MLB draft can be wildly variable, as attested by Red Sox David Price, Chris Young and Robby Scott
Ten years ago, on the day he was drafted, future Red Sox ace David Price was surrounded by friends and family ready to celebrate.
Six years before that, on the day Chris Young was drafted, Young was damaged goods, worried his broken arm had shattered his future.
Ten years after Young, Red Sox reliever Robby Scott anxiously waited to hear his name on draft day. It was never called.
This year’s amateur draft for Major League Baseball begins tomorrow, and what that means for the players involved will vary wildly from name to name. Some will be highly touted prospects waiting for the inevitable, some will be nervous high schoolers with a decision to make, and others will be on-the-fringe dreamers hoping someone will take a chance.
All will have the same goal in mind.
What follows is the story of baseball’s draft as told through three different experiences, which created three different journeys, each ending in the Red Sox clubhouse for our subjects: Price, Young and Scott.
“Guys that get drafted, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Scott said. “And just because you get drafted, that’s just when the work begins. That’s the biggest advice that I tell these kids is that, once you got drafted, now you are drafted. This is the start of it.”
Leading up to the draft
As scouts scour the country in search of talent, their evaluations are not limited to an inning here or an at-bat there. For top picks especially, draft selections are the result of multiple games of analysis, interviews with coaches and family members, and hours of internal debate among decision makers.
• Price (first overall selection, 2007): “I didn’t really think about it, you know? I was so consumed with Vanderbilt and Vanderbilt baseball and what we were trying to accomplish in our season. That was my main focus. I wanted to make sure that all my teammates knew that I was locked in on what we were trying to accomplish. I think our season ended on Tuesday the 5th and I was drafted on the 7th. It was (scouting director) R.J. Harrison, who was one of the top guys in Tampa, he called me on the 6th and let me know that they were taking me with the first overall pick. It was a good feeling. Just all the hard work you put in, to kind of have that come to fruition and to get rewarded for that.”
• Young (16th-round pick, 2001): “I got hurt two days before. So that was perfect timing. Leading up to it, I went to a (high) school where, luckily, we were No. 1 in the nation in baseball. So, you had scouts coming to see different guys all the time, and I think that’s how I got onto the scene. I was able to get somebody’s attention when they were maybe coming to see somebody else. So, I took advantage of that opportunity. And just leading up to it, you start getting phone calls and you get letters in the mail, and you see scouts every now and then. It definitely builds up excitement.”
• Scott (undrafted, 2011): “I really didn’t have anything really going for me draft-wise. I didn’t get enough of an opportunity at Florida State to get seen, get exposure in that sense. I was kind of hoping and wishing something was going to happen, but I didn’t really even think about it. . . . Some of my best friends and my roommates in college, stuff like that, were getting drafted. But in particular to my (experience), I wasn’t really expecting anything on draft day, or any of the three days.”
Dealing with draft day
Many players go into the three-day draft with a vague idea of when and where they might be drafted. They have a sense of which teams are interested, and scouts will often give a heads-up for which round is most likely. Beyond that, drafted players often follow along like everyone else: through the Internet.
• Price: “It was still extremely special (even knowing what was going to happen). To hear your name called out, I don’t think it matters if it’s the first name called out or the last name. To hear your name called out is a special feeling. We had a ton of people there, and it was also really cool because one of my (Vanderbilt) teammates, Casey Weathers, he was drafted (eighth overall) by the Rockies. So, to have everybody there for both of us, that was a special time.”
• Young: “I was laid up in bed with a broke arm on draft day, so I didn’t know if I was going to be drafted at all. I knew I had a chance with the White Sox. I was thinking at a higher round when I was healthy — third-, fourth-, fifth-round type guy — then when I got injured, I didn’t know if I would get drafted at all because I didn’t know the extent of the injury or how it was going to heal or anything like that. I didn’t know if that would scare teams away. So, there wasn’t that much excitement. . . . I don’t even remember (finding out about being drafted). I have no idea how I found out.”
• Scott: “I’m pretty sure each team has guys fill out questionnaires, and they fill out background on them and all that stuff, and you actually have a draft number, per se, for each player. I didn’t really have a draft number. . . . We were actually in the middle of a game when my roommate got drafted, kind of in the dugout, and he got the news that he’d just been drafted. It’s a cool moment and something I’ll never forget, but at the same time, I was kind of sitting there like, ‘I wish it was me.’ ”
This is when the professional experience begins. First things first: negotiate a contract and decide whether to sign. For a high-round college pick like Price, that’s relatively simple. For a mid-round high schooler like Young, it’s a life-changing choice. For an undrafted player like Scott, it’s basically desperation.
• Price: “Enjoyable. I wasn’t the one negotiating a contract or any of that stuff. That’s what you have your agent for and whatnot, so it was really your first kind of downtime. I’m not playing on Team USA, or you’re not playing in the Cape, you’re not playing summer ball. You get to kind of shut it down for a little bit, relax. Relax your mind and get ready for that first pro season.”
• Young: “(The broken arm) was a pretty serious injury at the time, and my thought process was, in order to get healthy, do I want to go with the professional guys with the White Sox organization to get my treatment or go to the junior college I was going to go to and get treatment there? I thought I would be in better hands with the major league club, and I felt like if I could rehab my arm right with the major league club, that was my best opportunity.”
• Scott: “It’s all getting on the field and getting that opportunity to be seen. There were some teams that liked what they saw, but there wasn’t enough evaluation period, enough occurrence to see (in college). I knew I wanted to play. I just didn’t know what exact route it was going to be. And then, obviously, after the draft and after our season was over, I knew, hopefully, somebody in indie ball would be able to take a chance on a college guy that wasn’t drafted. And luckily the team in Yuma (of the North American League in Arizona) took a chance.”
The minor league process
With few exceptions, draft picks begin pro ball in the lowest levels of the minor leagues, where crowds are sparse and money is tight. Quite often, high-round picks are given the benefit of the doubt, which means playing time and opportunity. Lower-round picks have to hope for playing time and take advantage when it comes.
• Price: “There’s always expectations. I always said, ‘If I come remotely close to meeting the expectations that I hold for myself, everybody else will definitely be satisfied.’ There’s always going to be expectations, and high expectations, whenever you’re a top draft pick. But my expectations for myself, they far exceed those other expectations.”
• Young: “Playing in Arizona at 12 o’clock every day with not one person in the seats? It was brutal. It was brutal. The first few weeks, I didn’t enjoy myself at all. I remember calling my mom, like, wanting to come home because it was so far away from what I visualized in terms of what pro ball would be. Obviously, if you work hard, you get to full-season baseball. Even when you get into those small towns, it’s amazing because they have a fan base, five to eight thousand fans at a game. That’s when it’s fun again, but it wasn’t fun in the beginning. You don’t even know your odds (when you’re starting out). And it’s good that you don’t know.”
• Scott: “What it comes down to is having that opportunity. Take my story, for example. Once you get that opportunity, it’s what you do with that opportunity. Unfortunately, for whatever the reasons were, I didn’t really get that consistent opportunity at Florida State, but it’s not something I look back on. I kind of use it as motivation. I use it as something to teach and teach younger kids that (are) going through the same thing. It doesn’t matter (whether) any coach has a plan for you, it’s what your plan is for you, and are you willing to do what it takes? What it takes is working your butt off and never giving up on what your dream is.”