16 consecutive runless innings. He was chosen last week to the Louisville Slugger all-America second team.
“I’ve already grown so much in just my freshman year, both on the field and off,” he said. “I know my time at ASU has already put me in a better position to exceed down the road.”
Had the Jays picked him higher and offered more money, he might be pitching for Class-A Dunedin in 2014. Conversely, he might still have chosen the college route, and an even more valuable pick would have been squandered.
“If your goal is to play [in the major leagues] signing out of the draft is the best and shortest way to get there,” said Jamie Lehman, who followed Kellogg as the Blue Jays’ Ontario-based area scout. “To choose to get an education, and to mature a little … is a life decision more than a baseball decision.”
Miller, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound right-hander, sharpened his skills sufficiently this season to earn a promotion to “weekend pitcher,” that is, to face Pac-12 competition rather than non-conference teams. Both players believe that to sign out of high school and return to college at a later age, even in their mid-20s, would not have been as enriching an experience.
Having reached this stage though, he is willing to put the law career on hold.
“On the pro baseball side, it will come down to opportunity and if a team wants to give me the chance to prove myself,” said Miller, who could be picked in the later rounds. “There’s a small window in life when you can play a sport for a living, so it’s something I’ll have to strongly consider if I get the chance.”